Interpretations (Issue 925)

In which we are reminded to interpret our prospects' and clients' behavior and intentions through multiple experiences rather than just one.

We met for dinner in a dim-lit, wood-paneled, white-coat waitered joint, a throwback to the 1930s with matching serving staff.

My dinner partner was a prospective client; our subject was serious. We settled in to a “getting to know you” conversation, interrupted from time to time by our Art Deco server, Gloria.

Turns out that my prospective client and I had started in the banking industry at about the same time and we knew many of the same people in the industry.  A comfortable conversation.

As we ordered our meals, Gloria reviewed the evening specials and suggested to my dinner partner, “Perhaps you and your  h u s b a n d  would like to share a couple of side dishes?”

“No, thank you,” she replied without hint of reproach.

As Gloria receded, my dinner partner turned to me and said VERY sarcastically yet with a playful smile, “Happy Anniversary…….dear!”

Well, we had a good laugh about that – “Can you believe that, in this day and age?” – and about the two more times that Gloria repeated her error.

Dinner ended late. The city was generally safe yet I didn’t want to take chances. I offered to accompany my dinner partner for her ten minute walk to her hotel.  She accepted.

Our walking small talk included commentary about our children, sports, commuting challenges, and so on.

As we crossed the street at the last corner and made the turn toward her mid-block hotel entrance, she suddenly turned to me; fully extended her arm to shake my hand; said, firmly, “Thank you for the discussion, it’s been very helpful, safe drive home, let’s talk in two weeks;” turned toward the roundly-overcoated hotel doorman, and briskly walked away.

In that instant I was transported to an earlier time in my life, another corner, a similar sudden, hand-shaking, evening-ending farewell in which the message then was unmistakably, “Don’t even think about it.”

I recoiled, horrified. “Oh, my goodness, is that what happened,” I wondered?

My walk to the car was CONSUMED with questions – “Did I read that right? Why did she react that way? Why did I react that way?  Did dinner run on too long?  Was she late for a phone call?  Did Gloria’s inept
“side-dish with your husband” suggestion somehow create…?  Did I say something that….?  How will this affect my chances to work with her?” 

We and our prospects or clients say stuff, do stuff, and react to each other, our interpretations shaped by long forgotten events, our minds playing deja vu tricks on us.   And, whatever happens, we immediately attribute meaning to it. “They hated us.  They liked us.  She thought I….He didn’t think I… They have a need. They don’t have a need. They’ll buy from us. They won’t buy from us.” And on and on.

The incantation, “one data point is not a trend,” comes to mind.    Like detectives, we will do best if we are patient – if we  focus on facts (“what happened”) rather than speculation (“what it could have meant”); if we gain perspective through conversations with multiple people in accounts at different times rather than just one person, one time; and if we  look for patterns that reveal meaning and significance.

It turned out that the evening concluding “Thank you….it’s been helpful…let’s talk in two weeks” meant exactly and only that.  I could have saved myself a lot of heartache.

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

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