Tuesday, May 08, 2007

CanI Help You? Can I? Huh?!

Seth Godin (Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, The Big Red Fez: How To Make Any Web Site Better and other bovine and color-coded biz books), in his blog posed an interesting idea: You can end a conversation--any conversation--by asking "May I help you?" Weird.

I've heard a man explain that he went shopping for a new freezer. His was broken and his frozen goods were steadily thawing in the garage. He and his wife went to the appliance store--not shopping, but ready to buy. When they walked into the store, a cheerful sales rep asked "Can I help you?" His wife's response? "No, just looking."

"Huh?" he thought. He's still wondering what had his wife, who needed to make a quick purchase to save hundreds of dollars of meats and other pricey perishables, refuse service that would have expedited the sale.

I hear prospects complain bitterly about what doesn't work in their organizations. "Ain't making the money I want" "Takes too much time" "Not as much fun as it used to be" and more.

Ask them to take action to change it and they balk.

What gives? For some, I think there's a certain joy in bitching. Now, you know what I mean. We all have a girlfriend or associate who has really bad relationship that's eating the life out of them. Ask them to consider changing it or leaving, and they offer their excuses for why it can't be any different. Others would gnaw off a limb before accepting an offer to help or to effect a change. Still others are afraid that your solution will work where their didn't.

Gladwell suggests, without saying it out loud, the use of open-ended questions, the kind that give people the change to give a rich answer, instead of leading questions that herds them between, sometimes, untenable positions ("When was the last time you beat your wife?"). Nasty.
Aside from open-ended questions, there's the matter of treating people like widgets. Open-enders give people the chance to think, providing answers that are richer than those given when asked "May I help you?"

Lalita Amos