This Time, With Feeling (Issue 551)

In which we are reminded to reflect on the emotional side of business as well as the facts.

 “She was mean,” reported my daughter, describing her experience with a physician, not her own, on a recent visit.

“Why do you say,” I asked?

“She didn’t really care about me. It was all very matter of fact.”

Hmmm. Reminds me of my own experience with a sales person who came to see us a few months ago. My conclusion, after the sales person left, was, “I don’t think she understands us.” And, for the same reason, more or less.

The conversation was professional…but very matter of fact – “how did your company develop to this point, who are your clients, what are your annual sales, how much do you keep in your accounts, how do you make your payments, what challenges do you experience there, what would you like to change about….,” and so on – to gather information she needed to make a recommendation. All good.

The part of “us” she didn’t understand was the emotional part – the highs and lows – that, to business owners (or, at least, to THIS business owner), is the most powerful.

Suppose there were a time in the very early days of a prospect’s business that the business ran out of cash because a major customer put a project on hold.

As bankers, we might observe, “That must have been challenging” and ask, “What did you do at that point?”

The prospect might answer, “I sold a car so we could pay our vendors.”

And then as bankers, we might (with respect for the business owner’s commitment to pay vendors) ask, “And then what happened?” to which the prospect might respond, “We reduced staff hours until we sold some additional work… and then we started growing.”

And we might say, “Well done” and ask, “How have you prevented such significant cash shortfalls from happening again?” And so on.

All good, yes? Except…

We’d have missed the temples-pounding, stomach-churning heart of the moment.

We might instead have taken a deep breath, paused, and said, “That must have been terrifying!” and asked, “What was that like for you, when that happened?” Or we might have asked, “How did that moment affect you?” Both questions touch the emotional side of a very challenging moment – the feeling part, rather than the ‘doing’ part.

Similar statements or questions include “What was the hardest part of that for you?”, “How did that experience change the way you…?”, and “That must have been very rough, you know, inside.”

For brighter moments, there are questions like, “What was the best part of that for you?” or “You must have felt high as a kite after that.”

For both good moments and bad, we can still ask questions about facts and decisions – “And then what did you do?” or “How have you addressed that challenge more recently?” They are important questions.

But… we’ll have missed the REALLY important stuff if we don’t ask about the emotional impact of a low or a high moment in the business. Whether or not our prospects and clients share their experiences, they will recognize and remember that we asked.

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