Selling to the Primal Instinct in All of Us

If you’re in sales, this blogpost is for you.

If you have a toddler at home, ditto.

And if you’re a toddler parent who sells for a living, you just hit the jackpot. Listen up.

I recently wrote an article on selling called The Point of Listening is Not What You Hear, But the Listening Itself.  (Or, read the shorter, blog version).

The title pretty much says it. A lot of sales programs focus on listening for content; but unless the customer feels heard, all you’ve done is a brain-suck, and that feels invasive to the customer.

That idea won’t be new to some salespeople, or to afficionados of communications theory.  But I had no idea how firmly based it is in develomental history.

From the NYTimes Feb. 7, we have “Coping with the Caveman in the Crib.” 
 

If there is such a person as a “baby whisperer,” it is the pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp, whose uncanny ability to quiet crying babies became the best-selling book “The Happiest Baby on the Block.”

Dr. Karp’s method [works with] fussy babies who are quickly, almost eerily soothed by a combination of tight swaddling, loud shushing and swinging, which he says mimics the sensations of the womb.

Now Dr. Karp, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles, has turned his attention to the toddler years…A wailing baby is nothing compared with the defiant behavior and tantrums common among toddlers.

But Dr. Karp’s method of toddler communication is not for the self-conscious. It involves bringing yourself, both mentally and physically, down to a child’s level when he or she is upset. The goal is not to give in to a child’s demands, but to communicate in a child’s own language of “toddler-ese.”

This means using short phrases with lots of repetition, and reflecting the child’s emotions in your tone and facial expressions. And, most awkward, it means repeating the very words the child is using, over and over again.

For instance, a toddler throwing a tantrum over a cookie might wail, “I want it. I want it. I want cookie now.”

Often, a parent will adopt a soothing tone saying, “No, honey, you have to wait until after dinner for a cookie.”

Such a response will, almost certainly, make matters worse. “It’s loving, logical and reasonable,” notes Dr. Karp. “And it’s infuriating to a toddler. Now they have to say it over harder and louder to get you to understand.”

Dr. Karp adopts a soothing, childlike voice to demonstrate how to respond to the toddler’s cookie demands.

“You want. You want. You want cookie. You say, ‘Cookie, now. Cookie now.’ ”

It’s hard to imagine an adult talking like this in a public place. But Dr. Karp notes that this same form of “active listening” is a method adults use all the time. The goal is not simply to repeat words but to make it clear that you hear someone’s complaint.  “If you were upset and fuming mad, I might say, ‘I know. I know. I know. I get it. I’m really really sorry. I’m sorry.’ That sounds like gibberish out of context,” he says.

On his DVD, Dr. Karp demonstrates the method. Within seconds, teary-eyed toddlers calm and look at him quizzically as he repeats their concerns back at them.

“The goal is not simply to repeat words, but to make it clear that you hear someone’s complaint.”

The point of listening is not what you hear, but the act of listening itself. Or, to be more correct, the result of that act, namely the customer’s experience of being heard.

Sometimes what works on kids also works on adults.  Sometimes not.  My tummy tells me this is the former.

And it’s basic. Primal.  It’s about empathy, not about exchange of cognitive information.

Don’t listen to do a brain-suck. Listen so the customer (or your toddler) feels heard.

And to all you salesperson/parents out there—you’re welcome.  Wish I’d’a knew it!

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