Conversation Groundhog Day: Nothing Ever Changes

Influence begins with a “Sure, I’ll do that.” The old adage is “selling begins with yes.” This is an acknowledgement of our knowledge, our friendliness, our product value, or it might even be a commitment to further action. Sometimes the actual response of doing what we think they agreed to, never seems to happen.

How do we approach the “Groundhog Day” scenario when someone regularly says “yes” – committing to buy a product, perform a new action, or agree to do things, and then does nothing?

The 4 main blocking factors stalling performance are:

  1. Unintentional
  2. Intentional
  3. Process knowledge
  4. Futuring

#1. Unintentional – We all want to be nice, particularly in selling or persuading situations. We often learn that today’s account, client, and  even interview candidate, may not be right for us now. In the future we might be in a situation where we want them on our side, and we can’t afford to make enemies, particularly when it’s so easy to say “sure” or “you bet.” Think of it this way – even as buyers we have learned this lesson over the years when we are shopping for clothes and the salesperson says “may I help you?” We say – “no thanks just browsing.” We have hard-wired our brains through these statements that it is ok to shop, browse, put off decisions, and basically distance ourselves from being sold or told.

We need to rewire our thinking in our careers so that we are not selling product for our needs, but rather helping others with their needs. Zig Ziglar, used to have a two-step persuasion process:

  • Why does the other person want the product, service or event to happen?
  • What do they believe that product, service, or event is worth to them?

That means our emotions – how we are reacting to someone saying they will do something – should be less about “joy” and more about “curiosity.” Real curiosity towards the other person, to prevent the unintentional bias we all have that culminates in – “I’ll just be browsing.”

The unintentional response is that we should be nice, nod our head, say yes, and still keep browsing.

#2. Intentional – This is harder because the other person saying “yes” when they have no intention of doing what they say, or clearly plan to do nothing may just be mean. And it may also be a measure of their low level of trust with us. We can test their trust by asking other low risk or mundane questions to determine their level of interest in having a conversation or dialogue with us. The shorter the period of time they spend discussing non-issues, indicates the lower the level of trust. Before expecting their agreement to be of any value, we may have some fence-mending or trust-building to do.

#3. Process knowledge – As leaders, we know many of the aspects required to complete a project while the other person is not sure how to proceed. We are so efficient with time that we may have bypassed key steps needing to be completed. People may feel rushed or overrun and simply agree as a way of relieving their anxiety. When someone agrees with us and yet nothing happens, it may reflect poor communication on our part. Accountability starts with looking in the mirror. We may need a clearer process for bringing the idea into practice. Learn the other players and factors associated with someone agreeing to something, and make sure everyone knows even the tiniest actions required to accomplish that goal. Otherwise, we all say yes, but in the hallway minutes later – there are a lot of blank looks and shrugs of shoulders.

#4. Futuring – Lastly, all the above seem hygienic fixes compared to skill practice. In driving performance, we move our skills from talking to demonstrating. We try to place ourselves in the future where our account or employee is using our product, performing a new task. By being in the future with them, we uncover what some of these unforeseen blocks to lasting success might be.  

During negotiation and management scenarios with large organizations, I have tried discussing the following 5 questions to unblock that stubborn Groundhog Day syndrome:

  1. When your colleagues ask you why you’ve made this decision to go with us, what will you say?
  2. When our competition wants to know why your orders with them have decreased, how will you respond?
  3. So, you use our service/product for 6 months, what are you expecting to improve for your business or customers as a result?
  4.  What do you believe will be the biggest objection from your staff regarding your decision to work with us?
  5. When our competitor gives you a major price concession or price value incentive to encourage you to break our agreement, how will you respond?

Be aware – the response to these futuring questions may include, “Gee I don’t know.” The leader who says “Can we work on that together?” – breaks Groundhog Day!


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