My friend, Chris Brogan, has a couple of interesting blog posts discussing Selling and Buying that caught my attention today.  They resonated particularly because I think  we understand any social or financial transaction better if we understand the person standing on the the other side of the deal.

For example, this week, I’ve got a couple of business meetings, each of which will require some sort of “meeting of minds.”  In order to make sure business moves along and things go smoothly, anticipating the other person’s concerns and potential objections is important, as well as understanding the value they hope to reap from the transaction.

From my perspective, I know and can articulate the benefits I bring to the table, but I’m most concerned with how this relationship will help solve problems or benefit the client.  I can be the best at what I do, but if that doesn’t solve a real world problem or need of the client, then no business is going to get done.  If I can’t articulate the “value proposition” well, or allay fears, the client won’t see any upside.

Even in every day life, seeing both sides of any interaction is important.  For example, I have a middle schooler who occasionally has been challenged with following all the directions on projects, or fails to hand in completed homework, to the complete frustration and mystery of us, his parents and his teachers.  The child sees that the homework is done, and thus complete, yet having to hand it in (in a timely fashion or at all) and prove it to someone else seems irrelevant to him, or certainly not the most important part of the process.  However,  once we explained that doing the homework was only part of the assignment- handing it in proved to others you knew what you were doing, and showed you cared enough to complete every aspect of the task.  Without that “proof”, teachers could reasonably assume he was lying when he said he did it, or was just horribly negligent and forgetful.  Either way, a credibility and trust gap emerges, where he gets less benefit of the doubt for every time he fails to do what he’s asked the way he’s asked to do it.

Fast forward this into business.  Every time you fail to respond to a client, drop a ball, duck a call, do less than your best work, fail to meet deadlines- you name it- you are opening up that credibility and trust gap.  People learn they may not be able to rely on you and your word is no longer your bond.  Now we all screw up on this- myself included- but I try to remember that keeping people informed of delays, changed circumstances, etc. as soon as possible allows for the imperfect nature of humans while minimizing the trust-compromising portion of the transaction.  We can go on working together without anyone feeling that the other person is trying to take advantage of them in some way.

By understanding how you would feel if someone wasn’t getting back to you or seemed to be putting you off, you can understand how to better serve your own clients.  By understanding first impressions set the tone for an experience when you cross a threshold, means that when you get a chance to make a first impression, you want it not only to be a good one, but reflective of the experience they get “after the sale”.  As many times as we can shift our perspective into that of those dealing with us, the more empathy and understanding we bring, and the greater chance we have of making sure everyone wins in the final transaction.

This means that impression management is important.  It means wearing clothes appropriate for the occasion.  It means showing up on time, or texting if you’re late. It means showing courtesy and caring you’d like to receive in return, before you need it.  This means everyone in your organization needs to think about the people on the other side of every transaction- from teachers considering the impact of a lecture on students, to what the grumpy cashier says about your store, to whether or not anyone notices a customer when they’re trying to make a purchase.

Everyone needs to have some ownership, some pride, and some feeling of contributing to the overall success.  This is one of those cultural things about an organization that’s often hard to change.  If people don’t feel they have a voice or some say in their workplace, why should they do more than the minimum?  If the employer always seems to be looking to take advantage of them, what motivation do they have to give their very best, day after day, to the boss?  Being a real team means having respect for everyone, from the cleaning staff through the executives.  The smallest courtesies, from holding open the door to cleaning up after yourself at the copier enhances the work environment.

But all of this requires that we shift our frame of reference.  It can’t be all about us alone anymore- it has to be about thinking of everyone as a larger community.  Being selfish, to a certain extent, can ensure self-preservation- but overboard “me first” attitudes are a real turn off, and lead to short term gains but long term troubles.  We have to start thinking about the other guy and his position, and figure out win-win scenarios where we can.  And that starts with thinking of your customer first.