In the discussion of emotional intelligence in business, a lot of (necessary) attention is paid to developing empathy for others: empathy in product design, empathy in communicating with internal partners, empathy for the client, during sales conversations. But we are hampered in our success in all these areas if we lack self-awareness and the ability to manage and shift our own emotional state.
Case in point: cash flow
Every business, big and small, must grapple with cash flow issues. When you are an Advisor running your own book of business, you need a certain amount of income just to stay in the game. It’s the same for every other entrepreneur, no matter the industry or the size of the company.
I spoke recently with the President of a small but respected health IT firm. They’ve been in business for fourteen years. Their clients include hospital networks, provincial health departments and a couple US state-level health departments. Their annual revenue is $1 million plus, but their expenses are high, and large institutions move slowly. At the time of our conversation, the President was white with stress, chasing down payments to keep the cash flowing so the business could function.
We hear regular reports in the news of Billionaire Elon Musk burning through hundreds of millions in cash trying to get the Tesla Model 3 delivered. Short-sellers are betting he’ll fail.
If you’re a one-man/woman show, perhaps with an assistant, the responsibility of revenue generation rests largely on your shoulders.
What happens to your emotional state when you don’t have enough income to cover expenses? What happens to your behaviour?
Do you come out fighting? Do you spread your anxiety around and blame others? Do you shut down? Or go through the motions of sales calls and meetings, but under a mist of desperation that prospective clients can pick up on?
Obviously, our ability to shift our own emotional state when the crunch is on, is a key skill to develop.
Here are a few strategies to implement over time:
Recognize when you’re spinning. When we’re stuck in fear, the thoughts that go along with that emotion feed on themselves and make it worse. Negative beliefs get stirred up. Everywhere you look, you seem to find justification for being afraid, because your emotional state has its own logic.
The moment you can step outside the mental noise and see it happening: ‘This is ridiculous! I’m catastrophizing everything. Yeah, I’ve gotta figure some things out, but in this moment, I’m okay. I’m still breathing, my heart is still beating. I’m okay.’ In that moment, you’ve regained some measure of control. You can now consciously start to turn things around.
Make self-awareness part of your regular meeting-prep routine. Ask yourself: How am I feeling? Then quickly jot down the mental chatter: I’m looking forward to this meeting, but I’m nervous. The potential is huge, and I need this sale. I know they are meeting with a couple other Advisors, too. I feel like I’ve gotta prove myself and I don’t know how to stand out. I’m worried they’ll pick up how badly I want to close. When you bring out and name the worries, you’re back in charge.
Play, to shift your state. Okay, I know this can seem completely counter-intuitive when you’re in a crunch and feeling the pressure to act. The point here is that a high-stress state of fight, flight or freeze doesn’t leave room for creativity or creative solutions. You are in survival mode. Take a short break to do something fun, goofy and energizing; this will help you tap into your own creative state. This is where fresh ideas and solutions come from.
Visualize – Enjoy the positive outcome before it’s happened. Picture an ideal outcome for you and the client. What does that look like? Can you see yourself enjoying a celebratory dinner with them five years down the road? You’re both smiling and laughing, relaxed and at ease. Picture a wealthy couple walking by your table – friends of your client’s – and your client going out of their way to introduce you. Whatever long-term success looks like to you, take a few moments to enjoy that in your mind. This is how Olympic Gold Metal winners mentally prepare themselves for success. You can do it, too.
Give your mind tasks. When you’re nervous, your mind is preoccupied with itself and can sabotage your performance. One of the most effective ways to tap into your power state of a confident professional is to shift your focus away from ‘I need this sale’ and onto ‘this person needs my help. I’m going to ask questions and listen deeply so that I can discover how I can best use my expertise to serve their goals.’
Take a moment and close your eyes. (Okay, after you read this.) Think about an important meeting coming up, and let yourself really focus on getting the sale. How important it is that you close, that you meet or exceed your targets, and that if they say no, how crappy that will be for you. What emotional state did that produce?
Now think about your client. Ponder a few questions: I wonder what financial issues are on their mind right now. What are they stressed about? What makes this person tick? What conditions help them feel safe and prosperous? I’m going to find out those things before I need to make any recommendations.
How you are feeling now? You will probably notice that the anxiety has dropped away. You may be experiencing a natural curiosity. You may even feel some excitement – the kind attached to your love of the puzzle, of putting together a great plan for someone.
This is an ideal emotional state to be in when you are about to take a sales meeting.
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Kira Callahan is an expert sales conversation coach serving the financial industry. Her private clients typically experience 30% – 100% increase in appointments and business booked. Click here to find out more about Kira.