Enjoy here seven ‘sexy’ lessons that I have been teaching business people around me recently: Recognising that our strengths can be our greatest weaknesses; inverting problems into solutions; applying the principle of the giver’s gain; using reverse psychology; compartmentalising self-interest; the art of putting your cards on the table and the power of mirroring.
1. Our strengths often become our weaknesses
I recently went through a quick grilling of a guy wanting to stretch his legs and get back into business. He’d had a bit of trouble with a family business that went ‘bung’ a while back and he wanted to get started on other things. I was helping him to get back up and running and wanted to know what he was good at.
In the conversation he mentioned that he was good at communicating, getting to the heart of the matter. He mentioned that he has always been able to befriend all the people around him easily but that he used to have lots of trouble getting to the heart of things, communicating important things.
He explained that now he was really good at this because he had undergone training with the company and he’d worked hard at it. He’s clearly a natural manager of people and we’ll likely use him in the business in that capacity but the fact that he was now really good at something he struggled with helped me see yet again that our greatest strength can easily become our greatest weakness. You see it a lot with rich self-made people who know how to make a buck. Gradually this skill distances themselves from the rest of the world as they increase their wealth and decrease the quality of their relationships. Sadly, they more than likely die rich but lonely.
Another example of this is the girl who has all the looks, all the guys and can get whatever she wants. She does of course, and then as the years progress, the wheels fall off – her mate who was attracted to her beautiful body continues to be attracted to other young beautiful bodies. She on the other hand can often become bitter and twisted as she finds other ways to retain the power that she had guys.
But my new acquaintance has learned that it need not always be so . . . for humbling himself, he applied himself, trained and worked hard to grow and learn about communication. He is now skilled in an area that he wasn’t before. The problem he had though in the beginning most likely was that by being able to befriend easily, he was not analytical or mentally alert when communicating important things.
I used to be socially incompetent, incapable of communicating effectively and highly insecure. I did however have a strong mind. People don’t love you because you know something though. I had to learn to come down; enjoy engaging with people and helping them, and from there it has become a strength. My greatest strength caused me problems, but by the grace of God, I was able to humble myself, back off the analysis and preaching and turn that weakness into a strength.
2. Inverting problems into solutions
In my recent mentoring of a young man in business, we discussed the possibility of him doing business with another particular businessman. We went through some possible scenarios in which he could have lost out on a potentially lucrative business relationship. I suggested that the other guy might want to help his own daughter to undertake the job rather then build a new relationship with him.
In a sales situation we call this an objection, a reason why the deal cannot progress in the manner that the salesperson desired. Any problem though when dealt with positively, professionally and creatively can be inverted into a solution.
In our hypothetical scenario, one response could be to encourage the guy to explore that possibility, looking at the obvious benefits of helping his daughter, but then also raising issues that may arise as well. A smart trader will have potential solutions ready when those issues were being discussed, so that the conversation can be led into an alternative but still agreeable result for the salesman.
In the case of the businessman employing his own daughter, our man could discuss the likelihood that there could be family issues intruding into the business or that there may be a short-term contract before she choses to head off to more appealing jobs, travel overseas or marriage. If our man then offered to provide the desired service BUT to also employ, train and help the other guy’s daughter while she wanted to stay there, our man may have inverted a problem into an even better solution, because sure as eggs, no one else would have thought of that or be willing to do that for his daughter. The businessman would then have the security of an outside company that was less likely to rip him off (if they were helping his daughter) and if his daughter took off, he would still have a steady supplier.
The rule is that a solution to a problem is always found by inverting it.
3. The principle of the giver’s gain
Many have found a major secret to business success is to invert the greed factor into the blessing of giving. It is commonly called the principle of the giver’s gain, and in a biblical sense that it is “better to give than to receive”.
Of course we have to progress in business and that usually means profiting somehow but the approach that we want to really love the other guy and bless him and charm him as a natural part of doing business is rare in the Western world. We do this as Christians (or at least we SHOULD do this!) because we know that Christ first loved us. We give because He first gave, but the principle applies in every situation we can find ourselves in – bar none.
I approached a few people recently with a business idea. I had seen the opportunity, conceptualised a business that I thought ‘had legs’ and went to them with the ideas. One said essentially “Great idea but no, not for me”. Another said yes, I’m in but . . . ” and explained what he wanted from it and how he could contribute to it. Another said, “Yes I’m in and I’ll do whatever you want me to do – literally!” which was quite nice after having lived in Samoa for four years and 99.9% of the population seemingly living with chronic self-interest issues!
The structure of the business however is the real kicker . . . while it is my business idea, I am setting it up and investing what I can to make it happen, others will own it – literally – 51% in fact. I do NOT want to own my own business because by giving it away, I am very sure that the others will be totally dedicated to making it work, whereas if I owned it, they would always feel like they were working for me.
By giving it away, I gain loyalty and commitment and goodwill that far exceeds the value of the income and control that would result from my continued ownership.
There are thousands of ways of giving, and thinking through practical ways to increase benefit to others is an important part of an entrepreneur’s life.
4. Using reverse psychology
Upsetting the apple cart is an art. One that I may not have quite mastered yet, but am certainly long in the tooth with experience.
I befriended a guy online recently, through an alternative currency chat group and he wants to compare notes in regards to a little project I put out there. He likes it and wanted to help, and in the process we discussed our various interests and wishes in regards to the new relationship. I got the feeling that he needed help in strategy, although he explained it in terms of his wish to market and sell – timebanks actually.
In the course of our introductions I mentioned that I was happy to help with whatever he wanted, but I warned him that I was VERY direct, shooting straight and going where others fear to tread. I explained that while some come at alternative currencies from the evil of usury angle, others the health of the world, still others from the benefits of community currencies, I came at it from a Christian world view. I said that while I was happy to chat with him whenever and wherever he wanted, I usually p*ssed people off very quickly and burned off many relationships that apparently started off well.
He made a point of explaining that he was an Agnostic or atheist or something and that he genuinely wanted to engage. He laughed and explained that in his culture they call people like me a Rebel, or Revolutionary or something like that . . . it began with an ‘R’ anyway!
So, by telling him that I was a straight shooter and that most people bounced off me quick-smart, he has NO EXCUSE when it does happen, for he invited it. This is a little application of reverse psychology, because most people do NOT share negatives about themselves first up. Speaking like this sets the communication up for extreme honesty and the BS of political correctness, social graces and warm fuzzies that confuse the real issues evaporate like a fog in the sunshine.
The great thing now is that any time I do say something nice, or help him, he will appreciate it all the more, and if we do part company, well it’s no big deal for either him or me, for we all expected that. We may end up great mates as a result! Who knows?
In a sales situation I teach that it is essential for top achievers to apply reverse psychology on themselves first, before they enter into any sales situation. Thinking “I want to sell; I hope to sell; I really need this sale” and suchlike should be inverted into thoughts along the lines that, “I am the best thing since sliced bread, so too are my products, and it will be an honour for this prospect to have me help them with their problem”. This is much more than positive thinking – it is a deliberate strategy to set us up for success.
One of the aspects of selling that is rarely spoken of in a sales presentation is “What do you get out of it?” We all know that a salesman, Jehovah’s Witness or politician wants something from us when they attempt to sell us but what is it? And how much do they get? Bringing the hidden stuff to the fore can be unsettling for some but is a form of reverse psychology that really works. A politician who admits that they have self interest, or a JW who acknowledges their agenda, or a salesman who details their own interest gains credibility by doing so. While it can be a risky move it can also be powerful tool.
In parenting, reverse psychology cuts through power games in seconds. Try this next time a toddler is acting up. Once a baby starts to learn that crying gains attention, they will use it to manipulate. You can ALWAYS get them to stop, usually inside seconds by crying yourself. Start exactly the same sound and volume as the child. If they increase their sound you do the same. If there are more people at the table then get them to laugh at you, and if needed join in. Try it. It’s the funniest thing on planet earth (except for watching politicians try and convince us to believe them on TV) because total confusion reigns in the toddler’s mind. What was a power game used to manipulate is now totally dissolved. If you don’t have children of your own, do it in McDonald’s restaurant to a stranger’s child. It matters not for reverse psychology works anywhere and everywhere there are games being played.
Again, if a mother is racing after a toddler that keeps on running away, let her hide, or even better still run towards the toddler and then PAST the toddler, laughing as she says, “I can run away better/faster than you! Oh? Who are we running away from anyway?” Watch then as the toddler stops instantly in his tracks, for the game is clearly up.
Reverse psychology can even flow through to business structures where we limit sales to a certain region, timeframe or other arbitrary conditions, so as to create demand and increase perceived value. While we may want to sell as much as we can, pausing the typical sales spiel and using reverse psychology can often result in better quality, easier and sometimes even more sales.
Some businesses have been very successful with a cost plus pricing structure, thus removing the issue of price or discounting by revealing their margin straight up.
There are many ways to be different.
5. Compartmentalising self-interest
Managing our own self-interest is crucial when trying to achieve something – in business or when ever we deal with others.
We all know that we’ve got to make a buck, to get something out of a deal for ourselves. Putting ourselves aside for just a minute, we can be free to chat, build relationships and truly engage with prospects to the point that business occurs very naturally.
There are only three components to the sales process – relationship building, qualifying and closing. Crunching a deal is the least important, for if you have built a strong relationship, and you know the prospect’s needs, including all the critical things like price, timeframes, decision making, and clarification of product or service delivery then business will occur very naturally.
One of the guys I’ve been working with (I mentioned him above) is great at building relationships but hopeless at qualifying. He is so keen to do business that he’s all about himself and his own objectives that it’s very hard for him to roll with the punches and connect with his prospect. Assuming that we know what the other guy needs and wants based on our own situation may work some of the time but eventually it will prove to be costly.
My advice has been to compartmentalise his own self-interest. If he can put his own agenda into a little box in the back of his brain, and have it constantly ready and on call to pounce when the moment is right, then he will be MUCH freer to engage with his prospect, more willing to ask open, probing and leading questions, which will give him a far better opportunity to offer his own preferred solution to the prospect’s problems.
In some ways if we want to be masters in the sales game we need to become experts at manipulation, deliberately engineering conversations into our desired outcomes, but without it appearing like a sales presentation as such. His mind must constantly be alert awaiting opportunity to present his case or solution, but also communicating when and where it is right with the other party.
By all means recognise, or even speak your self-interest aloud, but it must be subtle, and secondary to engaging meaningfully in the first two phases of selling – building that relationship and qualifying (simply understanding the true situation).
6. Putting your cards on the table
During the credibility building phase of a new relationship, much benefit can be gained by putting our own cards on the table. We don’t need to bare all but the more we do the greater the return we usually get.
We can do this by guessing what others would like to know about us and just spilling the beans, or by soliciting feedback from others on what they want to know and then coughing up gems accordingly.
I tend to err on the side of over exposure, rather than secrecy but there are different horses for different courses.
A group setting can amplify the effects gained from this exposure, so that one person may ask a question, or discuss a matter that another is interested in or may never have even thought to ask but one-on-one is still valuable.
It depends on the setting, and the relationships but some things to consider are:
What is the REAL thing you are after. Many people can be quite accommodating if you share your real end-game and come to appreciate your long-term vision. Sometimes sharing the strategic value of doing business in a certain way can cement friendships and open doors that would never happen if we just chase the deal or get the money and remain quiet about what drives us.
Don’t be afraid to reveal your own margin, income or profit. People often assume the worst and think that you are going to make a killing off them. When you know that the mother of the child in the street selling the Koko Samoa for $4.00 worked for hours to make it, or that the bowl carver had to climb a mountain and cart the heavy timber over 1km on his shoulders and then spend a day carving the bowl, then the price can seem more than reasonable. Tell people the facts, if you can!
Speaking about what an item is good for is common from a sales person. A politician telling us what he is going to do is not news. When a person tells us however that an item is NOT suitable for one particular job or situation, or a politician admits to a failure or weakness, then we will believe him all the more when he explains that it will do what we want, or that despite his weakness in one area he will excel in another.
Being genuine in a sales situation (or any other relationship situation) is a great way to build trust. “I feel . . .” is very different to “I think . . . ” Women can do this much more naturally than men, but when a man can get in tune with his feelings and then share them, respect and goodwill often results. Deliberately find things in which to share your feelings.
When discussing new business recently I used the opportunity of a conference call to teach one person about what I was doing with another.
I deliberately paused the conversation (excusing myself talking past one person for a minute) and then taught another why I said what I did, how I felt about the other person and what I thought about them, their weaknesses and strengths. I call recounting things as I see them ‘mirroring’. It is as if I place a mirror up to a person and send back to them what I see (as if they were looking in a mirror).
Summarising a conversation accurately, analysing someone’s values, interests, needs or wants and then speaking them aloud can be a VERY powerful tool in not only sales situation but any situation, including dispute resolution. The prerequisite for doing this effectively is what I call ‘going thin’ – removing our own agendas and opinions from the recounting and summary, UNTIL the time is right to share where you are coming from.
The reason it is so powerful is that most people do not know themselves and have a poor grasp of reality. They may know that they are good at something generally but they don’t say it often. Equally they may be uncomfortable with a weakness or failing but find it difficult to have the freedom to admit this. When a third party can speak reality back to them accurately, it can be an enormously liberating experience.
In the conversation I’ve just mentioned, one guy said in answer to a question about what he was not strong with that he got nervous speaking to large groups. What I did after listening to his take on this was to rephrase the negative into a semi-positive and relayed back to him something along these lines.
“So I understand from what you’ve just said, that you are not really a public speaker but you are really good with people that you know and get on well with, so that if for example you had worked with various people remotely for a year and then we had a conference where 20 or so of these people you knew were all together, then you would probably be comfortable running the show?”
To which he replied enthusiastically,
“Oh yes, you’re dead right. I’d have no problem with THAT!”
In my brief recap I did several things here deliberately:
- I deliberately introduced the technical description that he didn’t actually use. He focussed on the negative aspect of nerves and large crowds. I quantified that and put it all into a psychological ‘box’ called public speaking. We will never use that phrase again except when talking about what he can’t do.
- I deliberately reinforced his strengths (relationship building) and then linked them into the more scary stuff (talking in front of people). I set up an example where he could see that his strengths would solve his perceived problem (in a limited, controlled manner).
- I put him psychologically into the future scenario where he will be comfortably ‘managing’ a conference of 20 people, which of course will see him naturally talking, speaking, teaching, leading and helping a group of people. He can now ‘see’ himself doing this and it will not be a very hard task for me to set up a situation where there are 15 people he knows and five newbies. You can see where this is leading, I’m sure!
As a result, this man will very likely end up as a strong and natural spokesman for the new company and is highly likely to be presenting to groups of strangers near and far (perhaps even large groups), just sharing something that he is passionate about, knows inside out, but never once, will he ever be a ‘public speaker’ or talk about his ‘public speaking’ role. That little black box called public speaking is NOT and NEVER WILL BE in his job description, but he’ll be doing it, and he’ll know full well what I’m doing and how and why.
He’ll also probably love it!
The magic that occurred in this interchange however was not so much my leading him gently into a role that he was uncomfortable with, but that by recounting back to him in my own words what I had heard from him, he was able to say that I was “dead right” about him. THAT was the gold in the interchange.
Asking him the right open-ended questions was important. Listening to him was even more important. Recounting back to him in a way that he could see that I truly understood him though (not just repeated his own words back to him) was crucial and has probably set up a good working relationship for years. Having proved to him that I understand, if ever there is a miscommunication or misunderstanding in the future he is certain to say to himself, “Oh, that’s probably just a misunderstanding, I’ll sort it out with Dennis next time I talk with him” instead of getting all hot under the collar and suspecting the worst.
Mirroring, recounting and summarising things from as objective a position as possible is a powerful tool to facilitate open and honest communication and gives us the platform for strong relationships.
The only condition to this however is that participants actually want openness and honesty. Not everyone can handle this though. Most have agendas, but that’s another story for another day!
Why not go and implement the above and enjoy your resulting success now?