Stop, look, listen

Back in the day I seem to recall this was the advice given to us as children about how to safely cross a road.

It came to mind today after someone told me a story of a bank manager trying to sell a client on monthly payments for his fees, instead of the more expensive one-off annual payment. The client took the more expensive option, claiming it was simpler and ‘what they were used to’.

It reminded me of how often today I see people trying to influence someone else with what they think is a fantastic idea, only to be surprised and even annoyed when the other person doesn’t agree.

Today we are bombarded with messaging trying to influence us. Demands at work, from bosses and teams; advertising on every digital platform we use; cold calls at home; even friends and family clamouring for us to like their latest tweet or Facebook post (and yes, I realise the irony of saying that in a blog post).

Sometimes what we want more than the potential small cash benefit of monthly payments is peace and quiet. Not changing means one less decision on our to-do list, and only one payment to check, not 12. In a noisy world, it’s tempting for marketing and sales professionals to feel they need to shout louder and claim more to get potential customers’ attention. They all say they put customers first, but when everyone shouts, all we hear is noise.

So it’s worth remembering that when the shoe is on the other foot.

When you want to influence someone, by all means think about your own perspective but, as someone wisely once said to me, “have your opinion, but hold it lightly”. Before you spend days polishing your Powerpoint deck, rehearsing your sales pitch, or even scripting your inspirational speech, stop. Go and look a sample of your audience in the eye and test your idea. And then listen, hard.

You may not hear what you were hoping, but you have benefitted in three ways. First, you haven’t wasted your time over-preparing. Second, you have realised the problems early, not on the key date when it’s too late to change. Third, you now have real data on which to decide your next step.

We’re all fed up with being deluged with demands for our attention and time. Next time you want to influence someone, get prepared and then stop, look, listen.

PS. And it’s not just about others. The next time you catch yourself in the middle of a frantic spiral where you are working hard, but making little progress, it’s good to stop, look and listen to yourself too.

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