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MCLEOD: Why we wait before giving our best

I’m willing to do it, but I’m not sure he is.

It’s the biggest obstacle to making a positive change. We want to know, for sure, that the other guy is all in with good intentions, before we fully invest ourselves.

I was working on a consulting project recently where the sales team was excited about reframing their approach. They were ready to move beyond a transactional sales approach to customers, and embrace a more engaging sales process. They were ready to start caring about their customers in a big exciting way.

Yet as they considered the changes that were going to be required, the obstacles started to surface:

Will the rest of senior leadership go along?

Will the service team actually start to care?

What if we do it and they don’t?

On an organizational level, these are real issues. Change can’t happen in a silo, and it takes senior leadership commitment to make organizational shifts.

But on an emotional level, there was something else going on. It was an age-old gremlin: fear.

People are afraid to become emotionally invested when they’re not sure if their peers or leaders will reciprocate.

The same thing happens in relationships. One partner will say, I’m willing to try listening more, being sensitive (insert marriage counselor recommended action here) but what if he/she doesn’t do it?

We want the other person to go first, or at the very least we want a guarantee that they will start and not waver for one second in their commitment.

Therein lies the problem.

There’s the obvious issue; someone has to start. If you always wait for someone else, nothing will ever change. You’re also acting like a non-engaged, non-invested wimp, which is not how most people want to be perceived in work or life.

There’s also a deeper, more subtle, issue: We tend to judge ourselves against our intentions, yet we judge others against their actions.

For example, in the case of the sales team, they were sincerely determined to start caring about their customers. Yet having been in this business for many years, I know that there will be days when they forget their good intentions, due to stress, fatigue or habit, and they revert to a transactionable approach.

But they’ll know, in their hearts they want to do the right thing, and are moving their behavior in that direction.

The challenge they’ll face is this: they know their own good intentions, but they can’t read the minds and hearts of their colleagues. When a service rep gets snippy or a senior leader forgets that customers aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet, it will be easy to assume that they just don’t care.

It’s a sad reality of human nature. We give ourselves credit for our thoughts; we only give other people credit for action. And once we establish a belief about someone, it’s hard to let it go.

The mind is a tricky thing, if you don’t watch it closely, it will always try to prove itself right, even if it hurts you.

The wife who believes that her husband isn’t an engaged parent won’t notice the six times he jumped into the pool with the kids. Instead, her mind will record the one time he said he was tired, as proof of his true intentions.

The solution is simple. It has two parts:

1. Start first.

2. Assume good intent on the other side.

It seems risky, but the alternative is actually more dangerous.

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of several books, including “Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud.”