Fable Friday:  A tip from St. Francis of Assisi, Ace Performance Consultant

Some years ago you probably read Stephen Covey’s famous book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”   One of his habits was “Seek first to understand, before seeking to be understood.” This is a critical behavior in consulting, as well as in all communication in which we seek a meaningful dialog with someone else in an effort to help, or add value.

(For the record, the good Mr. Covey stole this idea from St. Francis of Assisi  (1182 – 1226), who prayed, “Grant that I may not so much seek to be understood, as to understand.”  I mean, come on, who steals from a saint?)

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedYou’re probably in the business of sales, sales management, consulting, training or some similar role in which it’s necessary to change the behavior of someone else. And if so, you will be on very dangerous ground if you attempt to teach, coach, lead, sell or negotiate if you are not completely clear on what your counterpart thinks, does or needs.  That is why seeking to understand first is a critical skill.

Here’s a useful tip for you in knowing when it’s most important to learn more and get clarity about any subject.  It’s when you are given a nebulous concept rather than a descriptive behavior. Here are three examples I hear in my own practice:


  • “They’re all order takers. They need to do a better job of needs identification.”
  • “My managers need to do a better job of coaching.”
  • “What we need at the senior management level is more leadership.”

Now here are suggestions about what St. Francis would ask in response:

  • “I’m not sure what you mean by ‘order takers.’ Please share with me what they are doing or not doing when they attempt to identify needs.”
  • “What do they do now when they coach? What do they need to do differently? Give me examples.”
  • “Let’s talk a bit about leadership. What does leadership mean, and what exactly would you like to see the leaders do.”

You see the idea? Joe Pesci does this neatly in the movie “Goodfellas.” He pointedly asks for clarity about the word “funny.”  “You think I’m funny?  Funny how?”

Now let’s look at three statements that salespeople hear.  If you’re in sales you should jump all over them:

  • “Switching would be difficult for us. It’s far more convenient to keep doing it the way we’re doing it.”
  • “The software we’re using now is faster, although not a very robust product overall.”
  • “We have a very good relationship with our current provider.”

So if I asked you to go back and circle the words that suggest you need a clearer understanding, you would certainly point to “convenient,” “robust,” and “relationship,” e.g., “In what way is it convenient?”,  “What do you mean by robust?” and “Please tell me more about the relationship. What do they do that you value most?”

You get the idea.

In my next few posts I’m going to begin to discuss two of the concepts mentioned above, coaching and leadership, because I hear them all the time and I’m convinced after many years as a consultant that no two people genuinely agree about the behaviors associated with either of them.

What does coaching mean?  What do leaders do?  We’ll start next week with a beginning definition of coaching and then describe the behaviors that effective coaches practice.

Meanwhile, don’t let people get away with lazy concepts.  Seek to understand, and…

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

2 Responses to Fable Friday:  A tip from St. Francis of Assisi, Ace Performance Consultant

  1. Rich says:

    You’re setting us up for optimals, actuals….

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