Giving it all away

I was the keynote speaker in Keller, Texas, this week.

It was a warm and energetic group, and I was trying out a new talk from the blog. If you want to get the general content, most of it is here under candle, bus, and broken leg. The talk, however, is a totally different experience. If you have an event, go to my speaking page; we can try to get me on your venue.

I think you’ll be glad you did.

OK, I’ll stop the shameless promotion for a bit.

An important question, only partially answered

I want to talk about a question that was asked and complete the answer that I was unable to give in full because of the time constraints. The questioner asked how to get someone who has a significant problem, one that might be sensitive and would probably be painful to discuss, to open up about it. How do you even bring up things like that?

My response was that you need to position your statement and question in a way that gives them the opportunity to invite you to bring it up for them. This is what it would sound like:

“Tom, there’s something that I noticed about _____ that kind of concerns me, but I have a feeling that if I bring it up you are going to be upset with me. I don’t want to upset you. What do you think I should do?”

My experience has been that, in most cases, if you have any kind of a relationship with a person, they will tell you to tell them.

That was all the time I had to give to the question. You can guess that there is more to it than just making a flat-footed statement and request and somehow having people magically say, “Yes! Please tell me stuff that will make me miserable.”

I’ll give you the whole process in a moment if you want to learn it. It is not a secret, and my mission is to get this kind of information into the hands of the people who most need it.

I  give it away

Frankly, I just want to give it away.  I do that because there are many people who just need to see the pattern and for whom that will be enough. They don’t need to pay me for that. As my friend and past client Stu Langley once said, “Stammer, you’re always giving it away!”

Yes, I am. It’s my nature to help people who need it and who are willing to do something with the help.

Then there is the very large population of those who are going to need the next most valuable thing I have after experience: the ability to set the pattern on you and rehearse you until it becomes natural.

I train you like a dancer

When I was studying and performing dance, we got a good performance on stage through a very deliberate process.

We took class every day, six days a week. It started at the barre. We practiced the same moves over and over to train our muscles and our nervous systems. Then we moved to the center of the space and practiced combinations. This is where we got to know the moves and ourselves in space.

Then there was rehearsal

After class we started rehearsal. We practiced and practiced until we knew the moves, ourselves, the other dancers, and the music so well that when we went on stage we could deliver the best that we had to our audiences without having to think through every move. We were the dance.

Deliberate Practice

What I just described to you is an very simplistic example of something called Deliberate Practice. At every step of creating a professional dancer, there is a mentor who:

  1. Knows how it needs to be done

    KCB Ballet Master in Residence Bruce Wells with Guest Stager Victoria Simon, and KCB Dancers Lamin Pereira dos Santos and Amanda DeVenuta
  2. Knows how to teach you to do it – i.e., understands the patterns you need to learn and the order in which you need to learn them
  3. Gives you feedback on how to do it better by watching you do it
  4. Knows how to teach you to know what “right” is like, thus giving you a mental representation of what a good performance is
  5. Takes you outside your comfort zone to test your abilities
  6. Eventually leads you to know when it is right and to do that instinctively while self-coaching

Deliberate Practice is the secret sauce in making superstars out of ordinary people.

Almost every superhero – from Spiderman to Luke Skywalker – started out as a very ordinary person before they discovered or were given their superpowers. It’s the same with dancers. It’s the same with sales people. It’s the same with leaders.

The Rest of the Pattern

Now, as promised, here is the rest of the pattern to opening deep discussions about people’s real pain.

  1. There needs to be some level of trust already between you and the person on whom you are about to drop the P-bomb. (The P stands for Pain.) Trust can be established very quickly, and it has nothing to do with Dale Carnegie’s old fashioned “Is that your sailfish on the wall, sir?” gambit.
  2. You MUST get their explicit permission to discuss the problem. Also, you must give it back to them and make sure that they are real about it. If you break this rule, you are dead.
  3. You MUST explore the problem without any kind of edge or judgment. If you fail to do so, then YOU will become the Pain they want to get rid of…and get rid of you they will.
  4. You must start with curiosity about a symptom that you notice, not with a frontal attack on the source of the problem. This protects you both from scaring them off and from solving a problem for free which you typically get paid to solve. You do know the symptoms that suggest someone has a problem you can fix, right? If you don’t, then you have some homework to do.
  5. Once the discussion starts – we call this a Pain Funnel – your job is only to ask questions, gentle questions, that make them talk about what it’s like having the problem. Your job is not to solve the problem or to relieve the pain. To put it differently: your job is the process; their job is the content. What you must do is to let them explore the problem/pain in a safe environment. If you move to solving or selling while you are in this process, they will lose their focus on the real problem (pain), and you will lose their trust because they will feel pushed into something for which they may not be ready.

A Subtle Process

As you can likely guess, what I am describing to you is a subtle process. Very few people come to the selling game with the skills and pattern awareness to follow this process through with finesse. My solution to that situation is the same one that I used to become a professional dancer. I had neither the skills nor the awareness to begin as a dancer, and the same was true for me as a salesman, trainer, and coach.

It took Deliberate Practice.

You need to:

Find someone who knows the game.
Be sure they have a system for developing new performers.
Study under them and follow their instruction.
Get real-time feedback on what you are doing.
Practice, practice, practice.
Get out of your comfort zone.
Get more feedback.
Practice some more.
Then it’s showtime. Take it to the streets, to the stage, to the real world.

Devon Carney and Marie Christine Mouis-Theme and Variations by Balanchine.

Michael Stammer is a Sales | Life | Performance coach available for individual and group coaching and speaking to organizations. For more visit

Header photo by KCBalletMedia (Dancers Kaleena Burks and
Kevin Wilson rehearsing "A Play for Love" by David Parsons. 
Photo by Elizabeth Stehling) used under Creative Commons License.

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