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a blog by Chris Barrow

Letters from a perfect imperfectionist: Getting to know people

When I’m working a full day in London I catch the 06:11 from Wilmslow to Euston, which means an 05:30 taxi from home to the station.

The cab ride is 15 minutes at that time of day but Mr Early here always likes to remove the possibility of stress in his life, so I’m happy to arrive at the waiting room well before departure.

Usually I’m surrounded by suits and they are all hunched over iPhones, Androids and (still) Blackberrys – sitting in silence.

Same again on the train of course and, subsequently, on the Tube.

Readers of my Facebook posts will know that I frequently set myself the test of finding out as much about my driver as I can on the journey to the station.

On the 15th January I posted as follows:

“Today’s taxi driver was a primary school teacher in a remote Pakistan village until the age of 28. He loved the job and used to deliver free lessons during the summer holidays. He travelled to the UK to marry and now has a 9-year-old son. His first job here was as a builders assistant but he received no training and irregular work, which was too insecure to cover his mortgage payments. He took the necessary tests to drive a cab. He now works 6 nights a week so that he can help his wife to raise their son. He is a bit of a workaholic and gets a lot of earache from the missus about his hours.”

Not bad for 15 minutes and my driver was first astonished and then delighted that I kept gently quizzing him.

It doesn’t always work.

A couple of days earlier I made the same journey and couldn’t get a word out of the driver other than mono-syllabic “yes” and “no” – OK I thought – I’m not on a mission – please yourself.

I suppose what I am doing is conducting my own social experiment.

However, if I can hark back to a client conversation earlier this week:

Client: “Chris, how do improve my sales?”

Me: “Develop a genuine interest in other people.”

Classic Ashley Latter territory really.

Success in business and life is about being “attractive” (as the late, great,Thomas Leonard put it back in the early 90’s) and the most attractive person in any room is the one doing the most listening.

To quote Seth Godin, marketers have to talk about delight or fear, because those are the only two emotions that will motivate people to take action.

Fear is straight-forward enough – and there is little point in seeing a patient with raging toothache and saying, “now before I look inside your mouth, tell me a little bit about yourself, do you have a family…?”

You are going to get a punch in the face.

But if someone is interested in any form of cosmetic dentistry, smile design or even new dentures, your first job is to determine what delight (I want to feel good for this occasion) or fear (I don’t want to feel embarrassed at this event) is driving the enquiry.

That’s why learning how to get to know people is mission critical to your success.

You need the time to do it – rushed appointments are a handicap.

You need the skill to do it – knowing how to ask – back to Ashley’s courses.

You need the environment to do it – a dental chair isn’t a great place for that.

You need the practice – me chatting to taxi drivers (and others) is practice. You chatting more is practice.

You need the passion. The desire to want to live your life this way.

You can only fake sincerity for a while – people are savvy and will smell your scent if you are disingenuous.

The secret of calm and peace in life?

Genuinely want to get to know people.

They will sometimes surprise you.

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