Why You Don’t Want Me
post # 63 — April 28, 2006 — a Client Relations post
Shaula Evans is one of my tech team. The remarks that follow were posted yesterday as a comment to an earlier blogpost about how to buy professional services, but I thought they deserved more prominence, so I have repeated them here.
As you read her remarks, think of marketing and selling your services, inside and outside your organization. Shaula says:
“I know that you and I agree that many people approach business relationships like a romantic courtship: they put their best face forward, make outlandish claims and set incredibly high expectations, and then, over time, they fail absymally at the impossible standards they’ve set and great frustration (and often high drama) ensues for everyone.
“My approach (when I’m on my game) has been the dead opposite: I tell the other person all the very worst things about me, all the things that make me hard to work with or that might make him or her choose a different partner. In business situations over the past several years, this has meant making business partners and clients aware that I am dealing with chronic health problems that currently include insomnia (which can make scheduling calls and meetings a little extra challenging). If partners want to proceed in full knowledge that my health requires certain accommodations, great! And if not…it is not like I would be able to hide the truth for long.
“When I’m off my game, by the way, which is usually if I am feeling under pressure or insecure, I will start to want to “puff myself up” and pretend to be things I’m not. And typically, I fight down the urge to present a facade, and the relationship goes well, but when I succumb to the fear-driven need to be something I’m not (which happens less frequently, fortuneately, as I get a little older and a little wiser), the story usually ends in disaster.
“My most successful use of this technique wound up getting me married. My husband and I met online (through an email discussion list for professional actors and directors), and fell madly in love before we even realized it. Unfortunately, he was in Charleston, South Carolina, and I was in Vancouver, BC, Canada, and we had no prospects of meeting in person until a convention for actors came up in Las Vegas (roughly half way between us!) that we were both planning on attending. We proceeded to chat on the phone, and did everything in our powers to each drive the other one away-exposing all of our worst flaws and telling all our worst secrets.
“Our reverse psychology trick worked: I proposed an hour after we met in person for the first time, he eventually said yes (after he got over his initial tongue-tied shock; I really threw him for a loop since he had been planning to propose to me and he didn’t see my proposal coming), and we have now been blissfully married for over 5 years.
“Back to the mundane world of business. When I have been sharp enough to try to “scare the other guy away,” my results always been (almost) as good. Being brutally honest about my own flaws and weaknesses and particular needs seems to have encouraged the person or people on the other side of the table to respond in a direct, honest way (instead of an over-inflated, artificial way), so we could have a real conversation about whether we met each others’ needs.
“When I worked as a technical and executive search recruiter, I used this technique, too: telling a candidate all of the worst parts about a job or employer, to find out if they were really interested; and presenting a very balanced and honest picture of the strengths and weaknesses of my candidates to my clients, so they could fairly judge if the candidate was a good match for the opportunity at their organization. In this way, I built up great, trust-based relationships with both my candidates and clients-and it was much easier to take care of everyone’s needs.
“Of course, not everyone responds well to this approach. Some people are really baffled when you break away from the received conventions of social ritual, and their reactions can range from offended to upset to extremely hostile. Fortunately, such a response is usually a pretty good indicator that our communication styles won’t mesh and I’m better off not starting a relationship with that person. (“A bullet dodged,” as my husband would put it.)
“You can call this “reverse psychology,” or “demonstrating trust in other folks to elicit their trust in you,” or “telling the (ugly) truth”-it all boils down to tell the other people in the conversation what they really need to know, to figure out if they want this relationship, and to have the information they need to move forward on a secure footing. In a way, it’s an anti-game approach. And the great thing is, you can initiate this strategy from either side of the table.
“If you ever try to start a new business conversation by outlining all the reasons the other person shouldn’t take your business…I would be very interested to hear the results.”
I endorse Shaula’s insights. Her approach won’t always get you the most business, but pursuing that is not the key to ether profits or a happy life. The key insight is that in trying to form relationships, business or personal, you’ll profit most by having an approach that screens people out quickly who aren’t going to like what you do, and brings in people who do. That way, you get a high percentage of profitable, repeat engagements and fabulous word of mouth with a minimum of effort.
Does anyone else have a business perspective on or experience with this approach?