Acknowledging isn’t Agreeing

By Patrick T. Malone

April 9, 2019



Understand more about your clinics to do more business with them.

“What’s the point of talking to anyone if you don’t tell them what you think?” – Jon Krakauer, American writer, mountaineer, Pulitzer Prize finalist.

I suppose that when you are a Pulitzer Prize finalist, some people might want to know what you think. But when I read the quote above, I immediately thought arrogant, self-centered, egotistical and a variety of other unflattering descriptors that most often are used with a prima donna.

Unfortunately, many sales representatives have come across the same way, causing decision-makers to build walls to shield themselves from this boorish behavior. These walls may be the gatekeepers who cannot buy but control access to the actual decision-maker, or those who cannot say yes, but can say no. Many office managers or practice managers have been assigned this role.

On the other end of the spectrum are many sales reps who are also talkative, but their motivation is self-protection. Their descriptors are timid, unsure, scared and often “new.” Their biggest fear is that the decision-maker will ask them a question to which they won’t have an answer. So, to prevent that embarrassing situation, they try to control the conversation by doing a data dump on their audience. So once again the walls that decision-makers have built are effective in screening out these amateurs. 

Some years ago, Stephen Covey wrote “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and one of those habits is “Seek first to understand and you will be understood.” So, in answer to this column’s lead question, the point of talking with another person is to find out what they think as much as it is to tell them what you think. 

Tips to simplify the process

Many people will say all of this is easy to understand but difficult to do. I’m convinced you can simplify that process if you will remember the following four tips. Try this and then determine if it helps you understand more about your clinics, do more business with those clinics and reach a quiet confidence that is the mark of a real professional.

  • 1. Give the other person your full attention. Our computers and smart phones are excellent at multi-tasking, but most human beings are mediocre at best. So, one thing at a time – be present in the conversation. Make the other person feel as if they are the only person in the room. Then take it one step further. Clear your mind by suspending your own point of view at that moment in time. When you do this, you will hear things you missed before and understand the other situation so clearly that the perfect solution will appear with little effort.
  • 2. Respond appropriately. The appropriate response is much like driving a car in traffic. So, if the other traffic is going 20 mph in the slow lane, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to try to drive 80 mph with your hair on fire. Slowing down or speeding up based on the other’s reactions in the conversation demonstrates that your responses are appropriate to their situation.
  • 3. Prove that you understand. The operative word is PROVE. Too many times we say we understand and then do or say something that shows we have no idea about the situation at hand. So instead of saying you understand, prove that you really do understand by asking a relevant question or restating a brief summary of the situation as you understand it.
  • 4. Demonstrate respect for other points of view. This appears to be most difficult when facing a point of view which is the opposite of your own point of view. For some, the fear is that respect will be interpreted to mean “agree,” but nothing could be further from the truth. You are simply demonstrating respect for the other person’s right to hold a different point of view than your own. Unless you do this, you will never have the opportunity to explore and influence other points of view.

The good news is that these four suggestions are very effective in getting others to open up and feel comfortable telling you exactly what they think and, in many cases, why they think that way. That allows you to tailor your conversation in such a way that it makes good sense to those with whom you are talking. The bad news is, there are four suggestions to remember, and if you are like me, I sometimes have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time. I need simple.

So simply remember the word respect. If you demonstrate sincere respect for other points of view, the other three suggestions will happen naturally.

So, despite the Pulitzer Prize finalist’s thoughts, the real purpose of conversation is not to tell people what you think. The real purpose is to find out what they think so you can communicate what you think in the most effective manner.

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