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Change Work July 2006

Getting in a right state

When I was planning to start my own business, I knew that I'd have to do some "cold calling". At the same time, in NLP training, I had to identify a skill that I could "model" by closely studying an expert and analysing how they did what they did. So this was a great opportunity to progress on both fronts.

First, though, there's some background to this.

A while before, I did some work on the difficulty I'd had with phoning people that I didn't already know. The work was based on "representational systems".

If you tend to think in pictures you'll probably be surprised to discover that many other people think in sounds. They have an immediate advantage in being able to generate rapport on the telephone. Personally, I've always found it most unpleasant to speak to someone I've never met without being able to see them. Face-to-face, I usually concentrate so hard on the visual channel that I filter out the auditory. Of course, I hear the words and mostly understand them. But I rely mostly on visual signals to know how I feel about the other person. When this is cut off, I stumble.

I never realised what was causing my discomfort until I learned about these sensory preferences. Then, as part of a training exercise, I reviewed very carefully what I actually did when preparing to call a stranger. I discovered that I filled the empty visual representation by constructing one. I imagined what the other person looked like. Unfortunately, I imagined them as busy, bad-tempered and higher in status than me. So I naturally avoided this kind of phone call.

If I couldn't avoid it then I would make the call. Of course, by then I'd be in such an unresourceful state that I'd make a hash of my script and probably waste a lot of time failing to explain what I wanted. Not surprisingly, there'd usually be be a cool, cautious response from the other that reinforced my image of them as threatening. So, as well as suffering stress, I also affected my chances of getting what I wanted.

Once I realised what I was doing I was able to devise a more positive visualisation and, by a few repetitions, to programme myself to use it. This got me past the first hurdle to effective cold calling.

So, back to the model.

I interviewed two experienced salespeople who had made many telephone sales calls in their time. Almost the first thing I asked was whether they visualised the person they were about to call. Neither of them did! Furthermore, they both understood the need to be in the right physiological and mental state before making the call. This was key to a good performance and satisfactory outcome.

They each had a routine, or strategy, for getting themselves into the appropriate state. It was simply to stand up and to smile!

It's remarkable what a difference this makes. You may be wondering, "How can someone on the other end of the phone know that I'm standing up and smiling?" The answer lies in the auditory representation that they form. Your voice tone, pace, volume and phrasing will be slightly different than if you were slumped at your desk and scowling. Most people will unconsciously recognise the auditory signals that go with a smile and respond accordingly. (They won't have time to prepare a negative image in advance like I used to when planning a call.)

In contrast, my counter-example, or control, was someone who had to make unsolicited phone calls but really hated it. This was despite being pretty successful in getting follow-up appointments. She just found it to be an enormous effort to pick up the phone.

Now, she also had a strategy for getting into the right state. It consisted of waiting, for days if necessary, until she felt like it!

This was quite effective but hopelessly inefficient.

So if you, or someone in your team, tends to procrastinate over making phone calls, perhaps you can improve things by devising and practising a preparation routine. Something like this:

Try it. It works!

In a future article I'll cover the NLP technique for "anchoring" a positive state (such as confidence, euphoria or enthusiasm) so that it can be "recovered" at will. It's much easier to do than you might think.