Everyone should be an expert at reading people. When you can recognize someone’s thinking and decision-making patterns, you can hire better, inspire more effectively, create marketing with pinpoint accuracy and, of course, sell more successfully. Imagine if you could do that! The fact is, you can. Let’s look at the essentials of mind reading in business.
People’s thought processes and decision-making strategies are determined by mental filters. These are not personality types, but rather subconscious elements of personality and behavior. Think of a filter as two sides of the same coin; most people are either using one side or the other in any given situation. Let’s learn about two of the most important filters and how you can use them to your advantage.
Filter No. 1: procedures vs. options
One-half of the population unconsciously relies on procedures to make their decisions, while the other half relies on options. So, how can you tell the difference? Let’s say you ask your prospect, Pam, “Why did you make your most recent investment?” There are only two possible answers she can give you.
1. An answer based on procedures. If she gives you the answer in the form of a chronology, that indicates that she relies on procedures (in the context of investing): “Well, I had read in Money magazine about a hot indexed annuity. Then, I started asking my friends about it. Next, one of them …” See the story unfolding? A story is a chronology, and a chronology is a procedure.
Once you recognize a chronology, you need to shift and speak to Pam in a procedural structure. “Pam, here’s the right way for us to start working together. First, we have a conversation and get to know each other. Second, we’ll make an appointment to explore the right options. Third, you decide which direction you want to go …”
2. An answer based on options. If Pam gives you an answer in a random list, it shows that she is generating ideas and unconsciously avoiding a procedure. “My kids are getting to college age, so I need help with that. And, oh, the mortgage, can you do something about it? Did I mention …”
Once you recognize Pam is using a random list, make a note of the words and deliver them back to her. Be sure to avoid using a procedure. In other words, give your information, but do not use connective words such as first, then, next or finally. “Excellent, we can take care of all of that at once. College, mortgage and all the other stuff that you need …”
Filter No. 2: outside vs. inside standards
Half of the population looks to outside sources for appropriate standards (“externals”); the other half looks inside themselves (“internals”).
Let’s say your credentials include a CLU, ChFC, CFP or something else impressive. You probably feel comfortable sharing that information with others. Is there anything wrong with that? Yes! Giving advice is not a good idea until you discover where that person’s standards are set, either inside her own mind or outside of it. To find out which, simply ask this question, “Jane, how do you know when your financial advisor does a good job?” Jane will answer the question in only one of two ways.
1. “The results tell me.” This means Jane looks to external resources—other people, results or data—to set her standards (in a given situation). In response, you need to make suggestions, because if you don’t, she won’t be able to make a prudent decision. She would simply guess. You could say, “You wanted X. We looked at several of them. I recommend this one.”
2. “I just know.” This means Jane looks internally for direction, and sets her own standards. In response, do not make suggestions. Instead, simply give her an opportunity to make the decision, “Jane, here are the facts and the options. Now, it’s up to you. It’s your choice.”
Most professionals are comfortable giving advice. In other words, their natural inclination is to treat all people as “externals,” when in fact, only half are. That means if you automatically make recommendations, you could be alienating half of the people you talk with. Keep that in mind especially when you work with business owners, managers and professionals, as they tend to be more “internal.”
Michael Lovas is the founder of AboutPeople, a consultancy that helps companies and individuals better read, attract and connect with their A-level clients. He is a speaker, trainer and coach to companies such as Met Life, Ameriprise, Edward Jones and State Farm.