Just Enough Rope (Issue 916)

60 minutes into the two-hour meeting, their pens were nearly skipping across their note pages, they were writing so fast. Barely looking up for questions, their heads nodded as we offered perspective and options, responding to information they’d shared in answers to our first hour’s questions.  We…were on a roll!  

“First,” we said…. “Then, think about…,” we continued. “Third, there’s an important follow up…. Fourth, think about …,” we rolled on. “And, finally, and this is the most challenging piece, consider….,” we concluded.  Their pens were still going. Our energy was running strong!

And, then came their questions. “What about this…? How would you handle that…? If we had to…, how would you recommend we…?” And we answered and discussed and wrestled with the issues and played with ideas.  

Then, with fifteen minutes left in the two hours,  time for a summary… and the ice-cold insight that, if our ideas were like rope, we’d given way too much. There were so many ideas and so much information on their note pads, they’d need weeks to sort them out, and they looked eager to take the time. Our “Masters of the Sales and Consulting Universe” feelings froze and shattered, replaced by sensations of slipping on sidewalk ice, grasping for a handrail.  

A few seconds of silence in the room.

One of us (not me, as it turns out) spoke: “Here are two specific actions you can take in the next few days to address your main priority while you’re thinking about the points we’ve discussed today.” And there they were. Two simple decisions, two easy steps.

Their faces brightened. With seconds left ’till the end of the meeting, they put down their pens and looked at each other. “Can we do those,” one of them asked? “Yes,” came his colleagues’ replies.

Firm footing on icy sidewalk for a moment, at least.

“The human brain can absorb five points, plus or minus two,” one of our mentors once intoned. These days, perhaps the numbers have changed to “absorb three points, plus or minus one.”

So, find a problem for which we have a solution. Give only enough rope for the purpose. Keep it simple. Make it easy to say yes and move forward. Show them the rest of the rope later.

Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to sell services to business clients through better sales strategies and execution. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site

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