Assumptions.  Guessing or thinking we KNOW what someone else is thinking, needing, objecting to, etc.  How many relationships and sales are lost because of assumptions?  Of course that’s a rhetorical question – we can’t know for sure.  The real question is – how many are lost to you?

Every week I work with sales reps and non-traditional sales professionals (IT consultants for example) on consultative selling skill training.  Our process is 6-9 weeks long depending on the course.  We use the methodology of long-term behavior change process to help everyone “stick” the skils land behaviors.  Why? It takes some people 4-5 weeks to REALLY understand what it takes to stop and listen.  Their mode is go-go-go and “I know” and many assumptions are made to keep moving forward.

Example?  I have many business examples, but I’m going to use a personal example that is so poignant.  I have a relative who does not listen.  Even when she asks a question – it is closed and assumptive.  The following exchange is a PERFECT example of what happens when we assume.

Sarah was talking with another relative, Carrie, who had been dealing with some heart medical issues for months.  Here is the exchange:

  • Sarah, “So, you had a stint put in?”
  • Carrie, “No.”
  • Sarah, “Oh, they did the scope thing instead.”
  • Carrie, “Nope.”
  • Sarah, “Hmmm. They probably decided medications were the best thing for now then.”
  • Carrie, “No.”

After several more reiterations of this approach Sarah gave up and moved to another conversation…still having no idea what happened to Carrie.

As I observed this I wanted to scream “ASK her a question instead of “guessing” what happened!!”  Carrie, whose known Sarah for 50+ years knew the drill and wasn’t going to play. Honestly – just writing out that dialogue has raised my blood pressure – it is SO frustrating to be in one of those conversations!

How much easier it could have been, if Sarah had asked, “I heard you were having some medical problems, what’s going on?”  Or “What happened?”  That’s it!  Carrie would have answered and both would be better off.

Do you see this at work?  Do you catch yourself and realize that you didn’t get the information you needed from your prospect, customer, teammate, or manager because you didn’t really ask a relevant question and wait for the answer?

When my husband and I were purchasing a kitchen set, the salesperson took the same approach:

  • Seller: “You probably have family parties.”
  • Us: “Yes.”
  • Seller: “I’m sure you are going to want extra chairs.”
  • Us: Silence…there wasn’t anything to answer.
  • Seller: “I bet you want this today and we don’t have it in stock.”ask me

After several similar shopping experiences, I said “I wish someone would just ASK us something.”  The sales process took a lot longer than it needed to.  The seller could have just asked, “Tell me about how you use your kitchen?” or “What type of entertaining do you do?”   I would have given him what he needed to make a recommendation.  Instead, we were the ones asking the questions to filter out our options.

We’re all a work in progress – and each day if we can focus on one, seemingly small, communication action, those around us will be better off for it.

In fact, a great tip from Pat at CVS Caremark this week – she took all the little tips and wrote one action item on index cards.  Each morning she shuffles the cards and selects one to be her focus of the day.  What a great idea!

And if the tips includes stopping to listen, letting the other person answer, asking questions without assumptions, focusing on others’ intent and words, etc. we’ll learn a lot that day that might save us a lot of time, energy and frustration later.  It keeps us all from the adage you might have heard about assuming, “When you assume, it makes an as_ out of U and me!”

What do you think?  What reaction do you have to the dialogue I shared above?