In any organization a key to building a culture that promotes positive relationships, teamwork, and productivity is clear communication. Dave Hiatt, Sandler Training, discusses the importance of mutual agreements in business and workplace conversations:
I remember taking a parenting class when my boys were young. The big takeaways from the class were the requirement to tell your child what the consequences of their behavior would be and to be clear on what you expected from them. I recall my boys’ mother and me saying to each other on numerous occasions, “We can’t get mad at them if we weren’t clear with our expectations.” Sometimes, the principle sounded like this: “Don’t punish them if you didn’t tell them they would be punished.”
When my sons were teenagers, I became involved with training salespeople. Three Sandler principles jumped right out at me because they were so eloquent in their simplicity.
– First, people don’t get mad at you when you tell them what you are going to do and they agree to it.
– Second, you shouldn’t get mad at someone for doing something you didn’t tell them they couldn’t do and they hadn’t agreed not to do.
– Third, no “mutual mystification.” Make sure all parties to the conversation have a clear understanding of what was said and what is going to happen next.
Basically, these were the same strategies I learned in the parenting class. When you start a conversation, get agreements up front about what you and the other person want to happen and what you don’t want to happen as you talk; then, confirm what you both decided. Understanding these three principles is one of the keys to a productive conversation with a prospect – and a productive culture on your sales team, a culture based on mutual agreements.
The principles are particularly important for sales professionals to bear in mind. Whenever you find yourself in a conversation with someone who did something you didn’t want them to do, ask yourself this question: “When did I tell them I didn’t want them to do that?” The follow-up question is always, “If I did tell them, when did they agree not to do it?”
Let’s spend some time on the key things you need to get agreement on when starting a conversation. By the way: When I say “conversation,” I am not talking about the chitchat or light banter that people often engage in with each other. Conversation in this context means a purposeful interaction between people to persuade or exchange required information essential in decision making.
Did you catch that the clarification above is an example of no mutual mystification? Are you clear on the type of conversations we are now discussing? Great. Let’s move on.
– Purpose. All participants in the conversation need to have a clear understanding of its purpose before it begins. Bear in mind that few things are worse than hearing, “We need to talk,” or “Do you have time to talk?” Add what it is you want to talk about immediately, so the other person can determine if now, or later, is a better time to discuss the topic. A good way to begin could be, “We need to talk about …” Providing a subject offers a clue to the purpose of the conversation.
– Time. The next item to be very clear about is the amount of time required or requested. Conversations have a way of expanding or contracting to fill the amount of time given. If no specific duration is agreed upon, a conversation can drag on for what seems an eternity. When you let people know how much time you need of their undivided attention, they are more apt to give it to you. Make sure your time request is reasonable.
– Their Expectations. In the beginning of your conversations, be sure to discover the important or key areas the other people are expecting to cover. Remember, your goal is to understand them first, which will allow you to better focus the exchange.
– Your Expectations. You also want to get your expectations on the table. Both parties will benefit by knowing each other’s expectations. If you want to discuss different aspects of the topic other than what the other person came up with, the beginning of the conversation is the time to let them know your desire to explore additional related issues.
– Outcomes. At the end of your conversation, what are the possible outcomes? What decisions will need to be made? Conversations will be more productive and achieve more positive outcomes when all sides know in advance what options are available … and what specific outcomes are being worked toward. An easy way to remember these five key components is the mnemonic PLATE. Think of it this way. To have a civilized dinner, you must first put the food on the plate. The same is true for a civilized conversation. Get the mutual agreements on the PLATE, up front, before you get started.
– Purpose. Let the other person know why you want to have this conversation.
– Limit the time. Agree on the time limit of the conversation and live up to that agreement. If you need more time, set another mutual agreement as to how much more time is needed, when you will continue, and what else needs to be discussed.
– Agenda of their expectations. Discover what is important to them first. Even though it may be your desire to have the conversation, allow them to go first. Once you know what is important to them, you might decide to alter your approach.
– Topics. Let the other person know your expectations of what you want to discuss or not to discuss. Always get permission to ask questions so you can understand what is important to the other person.
– Eventual goal. Share what you hope the outcome of the conversation will be. Perhaps it is resolution to a problem or agreement on a plan of action. The point is to have a goal to go for in the conversation defined up front, in the beginning of the conversation. This will help keep you on topic.