Brighter Whites (Issue 980)

In which we are reminded that “honest assessments” can activate client defenses.  

“Your white undershirts look dingy and they don’t smell fresh.” Words to that effect, if said not quite so gently, shared by one of several family members observing me folding my T shirts after my weekly laundry.

At that point, my internal dialog could have gone in a couple of directions. The first – “Why, thank you, I hadn’t recognized the problem, I so appreciate your telling me, I will get started on that first thing, tomorrow.” The second – “What do you mean????? Are you joking??? You’re telling me that I don’t know how to laundry?”

As I said, there were a couple of choices and (sigh… I’m not proud of this) the second one showed up. Internal dialog, as I said and, apparently, nothing can so irritate a person as attacks on their laundry skills. I was still bubbling a bit as I headed off for bed, a couple of hours later.

Next morning, I woke up feeling more curious and, after an invigorating three-mile walk in the dingy gray (but fresh!!) 25 degree early Sunday morning air, I consulted the world’s most advanced thinkers on the subject of white laundry. Here’s the link to an article and, if you scroll down past the discussion of how to take butter out of a car seat, you’ll find a discussion about sheets that begins with, “that build-up could be anything from dead skin because you molt like a snake, oh yes you do, to oils and residue from body washes, to excess laundry detergent, to fabric softener.”

She had me from “molting.” Long story short, the potential culprits in my case are likely to be (1) hard water and (2) built up soap residue in the washing machine. I have much to learn about laundry chemistry.

So, with that in mind, I could have interpreted my family member’s observation as helpful advice. I didn’t. I heard the words as “you s*** at laundry” and then the(internal dialog) fight started.

From this we learn:  Even if our clients ask, “What do you think…?”, we may be safe to assume that they’ll hear a direct response (you know, one that starts with something like, “Let me be honest with you….”) as “you s*** at….” whatever. No good can come of this.

We may be better served to take an approach that gives them time to think and reach their own conclusions.


NOTE: If you’d like a couple of examples…

One way to take an indirect approach includes “a change”, “negative impacts of the change,” “what others are doing”, and a question.

Laundry example: “You know, our Cambridge city water is VERY hard and I’ve noticed that I’ve needed to do X  to keep the white sheets ‘white’, otherwise they get dingy and don’t smell fresh. Since you’re washing your white clothes in that same hard water, I was thinking that X might be helpful to you.” [Or, “I was wondering whether you’d want to consider X for your laundry.”]

Commercial example: “You know, customer expectations about online convenience have changed so quickly and dramatically that I’ve noticed some of my other clients have needed to do X and Y to retain their customers, otherwise, they lose customers to providers who offer easier access. I’m wondering what you’re experiencing.” [Or, “I’m wondering whether you might be open to a discussion about that challenge and whether X, Y, or similar strategies might be useful for you.”]

Nick Miller and Clarity train banks and bankers to attract and develop deeper relationships with small businesses. Many more Sales Thoughts like this and a host of other articles and resources at .






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