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Acquiring Soft Skills: You Gotta Practice the Scales

I’ve led a fair number of trust-building workshops over the years. I’ve even written a book or three on the subject of trust. One thing hasn’t changed much: I still hear the same question, no matter who I’m speaking to, no matter what country I’m in.

“Do we really have to practice the soft stuff?”

It’s inevitably followed up with some variations of “I get it, but this isn’t going to help me close the big deal I have on deck,” or “Yes, but it’s different here,” or the classic, “This is so basic, why are we wasting our time?”

Let me answer that.

You’ve heard this one.

The New York tourist asks the cab Lyft driver, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice, practice, practice,” comes the answer.

The joke is well known – but sometimes we forget how broadly it applies.

Students of classical and jazz piano and guitar often don’t like doing the scales; but most have to do them nonetheless. I remember learning to play all seven modes (Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, etc.) starting from all four fingers from the same starting fret; then moving up a fret and starting over again.

My guitar teacher told me that the next step was to do the same cycle for minor, major seventh, dominant seventh, diminished and augmented scales. “This is the point,” he somberly told me, “at which all the jazz greats picked up heroin.”

Suppose a music student tells the music teacher, “Scales are boring; I get the concept, that’s all I need. Doing scales just cramps my style and inhibits my improvisational skills.” What does the teacher say?

They typically smile and say, “Yes, the scales are boring – but you’ve gotta do them anyway. Do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall?” Etc. etc.

But what about soft skills training? Suppose a corporate training student tells the trainer, “This role-play stuff is boring. I get it, OK? It’s simple. I don’t need to do repetitive drills – it just makes me sound phony.”

What does the trainer say? What does the trainer’s boss say? What do the training department’s clients say?

We Do Muscle Memory Exercises in Music: Why Not in Soft Skills Training?

It’s my experience that, sadly, corporate soft-skills trainers’ responses are not the same as those of music teachers. Faced with resistance, the trainers are more likely to say, “Well, OK, if you say so.”

In fairness to the trainers, it’s not usually their fault. And I don’t think it’s the fault of the client organizations either. I think the blame  lies mainly with L&D organization leadership itself – for not pushing back hard enough, even for partly buying into the clients’ rationalizations that somehow you can cognitively understand your way into learning soft skills behaviors.

The truth is, there is no substitute for realistic “muscle memory” activity when it comes to learning soft skills. You simply can’t “think your way into” skills like active listening, much less empathetic listening. You can’t just memorize a set of canned “answers” to a buyer’s “objections.” You can’t just write sentences ahead of time and think you will be able to give acceptable feedback. (Go re-watch the movie Up in the Air for an amusing example of cognitive vs. muscle-memory learning).

The equivalent of scales in soft-skills training comes in several forms – role-plays, video replays, case discussions. For my money, nothing beats a “fish-bowl” role-play; two volunteers role-play a case in front of a room. When something happens – and it always does – everyone sees it, and knows it. There is no escaping the real-ness of what just transpired.

If trainers know this is true, why then don’t they insist on it just as strongly as music teachers do? Music teachers have one advantage: they are typically older than their pupils, hence in a natural position of authority; whereas trainers are often junior to, and subordinate to, the line people in their sessions.

One trainer told me of being politely informed by an AmLaw 20 law firm that there would be no role-plays in the upcoming session. “Just discuss the technique,” the partner client said, “our people are smart enough to pick it up quickly – no need to waste time on faux drama.” Right.

The Real Reason for Resisting Soft Skills Drills

As is often the case with negative behavior, fear is at the root. No one, me included, enjoys doing role-plays. I also don’t like the taste of some medicine, but if I’m sick, I know to over-rule my taste buds.

In other words, participants just don’t want to do it. Of course, they don’t say that. They say it’s boring, they don’t need it, comprehension is enough, and so on. But it’s still the L&D folks who must not let them get away with it.

I find that each of the major staff functions has a generic effectiveness issue. For IT staff, it’s speaking in jargon and over-promising. For legal staff, it’s an inability to balance risk-minimization with general management perspective.

For HR staff – in my experience – the weakness is a desire to be accepted at the Big Table. Combined with the fact that HR people have no secret vocabulary – they speak plain language – this means that clients will predictably abuse them.

And so when the students resist doing what the L&D people know perfectly well they should do – the teachers don’t push back.

This is of course my pet theory, though it is based on my experience. What’s yours?

If your students ask you how you get to corporate Carnegie Hall, tell ‘em, “Role play, dammit!”

How Effective Was that Sales Training?

If you’ve ever received a personal performance evaluation at work, there’s a decent chance you left the meeting thinking, “Well, it would’ve been good to know that about four months ago!” In other words, advice—even if valuable—has to be timely to add value. And, of course, an evaluation that doesn’t offer any recommendations at all feels even less valuable.

In the realm of personal evaluations, we all “get” the need to add value, and to do so on a timely basis. But what about when it comes to evaluating training programs, particularly sales training programs? How does your firm go about evaluating its training offerings? Would you say it adds value? And if so, how fast does that value accrue?

I also want to suggest a simple, but basic, change in how we evaluate such programs: by shifting from metrics to communications. But first, let’s explore how evaluation usually works.

Rounding Up the Usual Suspects

Does this sound familiar? Your firm hires an outside vendor to develop an addition to your portfolio of sales training programs. Your Learning and Development team works hard with the vendor to ensure the program is customized. You do a pilot, you redesign, and you finally release it.

Your firm rolls out several deliveries before the fiscal year-end. A detailed online eight-page evaluation form has been developed, and it is filled out by over half of the participants within a week after each delivery.

Thus at year’s end, the training organization can submit a lengthy data-based analysis of the extent to which each of program’s objectives were met. In consultation with the vendor, changes are made to the program, and the cycle of delivery and evaluation begins anew.

Only one question remains: how much did sales increase because of the program? And isn’t that the only question that really matters?

Of course, there are myriad reasons why it’s a hard question to answer: GDP growth declined in the same quarter, a competitor made an acquisition, you raised prices, the leadership team changed, etc. Those are perfectly valid reasons, yet the only relevant questions remain: Did the training increase sales or not? By how much? And how did it do so?

If those questions can’t be answered, then all your complicated evaluation did was to evaluate. It didn’t add any value. And, just as with your unsatisfying personal evaluation, it leaves a hollow feeling.

The Problem with Evaluations

To over-simplify, the problem with programmatic evaluations is metrics. Not the wrong metrics, but simply the metrics. Business in general overrates metrics, but this is a particularly egregious case. We are easily seduced into thinking that if some data is better than no data, then more data is always better than less.

And that’s not the only mistake. There is also the cognitive trap: believing that if we can “understand” something, we have done the hard work of change. Not when it comes to selling, we haven’t.

Finally, there’s a subtle trap unique to training: the mistaken belief that tweaking the program will directly and causally result in the desired sales behavior changes. In fact, this is largely a leap of faith.

To sum up, the metrics don’t measure what matters (sales). The metrics give a false sense of accuracy, and there’s a leap of faith between the recommended changes and the hoped-for actual results.

The Answer

Many of these problems can be solved through one relatively simple change: replacing metrics-based evaluation with a post-training program of communication between participants. Here’s how it works.

A simple platform and protocol is developed for participants to share stories with one another about their successes in applying the lessons of the training program. Some serious social engineering is required to make it very simple. We have found an online document-sharing approach with an occasional conference call works best, with some admin support to encourage and tease out stories to be effective.

This simple approach does three things:

  • It provides timely feedback—no more waiting until period-end.
  • It provides specific Example: “I ran into a prospect at the airport, and I remembered to talk about her family first rather than diving into business. It resulted in a meeting the following week.”
  • It gives very specific guidance to future training designs about what does, and doesn’t, work.

Also—and maybe the most important thing—it directly addresses the top line. Sales can be identified through the story lines and augmented by a request to participants to periodically identify particular sales and the proportion attributable to the training.

Insist that your evaluation process doesn’t just evaluate. Make sure it adds value. Do so by substituting human-to-human direct communication about what works in place of quantitative and abstract metrics. It’s a human solution to a still-human profession—sales.

This post first appeared on RainToday.com 

Half of What You’ve Learned About Sales is Wrong

Maybe you’ve heard the old line, “Half of advertising dollars are wasted – you just don’t know which half.” Something like that is true in sales – except that you’ve got a much better chance of telling which part to keep.

(Many thanks to Chris Downing and Anthony Iannarino for helping develop this thought).

The Challenge

Take this quiz, based on your own business:

1. I think closing is:

  1. obviously critical to selling
  2. one of the more harmful concepts in sales

2. I think cold-calling is:

  1. a tough, but necessary, and improvable process
  2. to be avoided like the plague

3. I think the customer wants:

  1. a clear value proposition
  2. a relationship
  3. a fast, cheap transaction

4. The critical job of sales management is:

  1. motivation
  2. training
  3. supervision

5. Price should be:

  1. mentioned up front
  2. not mentioned until value is established
  3. not talked about between sophisticated people

Now total your scores: Give 1 point for each a), 2 points for b) and 3 points for c). Now add them up. What does it all mean?

Pretty much nothing, I’m afraid.

It. Simply. Depends.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

We all know this, of course.  B2B is not like B2C. Internal customers are not like external customers. Inside sales is not like external sales. High-ticket items are sold differently than low-price point items. Intangible services are not the same as tangible goods.

We know that.  And yet – an enormous amount of sales advice out there doesn’t make the distinctions.  Here are some examples from page 1 results of Google searches on some terms:

15 Ways to Improve your Closing Ratios.  Probably great advice. For someone. Is it great advice for you? Darned if you can tell by reading the article, because it’s addressed universally.

How to Write a Value Proposition. An excellent article, by an excellent organization. But where does it rank in the scale of importance to your business?

When to Quote Price: Useful information in dealing with “be-backs” (i.e. “We’re just not sure, we’ll be back”). But how important are be-backs if you’re selling systems integration projects?

How to Turn a Relationship Into a Sale. Great advice for an industrial paper business; but do I want the counter guy at Dunkin’ Donuts establishing a relationship with me?

And I could go on; and so could you. I didn’t pick bad articles – those are pretty good ones, some of them excellent. But – they don’t explicitly deal with the relevance of the advice to you.

Fitting Your Size

How, then, to figure out what advice to take?  You might start by characterizing your business across several continuums (continua, if you prefer):

For example, draw five lines (one for each characteristic), connecting the two endpoints:

     a. from frequent to infrequent purchases

     b. from high to low price point

     c. from tangible to intangible goods

     d. from high margins to low margins

     e. from transactional to continuing revenue relationships

Then mark the midpoint for each continuum.

Now – for each issue – on which side of the middle does your business fall?

Now ask yourself – what’s the right answer for the other side of the spectrum? And what’s the right answer for my side? How and why do they differ?

========

A little reflection can go a long way.  If you’re a law firm, and you’ve figured out you need sales training (which you probably do), don’t go hiring sales experts from retail B2C businesses. If you’re selling web-hosting services, you may not need the world’s best advice on building deep relationships.

Another way to put this might be: if something doesn’t feel right to you – your gut may be telling you something valid. Have enough courage to at least ask questions about it.

Don’t just do what someone who wrote about selling tells you. Their advice might be in the “other half” of sales advice – the wrong half for you.

It depends. On you.

Leadership Development: the Trust Perspective

Leadership and Development, Trusted Advisor, Trust-Based LeadershipI rarely write blogposts promoting the services we offer. But since we have something new to offer – this is one of those times.

Are you involved with issues of leadership in your organization? Then you may be interested in our newest service offering, Trust-based Leadership.

And if learning and developments is not your thing, please pass it on to the appropriate person.

Trust-based Leadership joins our two other flagship programsBeing Trusted Advisors and Trust-based Selling. Here’s how it came about.

The Case for Trust-based Leadership

In 2011’s The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading With Trust, Andrea Howe and I articulated the central role of trust in leadership. That may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s not all that obvious. Historically, the idea of “leadership” has been all about vertical relationships – leaders and followers, the high-potential few, charisma. Not so much anymore.

Now, critical business relationships have moved to the horizontal dimension: partners, joint ventures, alignment, startups, remote teams. In such environments, leaders have no direct control – they can’t give orders, they often can’t even offer incentives. What they can do, and must do, is influence people to move in the same general direction. And the number one driver of influence is – trust.

(For a longer discussion of this issue, see The New Leadership is Horizontal, Not Vertical).

Trust-based Leadership – the Program 

We’ve had this program in development since early summer 2012, and it’s finally ready. A one-day program, it’s almost entirely experiential. It is aimed at supervisory to mid-level  groups in all kinds of businesses and organizations. It comes with diagnostics and sustainment plans. See more details here.

It is based on material contained in The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook. Trainers have been certified, the program has been piloted (to rave reviews), and it’s available for train-the-trainer for larger organizations, starting now. (Available at first in the US only; but stay tuned).

Email me charlie@trustedadvisor.com or call me directly at 1-855-TRUST01, ext. 1001 (that’s 1-855-878-7801, ext. 1001) for more information, and I will reply to you personally. I’d like to talk more with you about this exciting new program.

Introducing the Trusted Advisor Mastery Program

Our business at Trusted Advisor Associates is to help you become better trusted business advisors.

That started when I co-wrote The Trusted Advisor in 2000. It continued with my book Trust-Based Selling in 2005. In 2008, we added the Trust Quotient, a self-assessment survey which has now had over 14,000 takers.

Throughout, we have given practical, real-world advice to thousands of managers and professionals in major corporations throughout the world through our seminars, webinars, speeches and consulting.

On Monday November 15th we are beginning the first session of our new Trusted Advisor Mastery Program, and I want to tell you why we are excited about it–and why perhaps you should be as well.

What Will the Trusted Advisor Mastery Program Do for Me?

What Is the Trusted Advisor Mastery Program?

Who Should Consider Taking the Program?

What Are the e-Learning Modules About?

What Does the Program Include?

When Does the Program Begin?

How Much Coaching Does the Program Contain?

Who Does the Coaching?

How Much Flexibility in Scheduling Is There?

How Long Does It Last?

What Does the Online Learning Management System Do?

How Much Does the Program Cost?

How Do I Sign Up?

What Will the Trusted Advisor Mastery Program Do for Me?

It will make you a better trusted business advisor. That means:

Your clients/customers will be more likely to take your advice. They will be less likely to seek alternate providers. They become more likely to sole-source you going forward. Your opinions will carry more weight. You will be invited to discuss more open-ended issues than in the past, and invited earlier than before. You will get less price-resistance. Your repeat business, customer retention rates, and customer loyalty are all likely to increase as you become more trustworthy, and trusted.

Are these the kinds of benefits your business could use? What are they worth to your business? What are they worth to you personally?

What Is the Trusted Advisor Mastery Program?

It is a three-month program for cohorts of 5-10 people at a time. It combines e-learning modules with personalized coaching, group coaching, and a rich collaborative on-line environment. Each participant has a great deal of freedom to customize the program specifically around their very particular issues.

Who Should Consider Taking the Program?

External professionals (accountants, consultants, lawyers, etc.), internal staff professionals (HR, IT, Finance, Legal), sales and service people from complex product and services industries. The program is particularly attractive for those in smaller companies, including solo and partnership businesses that don’t have access to 20-30 person in-house training sessions in larger corporations.

What Are the e-Learning Modules About?

There are 20-plus modules, all delivered personally by me, Charles H. Green. All the content that I deliver to my major corporate clients I deliver here, in e-learning form, to participants, in ways you can rewind and read again. The materials are annotated, referencing two books, forty articles, and over 800 blogposts.

The modules dive deep into issues like creating trust in the sales process, understanding the dynamics of different trust temperament personalities, practical uses of the Trust Equation, the application of the four Trust Principles, trust-based leadership, successfully creating trust in conversations, creating trust in virtual teams, accelerating trust creation, recovery from trust loss situations, mitigating trust risk, asking difficult questions, and answering the most difficult sales questions.

What Does the Program Include?

You get:

· access to all online content

· 4 one-on-one coaching meetings, about an hour each

· 4 hours of group coaching (with other cohort members)

· unlimited access to the customized Learning Management System

· online forum conversations between your cohorts, coach, and myself

· copies of both books

· your own trust quotient and trust temperaments self-assessment.

When Does the Program Begin?

The first session starts November 15, and is fully subscribed. If you send an email to mastery@trustedadvisor.com, we will notify you when the next cohort-session begins. (Your email will be used for no other purpose, and will not be sold or given to anyone else).

How Much Coaching Does the Program Contain?

Each participant gets 4 individual, one-on-one hour-long coaching sessions with a professional, Trusted Advisor Associates coach; either Stewart M. Hirsch, TAA’s head of coaching, or coaches under his guidance. The four group coaching calls include exercises and discussions on issues that arise in the online forum.

Who Does the Coaching?

Stewart M. Hirsch, Trusted Advisor Associates’ head of coaching, is the lead coach for the Trusted Advisor Mastery program; he does much of the coaching, and other qualified coaches work under his guidance. Stewart is a superb and experienced coach, steeped in the Trusted Advisor approach and dedicated to the success of all his clients.

How Much Flexibility in Scheduling Is There?

One of the most attractive characteristics of the Trusted Advisor Mastery program is the extreme degree of flexibility in scheduling it offers you. With the exception of the four group coaching hours, which require minimal coordination with other members of your cohort, you have great freedom. The online learning can be done 24-7; your individual coaching can be arranged at any time that is mutually convenient to you and your coach.

How Long Does It Last?

The program typically last about three months, though the precise beginning and ending, as well as the pace, are well within your control. The modules and online forum remain open for a total of five months, to allow discussion and learning to continue after the formal portion of the program is completed.

What Does the Online Learning Management System Do?

It is a customized environment, built on an Adobe LMS, the same kind of platform used by major universities for large scale delivery. This is not your retail-available webinar-online type software. It offers you forums, special readings, eLearning materials, webcasts, a diary function, and rich controls for customization and privacy.

How Much Does the Program Cost?

The material delivered in this program is exactly the same material we deliver live to groups of 20-30 in-house for major corporations–except that it is priced far less. By combining online learning with designed high-quality interaction and just-in-time coaching, we have been able to keep this program affordable, and yet very high value at the same time.

How Do I Sign Up?

The November 15 session is fully subscribed. We will be doing more programs in the future, though specific dates have not yet been set. To be notified when we schedule the next program, send an email to mastery@trustedadvisor.com.

Moments of Truth, Improvised

Anyone who’s been in professional services for more than a week has probably encountered a tricky client situation or two. Some examples:

– A prospective client asks you point blank, “What experience do you have in xyz industry?” and even though you saw that question coming, you didn’t think it would be quite so direct, and the honest answer is zero, zip, nada—only you’re afraid to say so because you think it’s a deal-breaker and you’ve got other relevant experience that surely they’ll want to hear about before summarily dismissing you!

– You thought the draft deliverable you turned in yesterday was pretty good until you got an email from your client saying how disappointed she is in the product and that, quite frankly, she’s seriously re-considering sending you to London for the next and largest revenue-producing phase of the project.

– You’re seconds away from beginning a meeting with a very senior client, originally scheduled to discuss how to expand the successful work you’re doing together, but an hour earlier you accidentally overheard him in the lunchroom speaking with colleagues about dumping your company and hiring your number one competitor instead.

(By the way: 2 of those 3 really happened to us: which is the made-up story?)

I call these Moments of Truth—when something happens, and suddenly it feels like you’re alone on a sinking ship with no life preserver in sight, and you’d rather be anywhere but where you are.

Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ,” taught us to understand the science behind our reaction, using the phrase “amygdala hijack” to describe how our well-functioning “thinking brain” (the neocortex) gets completely overruled by the part of the brain that manages our survival. Then our amygdala-threatened-selves do stupid things like spin a great story of how we don’t exactly have direct experience in xyz industry but blah blah blah … or subtly (and maybe overtly) blame our colleague for the sub-par work product … or completely sidestep an awkward interaction altogether in favor of maintaining the pretense that everything really is OK after all. In other words: we’re in fight or flight mode, and often both at once.

Moments of Truth become Moments of Learning

We spend a lot of time dealing with Moments of Truth in our learning programs because they happen a lot in your business relationships. How you handle them speaks volumes about what you’re made of. It speaks to whether or not you have the mindset, motives, and agility of a Trusted Advisor. Being effective in a Moment of Truth requires more than mastering a few behavioral tricks; it demands a new way of thinking and being.

So we do a lot of out-of-the-box experiential learning that deals on the spot with your own live, real situations. Occasionally we use our own caselets for you to experiment with—ones that have been tested for a decade and earned a special place in the hearts of our alumni, like “The Lunchroom.” In other words, we do what most classroom learners universally dread: we role-play.

All right, collective groan–I know, I know, I hate role-playing too. It’s scary and contrived. And there’s never enough background or history or facts to be really comfortable in a role-play. It’s a common refrain during debriefs: “If only I’d known more about the situation I could have handled it better.”

But let’s be real: How many times have you prepped for hours for a meeting, only to learn in the first two minutes that the client just came out of another meeting in which a major decision was made that completely alters not only your agenda for this meeting but your entire set of recommendations for the engagement?

In a Moment of Truth, background and history and facts don’t matter one iota because your reptilian brain doesn’t care—it’s focused exclusively on the emotions of the moment. It has neither the time nor the inclination to process anything else.

Q. Faced with an MOT, what’s a Trusted Advisor to do?

A. Learn how to improvise.

The Practice of Improvisation: a Key Trusted Advisor Capability

To improvise is to “invent, compose, or perform with little or no preparation.” Which is exactly what is called for in a Moment of Truth—the ability to deal on the spot with something unexpected.

Believe it or not, you get better at improvising by practicing improvisation. (And that only sounds like an oxymoron—it’s actually very true). Practice is exactly how professional improv comedians (think, Whose Line is it, Anyway?) become so skilled at their craft.

They practice being quick to respond instead of over-thinking. They practice “yes-and” responses, where they build on what’s already been said, instead of contradicting or denying what someone else has already offered. They practice subordinating their own egos to support what’s being created by the collective instead of hogging the spotlight and stealing a scene. They practice giving up being clever and witty and funny and instead get real.

How do they do this? They get together and … role-play. They do it again and again, always with new scenarios and relationships that are completely made up on the spot. And when it’s show time and the curtain goes up, they still have no idea what they’re going to create together because everything is based on audience suggestion. But what they do know is that they’re fully rehearsed at being responsive, collaborative, and authentic.

In Trusted Advisor terms, they’re credible, transparent, other-oriented, related.

And that is something worth practicing to get good at. So: role-plays? Yep, role-plays.

The Trusted Advisor/Improviser—a Brief Commercial

If you think your skills could use a tune up or you wish you felt more confident in the Moments of Truth you face with your clients and colleagues, we’d love to have you come practice with us Sept 28 and 29 in Washington, DC. Being a Trusted Advisor: Walking the Talk is a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in the mindsets and skill sets of a Trusted Advisor.

We’ll improvise. We’ll laugh a lot. And we’ll be sure you walk away with far greater value than you expected.

Why Pulling Yourself Up by Your Own Bootstraps is Hard

I used to suffer from a particularly bad version of one part of the human condition—a tendency to see things as all about me. I tried like crazy, in many ways, to pull myself up by my own bootstraps. I’ve gotten, well, better; but it wasn’t because of my bootstrap pulling.

I also reached a difficult point once years ago in studying the pedal steel guitar. I was taking private lessons from a real master, and trying very hard on technique. He gave me tons of advice (including most particularly to lighten up), and I tried my darnedest hard to take it all—pulling myself up by my own bootstraps. I never did get better, and finally sold my guitar a year ago.

Pulling On Our Own Bootstraps Just Burns Leather and Calories

Think about the physics of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. It’s an impossibility–which of course is why we like it as a metaphor. But life is not a metaphor, while it is constrained by physics.

So—why doesn’t bootstrap-yanking work? And why do we keep trying it?

The Pedal Steel Story

In my guitar case, the immediate cause was clear. I was trying too hard. I’d try to play free and easy—I’d try so, so hard. Which of course was the problem. 

My hands would cramp up, I was trying to so hard.  And I knew trying so hard was the problem. That made it worse, because I knew it was ‘just’ a mental issue. Which made me worry more, which made me try harder. (Substitute golf if you prefer a more conventional metaphor).

It was a vicious circle; a negative feedback loop as bad as any that Jimi Hendrix generated. And knowing the problem didn’t help solve it. It was not one of those unconscious incompetence things. My knowledge got in the way. It was one of those “you can’t solve a problem at the same level the problem was created” problems.

I still love pedal steel music. (Everyone knows Jerry Garcia’s lick on Teach Your Children, but Garcia knew he was a rank hack by Nashville standards: go listen to every note played by Tom Brumley on Buck Owens‘ original version of Together Again.) I just don’t try to play anymore.

The Life Story

In mid-life, I became aware that a lot of my problems were caused by my tendency to overly see things around me as being about me. In the terms I later developed in the Trust Equation we use at Trusted Advisor Associates, I suffered from high self-orientation.

A few years ago I suddenly remembered something I used to say back when I was “in it.” When someone close to me would say something critical about me, and I took it way too personally—even though I knew I was taking it too personally–I would describe the condition as “like having someone point a gun at my head and telling me to calm down.”

At the time, I was just trying to explain to people why I felt paralyzed to think my way out of my self-obsession. Now, in the rear-view mirror, I see it differently.

I see now it was the perfect metaphor, because the metaphor, and my own use of it, were both stuck squarely in my old paradigm. Because everything was about me, I just didn’t have the tools to imagine something that wasn’t about me. My prison was self-limiting because it was self-defining. 

The Bootstrap Story

You can’t talk about this sort of issue in a linear kind of way; you have to deal with metaphors and paradoxes. Gödel’s incompleteness theorems probably apply here, though frankly the math is beyond me.

I’m reduced to platitudes, which I find reassuring in their simple memorability. In addition to “you can’t solve the problem at the level it was created,” I like:

·    When you dig yourself into a hole, first, stop digging;

·    A lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client;

·    Try not thinking about pink elephants, and

·    You empower what you fear.

My only solutions boil down to three:

1.    Give up. Really. Just stop. If it’s not meant to be, stop fighting. Universe 1, you 0. You’re really not at the center, after all; act like it. Just go be you.

2.    Laugh.  Make sarcastic jokes about it. Get a kick out of your insanity. Find the sick humor in it all, and focus on the humor, not the sick.

3.    Ask for help. Not with the problem, but with the meta-problem. Then accept it. See step 1.

Can You Train for Trust?

Can you train for trust?

The question needs to be broken down; but the quick answer is — yes. Let’s talk about how. And then we want to invite you to experience it yourself.

Disclosure: this blog-post is part advertisement. Trusted Advisor Associates is offering an open enrollment Being a Trusted Advisor program  in New York, New York. Read on to find out more, or just click here to sign up.

Now, back to training for trust; let’s break it down.

How to Approach Training for Trust

1. Be clear what you’re teaching. There is training for trustworthiness, and there is training for trusting. They are not the same. It’s the combination of one’s trustworthiness and another’s propensity for trusting that creates trust. Trustworthiness can be learned and is a lower-risk proposition–focus your energy and resources here. (See Trust, Trusting and Trustworthiness)

2. Keep it simple. Break an amorphous, complex topic into bite-sized, digestible pieces. Use a few solid, core models of trust. We use the three Trust Models: the Trust Equation, the Trust Creation Process, and the Trust Principles.

3. Make it stick. Thought-provoking concepts are necessary…and far from sufficient. We recommend four specific learning techniques to make a lasting impact:

a. Generous use of anecdotes—stories have a way of conveying the paradoxes of trustworthiness better than any rigorous intellectual model;
b. Realistic cases—in particular, role-play exercises, cases and video vignettes;
c. Muscle Memory—there is no substitute for ‘feeling’ the techniques, with hands-on demonstrations by experienced trainers and a lot of experimentation by participants;
d. Ongoing application to current business situations—with instructors and coaches guiding you through it in real time, live ammunition, no safety net.

Above all else, trust is learned by doing. What action will you take today to increase your trustworthiness?

Back to the advertisement: Being a Trusted Advisor is being held in New York, New York, April 22-23, at the Columbia University Faculty House. This program develops the mindsets, skills, and day-to-day practices of a Trusted Advisor. It includes built-in reinforcement–a one-on-one coaching call for each participant–along with a personalized Trust Temperament(tm) and autographed copy of either "The Trusted Advisor" or "Trust-based Selling."  Click here to sign up.   An early-bird discount is available until April 1.

We hope to see you in New York City!

 

 

Acquiring Soft Skills: You Gotta Practice the Scales

You’ve heard this one.

The New York tourist asks the cab driver, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice, practice, practice,” comes the answer.

The joke is well known—but sometimes we forget how broadly it applies.

Students of classical and jazz piano and guitar often don’t like doing the scales; but most do them nonetheless. I remember learning to play all seven modes (Dorian, Phyrigian, Lydian, etc.) starting from all four fingers from the same starting fret; then moving up a fret and starting over again.

My guitar teacher told me that the next step was to do the same cycle for minor, major seventh, dominant seventh, diminished and augmented scales. “This is the point,” he somberly told me, “at which all the jazz greats picked up heroin.”

Suppose a music student tells the music teacher, “Scales are boring; I get the concept, that’s all I need. Doing scales just cramps my style and inhibits my improvisational skills.” What does the teacher say?

They typically smile and say, “Yes, the scales are boring—but you’ve gotta do them anyway. Do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall?” Etc. etc.

But what about soft skills training? Suppose a corporate training student tells the trainer, “This role-play stuff is boring. I get it, OK? It’s simple. I don’t need to do repetitive drills—it just makes me sound phony.”

What does the trainer say? What does the trainer’s boss say? What do the training department’s clients say?

We Do Muscle Memory Exercises in Music: Why Not in Soft Skills Training?

It’s my experience that, sadly, corporate soft-skills trainers’ responses are not the same as those of music teachers. Faced with resistance, the trainers are more likely to say, “Well, OK, if you say so.”

In fairness to the trainers, it’s not usually their fault. And I don’t think it’s the fault of the client organizations either. I think the blame for it lies with training organization leadership itself—partly for not pushing back, and partly for buying the clients’ rationalizations that somehow you can cognitively understand your way into learning soft skills.

The truth is, there is no substitute for realistic “muscle memory” activity when it comes to learning soft skills. You simply can’t “think your way into” skills like active listening, much less empathetic listening. You can’t just memorize a set of canned “answers” to a buyer’s “objections.” You can’t just write sentences ahead of time and think you have given acceptable feedback. (See the recent movie Up in the Air for an amusing example of cognitive vs. muscle-memory learning).

The equivalent of scales in soft-skills training comes in several forms—role-plays, video replays, case discussions. For my money, nothing beats a “fish-bowl” role-play; two volunteers role-play a case in front of a room. When something happens—and it always does—everyone sees it, and knows it. There is no escaping the real-ness of what just transpired.

If trainers know this is true, why then don’t they insist on it just as strongly as music teachers do? In part, of course, it’s because music teachers are typically older than their pupils; whereas trainers are often junior to, and subordinate to, the line people in their sessions.

One trainer told me of being politely informed by an AmLaw 20 law firm that there would be no role-plays in the upcoming session. “Just discuss the technique,” the partner client said, “our people are smart enough to pick it up quickly—no need to waste time on faux drama.”

The Real Reason for Resisting Soft Skills Drills

As is often the case with negative behavior, fear is at the root. No one, me included, enjoys doing role-plays. I also don’t like the taste of some medicine, but if I’m sick, I will over-rule my taste buds.

In other words, participants just don’t want to do it. Of course, they don’t say that. They say it’s boring, they don’t need it, comprehension is enough, and so on. But it’s the HR folks who let them get away with it.

I find each of the major staff functions has a generic effectiveness issue. For IT staff, it’s speaking in jargon and over-promising. For legal staff, it’s an inability to balance risk-minimization with general management perspective.

And for HR staff—in my experience—the weakness is a desire to be accepted at the Big Table. Combined with the fact that HR people have no secret vocabulary, this means that clients will abuse them. They are too needy, and have no ritualistic skills to protect them from bullies.

And so the students resist doing what the HR people know perfectly well they should do—and the HR people don’t push back.

This is of course my pet theory, though it is based on my experience. What’s yours?

And if you’re an HR person who’s been annoyed by my use of “training” in this blog, let me suggest this: you’re not going to be called “learning and development” by the client people until you start asserting what you know to be right. Go on, stick it to ‘em. Don’t ask for respect until you’ve earned it.

If your students as you how you get to corporate Carnegie Hall, tell ‘em, “Role play, dammit!”

What Introductions Can Teach Us About Trust

parachute jumpersI’m in Washington, D.C. this week, giving a Being Trusted Advisors training session along with the rest of our staff. There is an exercise I like around introductions.

Rather than the usual ‘let’s go around the table and introduce ourselves,’ we ask people to quickly state their company (or title/role if it’s an internal training), followed by two questions:

1. Tell the group how many months you’ve been with (company name), and
2. Tell the group an interesting tidbit or factoid about yourself—something a little bit unusual, quirky, interesting, not an every-day business fact about yourself.

I ask everyone in the room in random order to quickly answer the two questions. The debrief is then: why do you think I asked us to take X minutes doing this?

The usual answers are to establish a group identity, to begin creating trust, to get people focused in on the room. True, true, and true.

Then I’ll stand behind one person and ask the group: “how many months was Joe here with his company?” A few people remember; often they remember different numbers.

I’ll then ask, “What was Joe’s interesting tidbit or factoid?”

The whole group responds immediately: “Arrived late to his own wedding,” or “chickened out parachuting last weekend,” or whatever.

We have a good time with that one, talking about why we remember personal tidbits more than we remember data. But what’s really interesting is: so what?

What should we do with the observation that people remember personal quirks and stories and anecdotes more than they do objective data?

What should a client relationship manager do with that observation? A salesperson? An accountant?

What should you do with that observation?