Focus and the Power of the Second Question: Long term business growth and career success
My father is going to be 88 years old, next month. After growing up on a very large family farm, during the Depression and WWII, he served for 60+ years as a very old-school Lutheran pastor, who also had six kids.
Dad was nearly 40 when I was born, so he was usually the oldest of all my friends' parents, and always had an interesting bent on life. Of the many nuggets of wisdom this very old man shared, when I was a kid, one that still sticks in my head and infiltrates my spiritual counseling practice is simply this, "Sven, we're always selling. No matter what, you're always selling yourself."
A bit different from the Glengarry, Glen Ross notion 'Always Be Closing', what I began to realize, as I moved into adulthood is that dad wasn't saying I should always try to be selling, or closing, people, per se; it's not that I should constantly be trying to shake people down for business, for a connection, or for a sale. Instead, his point was much more matter-of-fact: It's irrelevant whether you think you're trying to sell someone; the simple fact of the matter is that you're ALWAYS selling yourself to people, whether you want to be or not. We, as humans, are forever making assessments about people, their character, and their intentions. It's primal. It goes back to the days of simple fight or flight: Do I trust this person?
And, whether we're aware of it or not, one of our senses -- the sense of intuition -- is always assessing, always rejiggering the trust matrix in every relationship, even (and perhaps especially) in our most intimate, or long-standing, relationships. Slight adjustments (and occasionally major ones) are constantly being made to the joystick driving the aircraft. The instruments and mechanisms are never fully static.
The implication of this -- of the fact that you and I are constantly assessing and being assessed, in every relationship -- is that, whether you like it or not, you're always selling. Always. Constantly making deposits into the trust account of the relationship, whether it be with a superior, subordinate, wife/husband, child, or friend. Eventually, you make enough deposits that occasional slip-ups, screw-ups, or needs -- i.e. withdrawals -- are generously allowed in the relationship. But that doesn't change the fact you are still selling, still being assessed.
The Power of the Second Question
As a former pastor, NCAA Strength Coach, and counselor for over 20 years, the single biggest influencer I have seen in the selling process -- whether in business sales, management, or, far more importantly, in our daily interactions with those we love -- is the simple notion of what I call 'giving a sh-t'.
The simple fact of the matter is that we trust people who give a sh-t ABOUT US. We trust people in life NOT who say the right words or even at times do the right things or even the people who have nice resumes (either as an employee or as a friend) or great education. We don't trust the smartest guy (or especially the one trying to be the smartest guy in the room). We don't trust the most experienced woman. We don't trust anyone solely because of what they have or have done. We trust someone because of how they apply what they have. More specifically, we trust someone not because of who they are, per se, but because we sense that they give a sh-t about me. That for this brief moment in time I feel like I matter to this person. Supposed intelligence, education, experience, or the right answers all go out the window when it comes to the very core point of earning trust. People can be bullied into short term sales, but not long term ones. Those require trust.
And the truth is, the greatest long term sales you are making are not with your clients/customers or even with your employees. Though, if you have a successful business, those relationships are of critical importance and you likely do convey to them that they matter, more than just for the dollars they represent. Nah, we've all been in business long enough (and for those of you that haven't, listen up!) to know that eventually into every sale, every business relationship, every year, every meeting, every day the thoughts creep in (or sometimes flood in) of those you love the most. You can be having the most kickass day at work, but you'll still have a hundred thoughts of your wife, or your man, your daughter, or your mother, your oldest son, or your oldest friend.
This isn't just an article on 'Gee, you can't take it with you, so be good to your family and love them.' No, this is about giving a sh-t. This is about above-and-beyond type sh-t. For, the simple truth of the matter, for anyone in business, is that we tend to treat our clients/customer and (for the really great bosses) even our employees better than we treat those closest to us. We are far quicker to screw-up -- i.e. take a withdrawal -- on the side of our intimates than we are to screw-up on the side of clients. We are far quicker to say, "Right now, today, I give more of a sh-t about my clients than I do about my girlfriend/wife" or "At least for today, I give more of a sh-t about my customer in China than I give about my 14 year-old daughter." And the really sh-tty thing is that those 'Right now, todays...' add up. We keep doing it. We keep repeating it. We create a pattern that eventually conveys the very real, if deep-seated, message, "I actually DON'T give as much of a sh-t about you as I give about my work."
And that, my little friends, is one very, very powerful message for a spouse or a teen to get. In the mind of the receiver of that message, you are fundamentally saying to them, "You don't matter."
And the truth is, we all received that message, in one form or another growing up. And it is life's most painful message -- "You don't matter." So, when you then go and remind that person of the most painful message they received in life, they tend to pull away. They begin to lose trust. You begin to lose the sale, if I may be a bit crass. Patterns of behavior are very powerful things. Often they go unacknowledged verbally or consciously, but they are always sensed at the intuitive level.
My last book was on the radical uptick in female infidelity in America in the last 10-15 years, to the point where it now rivals, or some say exceeds, that of male infidelity. Well, that course of action does not come without a driver, or drivers. There are causes to those effects. And one of the drivers (though not the biggest) is the feeling that one's mate no longer truly gives a sh-t. Don't even ask me how many female clients in their 30s and 40s that I've had, over the decades, who have said, "I just want a guy who actually gives a sh-t."
Further, one of the things I talk about in the book is The Power of the Second Question. As a person who is encountering many, many people every day, the simplest and quickest way I have found to discern whether I want to invest more time in someone is what they do after they ask the question we all ask, "How're you doing, today?" I'm not even looking to see if they listen to my answer, per se. I'm looking to see whether the next thing out of their mouth is a statement or a question. That's it.
One of my relatives once said, "Sven, I only listen to someone 'til I think of what I want to say next." That's it. That's the precise person I'm going to walk away from, or at least not invest in. I'm looking for the person who says, "I listen and I am always thinking about what I want to ASK next."
See, statements are me talking. Questions are you talking. If I'm speaking in statements, most of the time, I'm keeping the spotlight on me. I'm conveying that I give a sh-t about me. However, if I'm speaking in questions, I'm consistently turning the spotlight onto you, conveying to you that I actually give a sh-t about what you are saying and, most importantly, who you are.
If a new acquaintance or even an old business partner doesn't follow-up with a second question, I pull back. For, this person is fundamentally conveying to me that they have an agenda that supersedes me. They're conveying that they don't, ultimately, give a sh-t about me. We're all trained to say hello and asking someone how they're doing. But the best are trained, usually by themselves, to stop a minute and give this new person a bit of attention and time. The best of the best are forever extracting themselves from the center of the universe and are putting others there. As one of the great spiritual masters once said, 'Love your neighbor as yourself. Give a sh-t about someone other than yourself.' In other words, put your neighbor in the prime spot, the spot you most love to be: the center of the universe.
But see, that takes discipline, doesn't it? It takes self-control. It takes FOCUS. To be fully focused on the task at hand -- this person that is in front of you, right now -- demands closing yourself off from the multitude of distractions running through your head, no matter how important they may be.
I discovered this, first-hand, a long time ago, while working my way through graduate school/seminary. I had to wait tables and tend bar for years. And one of the simple truths is that if you're not focused on the table and diners in front of you, you WILL screw up. You will forget a command on an order. You will serve the steak med-well instead of med-rare. You will serve a perfect Martini instead of a perfect Manhattan. It's no different in sports. If on third down, you're still thinking about the mistake you made on second down, you're far more likely to screw up, again. If my collegiate athletes had their head in the stands, it told me they didn't have their head in the game. Also, I could tell from across my weightroom who was lifting hard and who was jackin' around simply by looking at where their eyes were looking. If their eyes were looking around, they weren't working. Period.
The ability to focus is one of the single greatest determinants of success in any venture. The ability to stop thinking about x when you're now confronted with y is a mark of true self-control and true drive to succeed and drive to win trust.
See, the real biggie in all of this is not when you're on the hunt for new business, in a meeting with a client who is considering upping their investment, or engaging in business expansion, of some sort.
Nah, the mack-daddy of all measures of focus is where is your head the minute you walk in the door and your 11 year-old son wants to play catch or your 15 year-old daughter wants time with you to talk about her best friend Chloe, well former-best friend, because Chloe hasn't talked to me in three days, since she left me at the party and started talking to Justin, who I am soooo over but she shouldn't have talked to him instead of me......
You get the point.
You want to know why you were in sports all those years?
You want to know why kids are forced to study math?
You want to know why you had to practice your cello for a half-hour every night when you were eight?
....Because Chloe matters more than your job.
Your daughter's former best friend, in the long scheme of things, matters infinitely more than your clients, believe it or not. Because your capacity to convey to your daughter that you give a sh-t about her WHEN SHE NEEDS YOU TO GIVE A SH-T ABOUT HER, not just on your timeline, determines whether she'll trust you with the even bigger stuff as it comes down the pike.
Studying math, learning cello, and working out for sports demand that you tune out distractions and focus. Math (and other studies, obviously) teaches a kid to sit down and do the work, even when it ain't fun. Sit down and focus on the task at hand. And the greater your capacity to focus -- i.e. tune out distractions, regardless of previous or future importance -- the greater your success, because the greater will be your conveyance of the truth "I give a sh-t".
We convey to those we love that we give a sh-t by following up with questions, not with statements, commands, or 'you should...'. We win trust, we daily win the sale, by questions. And not just questions but questions that convey the message, "I am present to you. I am listening. I am truly here....for YOU." And even if you can't fix the person (and as I conveyed in an article around Thanksgiving time, people rarely want to be fixed; they just want to be truly heard and understood!! Do you get that????), you are powerfully conveying that you genuinely give a sh-t and can be trusted. And that's gold.
You win the sale by being present. You win the sale by putting the spotlight on the other person with genuinely curious questions. I regularly tell people/clients, who ask how I can listen to people all day and not get worn out, that I love my work because I can listen to anyone all day IF I'M ALLOWED TO ASK THE QUESTIONS. The reasons I've had so much success in my practice and in my relationships is because I simply follow my natural curiosity. That's it. And my curiosity leans toward incongruencies and patterns. As I wrote in my last book, "People reveal their character in patterns. They reveal their secrets in anomalies. And both are driven by fear. Name the fear and you've named the person." But my point is that this person in front of you, this daughter/son, this wife/husband, this personal person now is more important than the business sh-t you have been fretting about all day.
So, perhaps the goal is work at work, and personal at home. Perhaps the goal isn't a rearranging of priorities, but staying focused.
Have you lost your focus? What do you need to do to get your focus back? Additionally, what are the distractions most pulling you off your game and away from the sales that matter most? Do you have the courage to reduce certain distractions, on a daily basis, to continue to convey to your highest priorities that they matter. Who matters to you and who doesn't, in the big scheme of things? And do your actions -- does the commitment of your focus -- reflect your supposed values? For the truth is, if your delivery of your focus is not consistent with what you say your values are, then that tells me you ain't who you think you are? You aren't who you say you are? And you're likely afraid to admit that what you say are your values really aren't. So that begs the obvious question, When are you going to start being who you really are, without the facade, and stop pretending to care about things you really don't care about? When will you start to live authentically?
A Little Extra
In the end, the success of your business and the success of your relationships and children is intimately tied to your selling to yourself, proving day in and day out that you actually give a sh-t about the only client or relationship going to the grave with you.
Now, in most cases, this is where the writer goes into telling how you need to get more exercise and eat right, blah blah blah. And, hey, if you want to forego chips and Oreos, I really can't change your obviously poor judgment.
I'm talking about something more significant than just diet and exercise. I'm talking about solitude. I'm talking about rest, not just sleep but rest, downtime, inactivity! There is no lasting peace without rest, quiet, and solitude. There is no calm in the soul without removal from others, removal from obligation, removal from that which pulls at your mind. There is no last peace without the courage to regularly turn your back on all that our society says you should never turn your back on: acquisition, success, family, kids. Yes, you read that right, even your kids....even after what I wrote above. To truly live in flow and in your greatest peace and power demands living in the stark juxtaposition of ever tending your highest priorities and ever walking away from them to tend your own soul.
This isn't just New Agey crapola. This is hard core business truth. The top fliers in any outfit are always those who both hear and heed the needs of their own spirit and soul. The most energized. The most people persons. The biggest earners, long term. Those with the biggest impact. All. Tend. Their. Soul.
But even greater, still, than solitude, rest, and quiet, even more important in that hearing and heeding one's own soul is the need to tune fully into that voice and have the courage to be, say, do, and become all it is calling you to.
And this is where the men get separated from the boys. For it takes significant and regular silence to hear one's own inner voice (as opposed to the voices of many who are trying to influence you or are still influencing you, 30 years later), and it takes profound -- profound! -- courage to be, say, do, and become all your soul is calling you to be, say, do, and become. It takes courage unlike any other to express your truth, to show the world (particularly those closest to you) who you really are. There is no greater fear in life than the fear of doing so.
And the person not daily, yearly, giving a sh-t about his own soul and spirit is someone who, decades later, ends up way off course, immensely anxiety-ridden, immensely depressed, immensely dissatisfied, immensely neurotic, immensely numb, life falling apart all around him -- the decay emanating out from within him.
If you fail to sell to, and buy from, your own damn self, your life will fall apart, as sure as the sun rises in the east. There is no evading the calling of your own soul. If you do not regularly focus on the voice of your own deepest soul and ask it the second, third, and tenth questions of what it is really saying to you -- the REAL truth of who you are -- your life will fall apart. It's a matter of absolute fact, despite your most valiant efforts to hold it together. I make a very hearty living in Manhattan charging hearty rates to people who ostensibly have it all yet are a total trainwreck on the inside, because they have neglected their own voice their entire lives.
And this is why I love working with young professionals and college kids. It's because I hear every one of my middle-age clients whispering to those kids, "Don't believe the hype. Tend your soul now when you're young. Ask yourself the questions now. Have the courage to stand up for your life, now! Trust that those will survive just fine in the long term, even if it upsets them in the short term."
So, do you hear your own deepest inner voice? Do you have the solitude to make such listening possible? Do you have the courage to walk away from that which is not you? At what point in life does your inner peace become the subject of your focus? At what point do you start to ask yourself the second and tenth questions?
Are you truly living your truth?
I'd bet against it. I've been doing this stuff a long time. I'd be willing to bet that I could find areas of your life where you're totally neglecting the calling of your heart and soul. And I guarantee your happiness, peace, and fulfillment will increase in the long term, despite short term bumps in the road, if you were to finally begin to sell your life to yourself, finally begin to give a sh-t about who you really are.
Are you ready to finally move to a different level of joy, lasting peace, and true fulfillment?
How bad does the pain have to get before you are?
-- Sven Erlandson, MDiv, Is The Author Of Five Books, Including 'Badass Jesus: The Serious Athlete And A Life Of Noble Purpose' And 'I Steal Wives: A Serial Adulterer Reveals The REAL Reasons More And More Happily Married Women Are Cheating.' He Has Been Called The Father Of The Spiritual But Not Religious Movement, After He Wrote The Very First Book On The Phenomenon. His Seminal Book 'Spiritual But Not Religious' Came Out 15 Years Ago, Long Before The Phrase Became Part Of Common Parlance And Even Longer Before The Movement Hit Critical Mass (noted in Wikipedia 'spiritual but not religious'). He Is Former Military, Clergy, And NCAA Head Coach For Strength And Conditioning; And Has A Global Counseling/Consulting Practice with offices In NYC, NJ, And Stamford, CT: BadassCounseling.Com