What do I mean by “What Lies Beneath”? It is learning to mine for the real story in certain situations. We have all heard that what we see of an iceberg is only the tip. The rest of it lies hidden beneath the surface. So it can be with people and situations.

Many times in our practice here at Cirrus Business Group we get into conversations with people and their first level of complaining, of hysteria, of whatever it might be that is on their mind is not the whole story. We find that just listening and letting them ramble if they need to, or let them be quiet if that is what they need is the first step toward finding what the real story is.
I have two examples for you.

In the first case a very quiet leader, a very effective leader, was with us and she certainly had something on her mind. We were going through some coaching of each of the leaders in the organization. As we worked with here she did not reveal in her comments that anything was really going on that bothered her yet from the body language and facial expressions we could see that there was something there below the surface. So we just kept talking with her and asking questions, letting her go on with the surface stuff. After about 30 minutes she finally felt comfortable enough to open up and reveal her real thoughts and relate what she felt was really going on. We finally got to the real story behind the looks on her face and the body language. This is not atypical of someone who is of a more reserved, introverted way of being. That is just how they approach life. There was also a cultural difference in this particular situation. In her culture, being from Eastern Europe, revealing these kinds of things was not generally the first things that one did and a lot of what was felt and thought stayed buried for self-protection and it can be the cultural norm. You have to take the time to let those kinds of people feel safe so that they are clear that what you are doing is confidential, it’s not going to go anywhere. This helps in the understanding of that leader and in the long run helps the company in general.

On the other side of the story is the person who just needs to vent. This person is typically very extroverted, very demonstrative, and needs to be heard. They will be speaking—the question is whether anyone is listening! When handling this kind of person you have to just let them vent. We had a particular case not long ago where this leader had to vent and she was really upset about some things, She went on, and on, and on, and kept circling around back to the same thing until we finally said: “We’ve already heard that part before. Please tell us something new.” Once the energy of all of that went away and she could stop and breathe, we were then able to ask her some questions. What she revealed on the surface as to what the issue was, was not the issue at all. There was something much deeper that had been going on for quite some time, and in fact could have also been affecting other team players in that particular organization who also just weren’t saying anything about it. The culture was not, in their opinion, open to hearing what they wanted to say, or hearing their side of the story. At the same time as we worked with this company we learned that what the upper management was wanting was to hear from them—please talk to us! So a big gap existed between the perception of the line leaders and the perception of upper management. Again there can be cultural differences here. If the upper management comes in to lead a company from a different country may have some difference in approach that we in the United States are not used to, so those things have to be sorted out as the company moves along.

What we observed here is one huge reason to hire a group like the Cirrus Business Group to help you find out what is really going on beneath the surface. We also teach the leaders how to have those conversations, how to approach them, so that the bottom line story really comes out. The root cause is what we are trying to get to here, and most of what we see on the surface is symptoms. Treating just the symptom will not work. You have to get to the root cause through this deeper conversation. It takes time, it takes patience and it takes courage. This has to be in a safe zone and a safe place where it is clear that the conversation is highly confidential. If anything ever gets out about that conversation that you accidentally leaked you will never be able to get anyone’s trust again. This is a very big trust issue when working with these situations.

Coach Judi Harris
Visionary Catalyst
Cirrus Business Group

The Other Side of the Counter…

In this day and age of people knowing people personally, through networking, social events and even social media you don’t know who knows who, so our customer service had better be top notch: no excuses, no pointing fingers, everything above board because you don’t know who that person knows or who knows that person. We tend to judge the person by their dress, body language, language or accents, and often the look on their face in a one to one situation. Believe me, we can be very wrong. We hear about these types of interactions in some of the Christmas songs but how long does the message last? Does it go beyond the holiday season?
Let’s start with basic customer service in retail businesses. Most interactions are one on one between the associate and the customer. On the whole the interactions are good to great however we have to keep in mind how to handle those that are not. Let’s create a few examples.

Our customer comes in to buy a new pair of shoes. While most of your customers are happily hunting for something new to wear this person is very short and even snappy. “Just bring me some that are what I asked for.” He does not seem to be at all happy about shopping for shoes. You go to your co-workers and whisper about how grouchy he is and does another associate want to take care of him. You get some of the styles he is looking for and go back to find tears in his eyes. Asking whether there is anything you can do to help he says: “No. My mother just passed and I am buying shoes for her funeral.” How does that make you feel about your first reaction to him? You did not know his story.

My son works for an establishment popular in the area. He brings home stories of some of his more difficult customer interactions. I advised him of this concept that he does not know what their day has been like and to be the one to make it better if he can. He took a fresh look at how he was approaching the customers keeping in mind that at the moment with that person he WAS the store. He has become very good with his customer service even in the busiest of times making him associate of the month recently.

This can also be a two way street. We as customers do not know what kind of day it has been for the associate on the other side of the counter. I did a short time once between jobs in a grocery store deli. It was a physical job and took its toll on my back being on my feet all shift. There were times it was hard to put a smile on my face. Then a customer would come up and greet me by name with a bright smile and a sense of humor. That much interaction made my day a lot better. Learn to look at name tags and use the associates name whenever you can when doing your shopping. They may not remember you yet they will remember the kind interaction.

This also applies to co-workers and people you may supervise. I was in a leadership position once when an employee with a great quality record suddenly started making mistakes. After a few weeks I was advised to let her go. Instead I asked her if something was going on that was distracting her. Her story was she was being worked up for possible heart disease and was really worried about what the outcome would be. Knowing that I cared her quality went back up and it turned out her issue was not heart disease at all.

It is almost habitual that when we have a bad day we have all the proper reasons for it yet when someone else is having a bad day we blame them for everything under the sun! We have to keep in mind with our interactions, be they social or customer service, that everyone has a story. Things can be going on in their lives that have an effect on their daily lives. You have a story and may have some bad days because of it. How do you want to be treated? I hope with kindness and patience and the honor that is due you just for being alive today. Treat everyone with respect and kindness and you will get a lot more of it back. When you are treated poorly send out compassion—you don’t know what their story is.

Coach Judi Harris
Visionary Catalyst
Cirrus Business Group