My dad bought our first house in 1955, the year I started school. Until that time we lived in several different rentals, including my grandmother’s basement.
This tiny new spec home was located in a subdivision of 446 units, comprised of only three different floor plans. I once saw Dad’s coupon payment book revealing that our mortgage payment was $66.13, and more than once I recall my parents saying they just didn’t know if they would be able to make a house payment that high every month for thirty long years.
Our family was late to the dance when they bought into that subdivision, so we ended up on the last street in the very back of the development. Right behind our backyard was a huge drainage ditch that served as the boundary for the development and reminded me of a moat. Beyond the moat lay the intersection of Breitenstein Ave. and Tile Factory Lane, although I don’t ever remember seeing a tile factory there.
Once we moved in we were very close to the elementary school, so I was labeled a walker. This meant I lived too close to ride the bus. Right after we moved in, Mom and I walked to the school to register and to conduct a dress rehearsal. Being the newest walker, she wanted to make sure I could find my way home from school. It was really simple, since there were only three doors into and out of the school building. Mom repeatedly told me to come through the north door and then follow the sidewalk right to our house. Got it Mom!
Well, as the bell rang at the end of my first day, somehow I got turned around and followed a group of kids out what turned out to be the south door. That was the exit where all the big yellow buses were belching out diesel fumes, as they sat idling, waiting for the kids to board. I knew something was wrong, but being a male, there was no way I was going to ask for directions. I confidently strolled by the buses and saw Breitenstein Ave. across the school yard. I knew that was the street behind my house, so I headed in that direction, expecting to be home in no time.
Reaching the intersection with Tile Factory Ln., to the left I could see my back yard. Since our house was so new, there was no grass in the yard, only solid mud, and oh yeah, the moat I had to cross wasn’t dry either. For some reason, I felt optimistic about my chances of making it across the ditch and through the yard to the side door of the house.
I immediately got soaked, calf-deep, crossing the ditch and then two steps later sank to my knees in the thick mud of the back yard. Literally stuck and unable to move, all I could do was yell for Mom, hoping she would hear me and assemble a rescue party.
She heard my screams for help and located a construction worker who came to me in his hip boots. He pulled me from the muck as the suction held my shoes firmly in place. He reached down, retrieved them, and a couple minutes later delivered me in one hand and my shoes in the other to my worried Mom. Of the three of us there at that time, I feel sure he was the only one smiling.
It should be obvious from that embarrassing story that the coaching point of this post is empathy. Had my mom not been compassionate, I might have been punished by her and Dad for disobeying my walker instructions. Likewise, if the worker had refused to stop what he was doing in order to show kindness toward my plight, I might still be there!
The dictionary defines empathy as “identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives.”
Empathy is an essential trait to possess in order to win new customers. It’s also a necessary critical asset to be able to properly field concerns and handle complaints from existing customers.
Being a good sales talker certainly doesn’t make you a better communicator, but empathy and understanding will. This is especially important considering that many of today’s buyers want to stay 180⁰ away from hard-selling, fast-talking reps, making it even more difficult for you to avoid being castigated as one of them. That’s why, in order to completely understand others, you must proactively turn your back on your emotions and identify and focus on your prospects or buyers and their circumstances.
I can’t think of anybody that states this better than Dr. Stephen Covey in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, when he writes in Habit #5 that, “You must first understand before being understood.” So maybe you should borrow your buyer’s shoes and take a stroll! You’ll both be glad you did.
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