The Art of Learning Secrets

What if there was a way to know what is going on around you–with your partner, your family, your boss, coworkers, customers…? What if you could learn all their secrets, or if that isn’t as appealing, what if you could learn what they really want so you could be sure to meet their expectations? Because I speak of “subliminal influence”, I often am approached by wide-eyed people, excited about learning how to be a more effective manipulator, a thousand Svengalis in the making. The truth is much simpler and less nefarious. Others are, as we are, continually broadcasting information that we don’t realize. Further, we don’t notice that others are doing it, so we often overlook it.

Yes, there are quite a few skills we can learn to read much of this information more effectively. NLP is well-recognized for such skill, and many NLP developers have extended this capability exponentially. However, as with any impressive structure we erect, the foundation is the most important aspect. What’s the foundation of this Svengali-esque, almost magical extrasensory wonder?

Paying attention.

I feel the collective groan as though somehow we could know what’s going on with it…but would that even make sense? Of course not. We have to tune our senses well to notice the massive amount of information shared with us at all times.

I worked with a salesperson who will go unnamed. A truly charming, nice guy, he prided himself on being a “great salesman.” My challenge with such a title is that it implies the person can sell. He could not. He merely enjoyed the trappings of the “outside salesperson’s” career. He loved the travel, meeting new people, entertaining them–going for drinks, taking them to dinner, and being the center of attention in sales presentations. He had, however, one massive flaw: a profound love of the sound of his own voice.

He seriously could not just shut his mouth and listen to the customer. I watched in awe as he managed to speak for an entire hour, nonstop, at no point asking the customer a question or allowing him room to voice what they needed. save for the time it took him to breathe or sip his drink.

Any attempt on my part to interrupt was overruled with a raised voice, the salesman even acknowledging what I said, then adding, “I know, it’s like when I—” and going right back to what he wanted to say.

Eventually, as the customer began losing patience, and I had given my partner multiple opportunities to relinquish “the floor” to the customer’s interests, I just pulled that customer away, “Listen, there are some things that you want to discuss, concerns that you have…I’d like to hear about those, please.” And like a new dancer “cutting in”, I led the customer aside. Naturally, this didn’t please the salesperson, but as we began to explore the other person’s concerns,” I began collecting the information needed to make the meeting useful to the customer.

To play with the title of this article, the customer was yearning to share his “secrets” with us. And frankly if we didn’t learn them, our sales pitch, our attempts to solve his problem, would almost certainly have failed. This generally frustrates the other person as they granted us some of their time, a precious resource to most of us. By respecting that investment on his part, we would have rewarded his trust, justified his inviting us, and strengthened the relationship.

To make it even more interesting, once I’d redirected the customer, or rather, invited him to “dance” with someone interested in his business needs, the salesperson became irate and continued attempting to hijack the meeting, again making it more about him, the things he wanted to discuss, than about the customer, the actual reason we were there. His company’s business problem. The budget he could use to spend on a solution to that problem. And all the “secrets” of how and why related to each.

Eventually, I used a technique to distract the salesperson so we could have a successful meeting. It worked. Though after, he was displeased that I “didn’t let” him run things his way.

“Do you care about what they are dealing with?” I said.

“Of course. And I’ve been selling for (x) years! I know what I’m doing.”

In nine months on that job, he didn’t sell anything. to anyone. Not even to his own management.

Obviously, I attempted to work with him, but he didn’t want to change his style. Perhaps not the kindest, but the most respectful thing I could do was to leave him to it. He was replaced by someone who was far more interested in learning about the customer.

Perhaps the most ironic thing was when we crossed paths a couple years later. He’d just lost another job and when I asked him what happened, he confided that he had an unfair manager who made untrue accusations toward him.

“What sort of accusations?” I said, curious to see how well the truth, from his perspective, matched my own experience.

“They said I never listened to the customer! Can you believe that! I’ve been selling for (x) years and never been accused of such a thing!”

I asked him if he wanted some constructive criticism and he said no, he already knew the truth and didn’t need any more input.

Watch out for that. When you think you have perfect closure, you “already know everything”…it’s likely you don’t. There could always be a detail left out that you’ve overlooked. And that detail may be the one thing you really need to know. The beauty of it is that most often, those details are in plain sight, available to us. Most of us don’t think to hide such things, so if someone wants to connect with us, sell to us, help us solve a problem, partner with us in any way, they make it clear how to do it. But we must…what?

Pay attention. Many times, the only reasons a piece of information is secret is that no one has paid close enough attention to notice.

Find what’s fascinating about the other person, become curious, discover their needs. And work to meet them where appropriate.

And for your own sake, learn to love the sound of the other person’s voice more than your own.

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