Thursday, May 6, 2010

Honest and Fearless Communication...always

In 1990, 73 of 148 passengers died aboard an Avianca Columbian Airline Flight on an approach to John F. Kennedy Airport, in New York. They died, as documented by Malcolm Gladwell in his remarkable new book, "The Outliers," because of the culturally inherited reticence on the part of the co-Pilot to fearlessly and honestly communicate to his superior, the Pilot/Captain. According to Gladwell, a lower social or professional status in Columbian society calls for subservient carriage including what linguists call "mitigated communication." A practioner of mitigated communication, in effect offers sugar coated pronouncements, even in time of peril, to another of a higher status. It's as if the co-pilot might say within seconds of a potentially calamitous crash landing, "excuse me, sorry to disturb Captain, but if you've a mind to, you may want to consider pulling up, and starting our approach over." There's more to this particular story and it's a fascinating book, well worth pushing up near the top of your "to read" list, but suffice to repeat that many people died for lack of a fearless and honest communication from the first officer to the captain of that flight.

At the risk of appearing to trivialize this horrific event, most businesses, careers and sellers fail to maximize the opportunities before them for the same reason. Absolute honesty and the average seller are perfect strangers. The average sales executive is highly focused on closing the sale, every sale of everything he represents to anyone that can pay for it. Ergo, the necessity for the dictum, caveat emptor, let the buyer beware. And he is!

Because the number of average sellers by definition is multitudinous most buyers walk around "caveating" all the time. They are trained to smell polished, slick closers, and if the odor is strong enough, they are going to "pass" much more often than not.

Among the key attributes however, of the extraordinary seller, manager, COO and CEO is a core value of "the truth as I see it come H--- or high water". The uncommon and remarkable seller labors to connect his product or service to the suspected needs of well researched, targeted customers. In his early meeting(s) with the customer he seeks to affirm to himself, well before he attempts to make the case to the customer that his need-assumption was correct. When that is found to be the case he uses every artful technique he's developed to lower the buyer-seller barrier and to serve that new customer well. The cornerstone of the relationship becomes the trust, based upon his commitment and honesty, accorded to him by his new partner.

The crown jewel of the fearless and honest communicator is bestowed by customers, colleagues and employers, and in business, there's no more valuable a jewel.

Great Selling!

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  1. ahh... life in the corporate sales force. i once had a boss who pulled me aside after a sales meeting and told me how everyone hates when i comment on sales strategies. "You're always right and we hate that. It ruins our meetings. Shut Up or Get Out!

  2. and you shouild have...gotten out that is and gone to work for someone who aprreciated you...and vice versa

  3. i next job was "stay at home dad" job i ever had!
    (lucky for me my wife knows how to make a living)

  4. Great story. Trust and honesty is a critical underpinning for both seller to customer relationships and seller to internal stakeholders. Taking the time to gain stakeholder support/partnerships and turning communications into "we" vs "I" creates longer term impact.

  5. What a common failing! Of all the things I can point to that "set me free" as a seller to achieve success, it really was practicing fearless and honest communication. What many often overlook is how doubly damaging the consequences of not adhering to this value can be to the organization and senior management or to the customer. The most important decisions, whether buying decisions, resource allocations, strategic direction, etc., are based on truthful information. Without that, everyone suffers.