Six subtle signals that could be damaging your business
Are you giving off subtle signals that are putting off potential customers? And are these signals building confidence or wariness among your staff? Subtle signals are often more powerful than overt ones. So how do you avoid sending the wrong signals?
1. It's not about you
If you spend too much time telling and not enough asking, then the subtle message is that the buyer is a sales target. The same applies to staff. At a recent restaurant launch the owner talked about the brilliant things that had been done but that one group of people had made it harder and needed to do better. The good news motivated, but the subtle message, sucking energy from the room, was “we bear grudges”.
Advice: Always stay focused on others. Keep your disappointments private.
2. It doesn't matter if you are right
Doing the right thing is assumed — but putting extra attention on having done the right thing may give the subtle message that it is special. It could suggest that you done the right thing this time, but normally you don't.
Advice: Help people to see that you always do the right thing by your actions, not your words.
3. Outcomes matter, inputs don't
In business we care far more about whether the job is done well, than whether there was a challenge on the way. Customers aren't going to buy it because they are sympathetic about the problems you had. So focus on the outcomes, not the journey. Tell people what they want and need to know — the job has been done and it has been done well.
Advice: Quality matters and so does the perception of quality.
4. You can't control the choices others make, only influence them
The subtle signals in phrases like “I think you should” and “what you need to do now” highlight your desire to make choices for others, for the right reasons perhaps, but in the wrong way. Customers like to make their own choices. So facilitate these choices by asking questions to help them make their own decision — and support the choices they do make.
Advice: Influence comes more from supporting small choices, not defining large ones.
5. People don't know what to ask
Most conversational questioning isn't deeply considered and an off the cuff reply can send a damaging subtle message. For example, “how many employees do you have?” assumes a business model that relies on internally-resourced work, but perhaps you use efficient outsourcing arrangements. If so, then the subtle message in a reply of, say, “four” is that you’re a very small business. Is that really representative?
Advice: Be alert to the underlying question and give a considered response that answers that question.
6. Assumptions are inevitable
As humans we have to make assumptions all the time, usually based on some internal model of how the world works. A statement that means one thing in our model of the world may mean something very different in the other person's world. Therefore checking what assumptions have been made is always worthwhile. Do this by asking clarifying questions.
Advice: Check understanding. Often.
When you align the subtle signals to the overt ones you'll be seen as consistent and always on message, and that's something the truly great businesses do brilliantly.