Head Voices (Issue 519)

In which we are reminded to focus on our clients' voices to silence the voices in our heads.

There was a summer night, years ago, when I returned to Woods Hole, Massachusetts on the evening’s  last from Martha’s Vineyard. While I was staying with friends in Woods Hole, I had been out on the Vineyard for the day, enjoying the beach and reading Stephen King’s book, ‘Salem’s Lot, a story about a pretty Maine country town…overtaken by vampires. Hiding. In the dark. And people being snatched away. And dying. You know,  a little light summer beach reading a year after reading Jaws.

Docked in Woods Hole, pre-occupied with the story, I walked silently off the ferry with other day-trippers and boarded the parking shuttle bus. A mile up Woods Hole Road, the driver let me out at the end FR Lilly Road, a 400 meter straight shot into the moonless Cape night,  framed by overhanging trees and vines leading toward my friends’ cottage.

Sneakers crunching on the rough Cape asphalt, completely in the dark, senses on edge from King’s tale, every squirrel jump, twig crack, and  owl hoot filled my head and rolled my stomach. Throat tight, breathing labored, light-headed,  I wanted to take deep breaths…even just one… and I couldn’t.

The following day’s Cape Cod Times headline, printed in deep read, would shriek, I imagined: “Vampires Snatch Cape Visitor: Sneakers Found, 30 Yards from House.”

‘WALK!!!” I roared to myself.  “WALK!”  And I walked, listening to my breathing,  counting steps to calm myself  – One, two, three, four, five, six … –  until I could see the house, and then I ran, full out,  to the door!

And you know:  It was all mind games.   Head voices.

Sometimes, in sales calls, particularly if they’re not going well, these head voices come. Second guessing, fearful, self-doubting, critical (“Oh, you missed that one, Moron.  Oh, lame question….. No, no!  You’re pitching too soon!  Ask this. ASK THIS!!!!  He doesn’t like me.  Smile!  Lean forward – mirror the body language. What did she say?  Nuts, I MISSED it…”)

Hard to listen, hard to engage when head voices rise.

Counting, to focus ourselves, like I counted steps on the Cape  – not so good in sales calls. Miss everything.

Listening to client voices, really listening, noticing the voices – much better.  Is the client’s  voice rising or falling?   Louder or softer?  Sentences longer or shorter?  Breathing faster or slower?  Does it feel like energy is coming toward us or away?

By focusing on the clients’ voices ,we’re paying more attention to the thing to which we want to pay more attention – the client – and less attention on ourselves and the voices in our heads.  Done well, our head voices go silent, leaving space for us to hear, process, and respond to our clients’ words. Listening out – are the clients’ voices rising or falling, louder or softer, longer or shorter – to pay attention, to hear what is said,  rather than listening in to our own head voices and missing everything.

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