My daughter Nikki has been in sales since birth. At three years of age she would stand in front of the fire place holding court to all who would listen, valiantly trying to convince us of what seemed like some great observation in her life. Her challenge was that she had not yet learned to form words, only childlike babble. This did not slow down her passion or zeal. With arms flailing, she attempted to lead us on some journey, conforming us to her beliefs and viewpoints.
I watched her up-sell my friend, James Delmonte, Girl Scout cookies like a seasoned warrior when she was only ten. She called him on the phone as she had for five years, each year finding some way to increase the purchase amounts. Her last year, when he told her how many boxes to order James (being the competitor he is) upped the amount to 5 boxes of each cookie selection. This amounted to 35 boxes of cookies. Proudly, I listened in as I thought she was wrapping up the order and ask for payment processing. Instead, she congratulated him by telling him he bought enough to be her SECOND best customer. After a pause James apparently asked how many her top one bought. Calmly, with nerves of steel, she told of the 70 year old Girl Scout (like the marines, no such thing as an Ex-Girl Scout) who lived down the street from us who bought six boxes of each for her brother. I was beaming when I heard Nikki thank James for increasing his order to seven boxes each. As she was wrapping the sale up and thanking him for again being her #1 customer, I nearly fell to the floor when she closed by saying, “Mr. Delmonte, I was looking at my form and it just dawned on me how easy it would be to turn sevens to look like nines.” James had fallen into the trap of a true professional!
She has continued to be a great teacher in my life. Unfortunately, I at times have been a slow student.
Out at dinner one evening, Nikki began to tell me a request she had to travel on a school trip. After what I thought was an appropriate period of listening to her points I began to implement parental discretion and governance on why it was not appropriate due to schedule and cost. A sullen look fell over her face as the conversation came to a halt. In frustrating silence, I tried to understand why she shut down in interacting while we ate the rest of our dinner. Back at home I asked my wife why teenagers had such a difficult time discussing things. As I expounded on how text messaging, instant message, twitter and email was destroying our youths ability to communicate, my wife quietly pulled me aside, and pointed out that I was the one to build the dam preventing interaction. My response to Nikki left no room for her to feel understood. At no time did I confirm that I heard the request or expressed that I was open for her to discuss her wishes, only point out why I felt it was not an option. This was a painful learning experience that at times I still wrestle with. My role as father is to protect, provide, be the go-to guy who can solve matters, make things happen. Just like the weight we sometimes place on ourselves as leaders.
Before we move into resolution mode or guiding someone through views conflicting with ours, the first stage is to acknowledge that we have heard what was said. The message I sent to Nikki was I didn’t care about her view or outlook. This important yet usually skipped opportunity is essential in having the person we are talking to hear our view points. Their mind will remain closed to our input until they feel understood. Notice I did not say agreed with. The first stage in the Triple AAA roadmap is to make sure the person we are interacting with feels understood. Only then will they lower their guard or defensiveness to outside information, alternate views or suggested options. The axiom of Steven Covey’s Seven Steps for Highly Successful People that states “seek first to understand before being understood” is essential for creating an environment where someone feels value and their input matters.
There is reason I stated that this is not agreeing with someone. I have to fight my hesitancy to go down this road. Allowing your teammate the grace of having their idea or request being heard will not be interpreted as accepting their point of reference or request. This step is simply capturing the message you heard and repeating it in your words, allowing them to confirm you understood their intent and offer any edits.
No acknowledgement, no affirmation means barriers will remain to any guidance, clarification or explanation we might offer. In the next posting we’ll look at how asking questions sets the stage for dialog.
James was amazing in his support for the Girl Scouts and Nikki. However, I believe he is relieved Nikki is in college.