Washing Groceries (Issue 947)

In which we are reminded, when clients dig in on an issue, to ask questions rather than persuade.

I went grocery shopping Friday morning on my way to work. Arrived at 7:00 am. Mask, gloves, the full regalia.  No other customers in the store. Perfect.

Upon arriving at my office, I carried the grocery bags up the stairs to the second floor. There is a small half-bath just outside my office door. I unloaded the grocery bags, washed my hands,  retrieved a sponge and some dish detergent, and washed the groceries – the plastic containers, the cardboard boxes, and the fruit (without soap); rinsed them off; carried them into the office kitchen; dried them off; and put them away.

Why did I do this? While there is evidence that the Covid virus can live for some time on various surfaces, recent commentary on the Internet suggests that there are no documented cases of people contracting the coronavirus from their groceries.  According to these commentators, the primary risk is “exposure to other people in the grocery store,” not the groceries (assuming you remove your rubber gloves and wash or sanitize your hands after leaving the store).

So why do I wash the bananas, the cottage cheese, and the cereal box before stowing them? Because there’s a small risk and I’m carefully virus-averse. And you could all day long cite to me new evidence that risk of transmission by tater-tots is trivial (‘though not quite as low as being struck by lightning) and I wouldn’t change my behavior any time soon. In other words, don’t bother me with new facts.  I’m sticking with the old ones.

“Persuading me” (e.g. “You could save so much time if you …”) or  shaming me (“You’re being ridiculous about this…”) are unlikely to move me. I have clear goals, my beliefs, and a system for thinking about them and, until someone can get me to unlock that system and those beliefs, I’m not ready to change. [I’m sure that’s a shock to many readers.]  

So, when we run into clients or  family members who are “dug in” on an issue, we have to back up, ask our them to walk us through their beliefs and their system of thinking, and,  then,  ask them questions like, “How would you know it would be OK  to relax that assumption?“ or “What would tell you that conditions were safe enough that you could do things this way rather than that way?”. They may as they respond shift their thinking and, if they don’t, we can do what we can to satisfy their criteria rather than persuading them to adopt our own.

Nick Miller  trains banks and bankers to attract and expand relationships with business clients. More profitable relationships, faster. He is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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