And why it matters for ALL relationships
I’ve heard a lot of my entrepreneurial friends say they hate sales, that they don’t want to be “that salesperson,” like a slimy used car salesman. I too worried about how I came across to potential clients. I remember when I first started my own business, I told my coach “I hate promoting myself!” Human beings are social creatures. We’re wired to be related to those around us.
Sometimes, that can be risky, so our brains evolved unconscious detectors to help us avoid or at least reduce those risks. When we act in certain ways, we trigger the detectors in others, damaging our relationships and/or business. And this is true for ALL relationships, not just sales. So read on, even if you don’t own a business. You may just find the info helps with connecting better with your spouse, and even your teenagers!
“Never Again” Wine – a True Story
Before COVID, one of my favorite outings with my husband was to visit wineries. In our early days of dating we’d drive to northern Virginia, western Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey on day trips to wineries that caught our eye. We’d chat along the way about our dreams for the future, our kids, our values, and the life we’d create together.
Some wineries we adore and have gone back to many times in the 16 years we’ve been married. Each has its own unique flavor and atmosphere that draws us back.
There is one in particular, however, that we will never return to, and it’s not because we disliked their wine. In fact, we really liked it, but we walked out without purchasing any after our tasting was over, and have never gone back.
What went wrong?
It was all due to our exchange with the sommelier. It went something like this:
Sommelier: “The next wine I’ll pour for you is a 2010 ….. It has flavors of …. and is from the X region of Y…”
Me after taking a sip: “Nope, this one’s not for me.”
Sommelier, eyebrows raised, looking down her nose at me: “Well, you really must expand your palate.”
Me: Silence… (I was too polite to say anything). I looked at my husband and rolled my eyes.
What was going on here? She is in the business of selling wine. I was there to buy wine and was ready to happily open my wallet (just not for that particular wine), but we left without buying anything.
The Neurology of Staying Safe
Our brains scan for safety 4 times every second, and if we perceive even mild danger, it triggers our fight/flight/freeze/fix response.
According to a study conducted by Jonathan Freeman, assistant professor at New York University’s Department of Psychology, “The brain automatically responds to a face’s trustworthiness before it is even consciously perceived.” He adds, “We form spontaneous judgments of other people that can be largely outside awareness.“
Icky Factor #1 – Judgement
The sommelier’s words sent a message to my nervous system, one of judgement, of lack of acceptance, and thus lack of emotional safety. Judgement is an unconscious social defense that psychologically distances us from others. I wanted to get out of that winery. A strong response to a fairly insignificant interaction, but it had a negative impact on their business. They weren’t going to get a sale from me.
I bet you can recount similar experiences of your own. Maybe you went to an open house at a new gym near your house and just felt like you didn’t quite fit in based on a “vibe” you picked up from the staff. When we experience judgement from others, either directly or in subtle ways, we enter into a self protective state without even realizing it.
Even closer to home, when my mother would raise one eyebrow whenever she disapproved of something us kids said or did (a genetic trait I did not inherit, but tried and failed to develop through hours of practice in front of a mirror!) That eyebrow raise had a lot of power over us and she didn’t have to say a word. And I avoided her whenever I saw that raised eyebrow, and felt a lot of shame. It put distance between me and her, when what we both needed was connection – her to teach me something, and me to feel seen and heard even when I messed up, as all kids do.
Icky Factor #2 – Agenda
Have you ever attended a business networking event, when someone pushes their business card at you without asking a thing about you? They are clearly focused on their needs, their information, their business. This inhibits any relational connection. You may have said to yourself, “This interaction feels yucky to me, It’s just off”
This is an obvious no no, and I’m sure you attend networking events with people who are more sophisticated than that, but what about something more subtle? Imagine you run into an acquaintance at the coffee shop. After a few pleasant exchanges about what you’ve each been up to lately, she asks, “So, how is your health journey going these days?” The conversation had nothing to do with your health, and the question feels out of place and odd to you, but you’re not sure why. Here’s why…
The second social trigger, or ick factor, is the agenda.
When we sense someone pushing their agenda on us, we feel unsafe. It sends the message “I’m going to make you change what you’re doing to meet my needs.”
And the next sentence out of the acquaintances mouth is all about the new nutritional program she joined and she is looking for customers. Her question was not tuned to your needs, but to her own. When we view each person we interact with as a potential customer, the focus is on our agenda, not their needs. This is why the question felt off and “icky”.
Are We Guilty of Judgement and Agenda-Pushing?
It’s important to recognize when we’ve been on the receiving end of agenda or judgement, but it’s even more important to know when we’ve mistakenly done it ourselves.
Be radically honest with yourself. Are there times when you led with your own agenda, spoken words, or given non-verbal cues to a potential client that showed your judgement of them or their situation? Perhaps you headed to an event and thought to yourself “This is the perfect place for me to get customers!”. I know I have, and I cringe when I think about some of my own misguided interactions. And some of it I learned from “marketing experts”! And judgement, that raised eyebrow, was learned in my family.
We want to sell our products or enroll someone in our amazing course or program. If we lead with that agenda or judgement, they’ll know at a neurological level. Focusing on what you want or need is not how to build a business and it’s a surefire way to alienate people who migh need or want exactly what you have to offer. It would have been a more genuine interaction for that acquaintance to say, “Hey, I have a new business endeavor and would really like to tell you about it and get your thoughts…”
The Bottom Line — Be genuine, not icky.
Genuine relationship skills are essential to checking your agenda and judgement at the door when you’re seeking connection with someone. This is true for all of our relationships – personal, professional, and business.
If you want to succeed, you have to be relational in all aspects of your life. Be curious about the person you’re speaking with. Seek to connect with them on a human level, out of genuine care and concern for who they are, what they need or want and connect them to who you know can meet that need or want… even, and especially, if it’s not you or your product or service. That’s how you make sure to not be that icky sales person. You have their best interest at heart, not your own, and their nervous system knows it.
That sommelier exhibited very poor relationship skills. Her comment has become a running joke in our family. She certainly made herself very memorable to us, but not in a good way. In addition, for her and for the winery that employed her, they lost a sale they had in the bag. Worse, they lost any chance of getting any of the (probably too large) sums of money we’ve spent on wine since, because my palate has definitely expanded 🙂