Starting off on the right foot

This is the first article in a four-part series on how to make contacts which can lead to success in seven strategic moves.

Making contact with someone is the crucial first step on the road to success

In one of my seminars, a lady who works as a telemarketer asked how she could improve her rate of success. She explained that she could often not even complete her first sentence before prospective clients hung up. She felt frustrated and was looking for practical suggestions.

My answer was that she should accept the likelihood of rejection and learn how to turn an adverse situation into a productive opportunity. "List out 20 greetings," I suggested. "Try one on each call and record the results. See which greeting gets most attention and then you will know what gets the best results." The lady and the audience both liked the idea.

A different questioner asked what they could do to perform better in job interviews. The key to this is ensuring you are physically and psychologically ready by doing a "toilet run".

Go to the washroom, freshen up and stretch before entering the interview room, especially if you have been waiting for some time. This breaks the monotony of waiting which can make you thirsty, bored and anxious. These are all negative factors that will affect your interview performance, so eliminate them and be fresh in mind and body before presenting yourself to a stranger.

These examples remind us how important making contact is as a first step. Doing it well will enable you to achieve your goals faster and more easily.

My personal experiences have shown the same thing. Once, when I was visiting my mother in hospital, she asked me to call the nurse for assistance. I pressed the bell two or three times over a period of several minutes but nobody came. Seeing my mother needed urgent help, I went outside to find a nurse and asked if the department was understaffed.

Right strategy

Generally speaking, in such a situation, people would complain loudly and speak in a challenging tone of voice when asking why the nurse had not come to help. They might make the situation worse by using emotive language and shouting "Are you deaf?" or "How can you manage things so badly?"

Such contact seldom achieves what you want. It can backfire and aggravate the entire situation meaning that, in the end, nobody wins.

Note that my contact words were "Are you understaffed?" It was a direct question and, as the nurse could not admit they were short of staff, she acted immediately. Within 15 seconds, I got what I wanted. To ensure an after-contact relationship, I thanked her profusely.

The above cases illustrate three strategic moves: changing attitude, integrating new concepts and modifying behaviour.

The telemarketing lady was depressed and puzzled. She was overwhelmed by a negative attitude that made her think she could not sell and everyone would hang up without listening. To cheer her up, I had to change her attitude. The technique is to use neutral language to describe the situation. Avoid negative, emotive and definitive language. For instance, "I can't sell" is definitive, while "hung up" can seem negative and emotive.

So I changed her attitude to: "There is room for improvement in my current greetings. I need to find new ways to talk to my prospects." With this attitude, instead of blaming herself, she had a specific task to perform which was sure to help.

New concepts

To make this work, our minds must be open to new concepts and ideas. The telemarketer accepted the suggestion and was prepared to modify her behaviour as she had a new direction and objective. The exercise of monitoring responses to her different greetings would help, in the long run, to bring her closer to customers and to understand their needs better. When she identifies the greeting that works best, she will have renewed confidence in her ability to perform.

In my mother's case, I could have just complained but that might not have done any good. The urgent task was to get her immediate assistance. So, instead of complaining, I concentrated on finding a solution and that was the reason for my question about staffing.

For nurses, helping patients is routine work and a minute's delay for non-critical cases might not have mattered. However, it was my task to make sure my mother was helped quickly. The solution lay in changing the nurse's attitude to ensure action was taken promptly. The question "Are you understaffed?" served the purpose nicely.

Whenever you make a complaint, your mood is aggressive. Your speech and behaviour will be similarly aggressive and this will automatically put the person you talk to on the defensive. This is basically a win-lose situation.

However, by changing our attitude from one of complaint to focusing on solutions, things can be more easily resolved. After all, the purpose of a complaint is to find a solution. If we can do this in a more amiable manner, things will be better for both parties.

Ricky Law is a part-time lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a registered trainer with the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC). He will conduct a public seminar on 7 August 2004 on the subject. For information and registration, please click here or call 2953 0069 for enquiries.

Taken from Career Times 09 July 2004
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