The Person Behind The Mask
post # 56 — April 24, 2006 — a Careers, Client Relations post
We are always dealing with two people whenever we interact with a single person. There is the person in their role, and the human being beneath the role. Whether it’s a client, a subordinate, a colleague or someone in your personal life, it’s going to be the human being, not the ‘person in role’ who is going to give you what you want and need.
A large part of success in business (and perhaps in life) in getting access to the human being behind the mask.
For example, clients like to pretend that they will buy through a logical, detached process, but don’t believe a word of it. It’s always (ultimately) going to be trust, confidence, comfort and chemistry that will -at the tipping point – win you the business.
If you don’t like getting to the really personal, emotional level, this is not all good news. Especially if, like me, you don’t have a natural proclivity for intimacy. My standard line is that I love audiences – it’s individual people I have difficulty with!
The role versus human being issue reveals itself when I do my consulting work. Very frequently, I will be facilitating or participating in a committee meeting to address an issue. I’ll ask “Any questions?” and, often, the room is silent. (We’re all in role-to-role mode.)
But as soon as we break for coffee, I get cornered in the corridor or followed into the bathroom (!) by people who want either to ask a really great question or tell me the truth they couldn’t tell me in the open meeting.
Until a year ago, I was also a member of the “smoker’s gossip club.” Banished to the sidewalk outside the building, there were always a few people sharing my addiction, and they would always begin to tell me what was really going on. Having quit smoking, I no longer have access to that form of insider information.
People will always tell you more in informal “off-the-record” situations than they will in meetings. Formal meetings are a ritual dance, not a sincere effort at problem solving.
Early in my career, I used to avoid one-on-one, personal interactions with clients. Now, I try to create situations (for example, pre-and post-meeting telephone conversations) where I can give people the comfort to tell me what’s really on their mind.
It’s still an effort for me, but I’ve learned that, to be effective, I’ve got to do it.
The world is filled with people not “clients” or “bosses”, and it’s the “people-as-peole” who are going to give you what you want, so you had better start working at understanding them – one at a time.
What approaches do other people use to break through the role interactions and get other people to reveal themselves and their true wishes, desires and concerns?