The Greatest Barrier to Sales Success Is?

The buyer-seller situation, like any human contact, is an exercise in human relations – the interplay, cause and effect of behaviour by two or more people on each other. In the buyer-seller situation, the seller must be responsible for shaping mutual behaviour – someone has to take the lead. At the start of the relationship, we want it more than they do – well that’s the theory.

What’s the difference between human nature and human relations? It is probably something you haven’t considered before, so let me give you a hand:

-       Human nature is the instinctive behaviour that governs action concerned with the self and with self-interest.

-       Human relations are concerned with how we think and act in terms of others‘ interests.

Successful selling demands that human relations be dominant over human nature – but you probably guessed that already.

You may also have heard that selling is not something a salesperson does to a prospect. Selling is something you do with the prospect, in a process of discovery and interaction. This is human relations at work.

Now the interesting bit: The greatest barrier to success in this process is the “Egocentric Predicament”.This consists of being overly and unnecessarily concerned with self. Our ability to be perceptive and concerned about others is inversely proportionate to our self-concern.

When self gets unnecessarily in the way, the fruitful cycle of good human relations stops producing.

The key to understanding and accepting others is to first understand and accept oneself. This starts with the realisation that, rather than strive for an unattainable “I should be”image, we should settle for our real self as “I am”, accepting shortcomings along with strengths.

The following points provide a practical answer to the “I am”versus “I should be”conflict.

Recognize it – and recognize that its source is rooted in the views of others. Either (a) accept your “I am”image or (b) decide on attainable, constructive steps to achieve “I should be”in the future.

Our behaviour is a reflection of our attitudes, and our attitudes grow out of our values.

Each is an integral part of the other. Do your life values make it easy for you to put the other person’s interests first?

Sincerity is a much-used word in relation to selling. Integrity is a kindred word. Integrity implies a consistent kind of honesty – acting outwardly the way you truly feel inwardly. That’s why sound values are so important to your success with others.

We should always remember: People buy our product not so much because they understand the product, but because they feel that we understand them.

There are many effective ways of doing this. The best way to create this kind of buying climate is to transmit on their frequency.This opens their mind to you and makes them willing and eager to listen.

Before I sell my prospect what my prospect buys, I must first see my prospect as they see themselves.”

So, in summary: Empathyis the magical word in human to human interactions. It means feeling as the other person feels, not just with them. It means putting yourself in their shoes and shaping your attitudes accordingly.

Beyond getting the order, the plus factor in selling is to make people look good in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. Rather than sell to them, we help them buy.

We do this best by building their self-image. This helps them grow. And as we help others grow, we grow. To do this, we must be open and honest – this is the essence of good human relations.

These concepts are applicable to every facet of our lives and, in selling, they pave the way to the truest and most fruitful success.

Oh, and the greatest barrier to “win-win” is also the “Egocentric Predicament”but you have probably worked that out too?

Have a wonderful w/e, wherever you are!

Pregnant Pipelines Do NOT Win Prizes!

The ability to leverage your probability for converting potential business in your pipeline is a vital part of the sales process – it helps to focus your mind onto getting each prospect to the next milestone.

Speed of follow-through is really important, because it helps to create a momentum that consolidates your relationship with potential new customers.

The following suggestions might help you accelerate your prospects through your pipeline and increase the probability for winning more deals:

  • Agree the next steps with your prospect. Ensure that you are clear on the actions that will take you to the next milestone and closer to the sale.
  • Before agreeing any actions with your prospect, ask yourself if these actions are leading you towards a sale? If you can’t see the tangible reason for doing an action, then you could find yourself in a never-ending situation of fruitless discussions that dilute your results.
  • Send an acknowledgement and confirmation of agreed actions to your prospect within 24 hours, if possible. This conveys professionalism and provides another layer of reassurance for the prospect.
  • At the end of every telephone call and meeting with your prospect, agree a specific time and date for your next contact. Lots of your valuable time can be wasted trying to get in touch with a busy buyer…

A well-managed pipeline helps to improve the consistency of results achieved and creates a platform for more accurate sales forecasting. If pipeline management is not an integral part of an organization’s sales process, this can result in a number of problems including: longer sales cycles, reduced forecasting accuracy, inconsistent and unpredictable sales performance, declining win-rates, and an inability to pinpoint reasons for decreased results.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure and if you can’t measure your pipeline, then you can’t improve your productivity.

There are a number of Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) that can be measured, monitored and managed to ensure achievement of sales targets:


Pipeline Opportunities - These should be measured in value and the number of opportunities in the pipeline.

Opportunities by Milestone - Once these milestones and their different probabilities of closing have been calculated, these figures ensure greater accuracy of forecasting.

Average Deal Size - This ensures better focus on larger deals and, ideally, will increase steadily each year.

Sales Cycle Time - Shortening this can have a huge impact, because of the cumulative saved time available for prospecting.

Profitability - Margins can be tracked to ensure that there is sufficient contribution to enable on-going account handling.

Conversion Ratio - The number of opportunities won and the % of pipeline potential converted.

Finally, do remember that there are no prizes for having a pregnant pipeline - the prizes are reserved for delivered business!

The reality is that, for a number of reasons, 30% of the opportunities currently residing in your pipeline will not happen – do you know which ones they are?

If you weed them out early, you will give yourself so much more time to work on those that can happen.


The FIVE Most Significant Challenges Facing Every Company, Everywhere …

I have been contemplating what I believe are the most significant challenges most companies are currently facing, and I have managed to reduce my list to just five.

My intention is to produce a new white paper, which will be ready for distribution shortly – “The FIVE Most Significant Challenges Facing Every Company Everywhere” and today, I can give you a flavor…

Challenge One: Finding the Opportunities

I am continually surprised to discover just how few companies have a formal business development strategy. The norm appears to be “If we throw enough mud at the wall, some of it is bound to stick… eventually“. For “mud” you should read “resources”. This “Quixotic” mantra is costly, unproductive and naive.

There are so many solutions available today, which assist front-line sales professionals to accurately target potential clients/customers, not to mention resources like LinkedIn, etc. It is incomprehensible to me that the majority of organizations are still flailing in the dark.

For example, how many companies do you know that can tell you exactly what each lead is costing them?

I will of course elaborate on this point in the white paper, and hopefully provide not only a template for an achievable business development strategy, but also some realistic matrix for measuring performance.

Challenge Two: Sales Enablement

It is estimated that between 56% and 58% of front-line salesmen and women will fail to hit quota this year. Why? Targets set too high? Maybe, in some cases, it could be suggested that in a continuing flat-line economy, expectations were unrealistic. But my personal opinion is that we are now witnessing the inevitable results of all those training budget cuts, which were implemented three or four years ago, when the recession began to bite.

The reality is that you cannot expect an under-equipped and an inadequately armed army to win battles – let alone the war!

There is ample and reliable evidence to suggest that for every $ spent on appropriate and relevant sales team development, a return of $100 should be anticipated in incremental revenue gained – it isn’t rocket science.

But do note the highlighted words - appropriate and relevant

Challenge Three: Customer Retention

For more years than I can remember, I have been “crusading” for greater customer focus and for organizations to work to prevent the constant drip, drip, drip of departing clients out of the back-end, almost as fast as new ones are coming on board at the front-end. How many times do we, commentators, have to point out that it costs at least 15 times more to first attract, then qualify, and then sell to a new customer as it does an existing one? How many times do we have to highlight surveys that shout at us that the most common reason companies change suppliers is because of a perceived lack of interest? 71% was the number I heard last!

How many vendors do you know who have, amongst all the data they examine every year, accurately calculated the true cost of all the customers they lost in any given period? And if you do know any, I am prepared to wager that not one of them included the total costs of winning that customer in the first place!

The reality is that standards of customer care have never been so bad. It is a self-perpetuating downward spiral. We actually no longer remember poor service – we expect it! But we are surprised when we receive good service… How sad is that?

The good news is that any company, who is prepared to raise their game by just a few percentage points, will stand out from the mediocre rest.

Challenge Four: Controlling Costs

Nobody should ever doubt that the successful formula for any company looking to survive today - let alone thrive - is to constantly look at ways to reduce costs, whilst increasing profits. Note my emphasis on profit, rather than revenue. A very wise old mentor of mine – a keen golfer – once said to me “Jonathan, we always drive for revenue, but we putt for profit” and how right he was….

It is a fallacy to believe that the responsibility for ensuring an organization’s financial health and stability lies solely with the “grey men” in accounts. Every individual has a part to play, and especially the sales team – the engine room of any firm – because, although it has become a well-worn cliché, nothing really does happen until we sell something!

Our role is to maximise the profitability of every single deal – that means examining the true costs.

Net margin is NOT simply selling price less buy-in price. True profitability takes into account all of the costs associated with creating the lead in the first place. It allows for all of the pre-sales meetings, including: qualification, face-face presentations and negotiation. These are all time consuming and cost bearing activities. Then there is the value we must place on after-sale support, or technical input. Only when we truly understand the real cost of each sale, can we begin to understand how we are able to improve our profitability.

Much of this is down to control, and that leads me onto …

Challenge Five: Leading from the Front

The average tenure of a sales manager today is less than two years – actually, if the manager was promoted from within, because they were the most successful salesperson on the team, the average duration comes down to eighteen months. These statistics are quite shocking, but not surprising. This role has become the least secure in most organizations today.

It is not possible to identify one single reason – there are a host of them. The responsibility is shared equally between employers and the individuals themselves, and I fully intend to expand on my thoughts and theories in the new white paper.

Show me an under-performing sales team, and I will show you an incompetent, poorly trained and inadequate sales manager! This role has now become critical.

I will alert you all just as soon as the white paper is ready for publication.

Isn’t Selling Both an Art AND a Science?

The dichotomy facing sales leaders now is how they reconcile the fact that most corporations today provide less upfront training for their sales staff than in years past, yet attach increasing importance to staff development?

This should not come as a surprise, because current stock market thinking provides a powerful disincentive for firms to invest in their people on an on-going basis.

You see, an organization’s investment in their human capital, in the form of training and other forms of education, is not separable from general expenditure – it therefore appears as a cost on the corporate balance sheet.

Unfortunately, as a consequence, most sales leaders have concluded that their only realistic option is to cut back on training and instead look to recruit sales professionals who, in theory anyway, already possess the necessary skills needed to do the job. They then send them out to win business armed with what they know.

However, most of those same sales leaders are discovering just how difficult it is to find skilled salespeople who have all of the essential skills and personal traits. And anyway, it is not possible to equate experience or seniority with success. As I have said on numerous occasions: “Some front-line sales professionals do have ten year’s experience, but most have one year’s experience ten times.”

In skills development there are many similarities to sport – i.e. does an athletic champion stop training as soon as they win their first medal? In music, does a concert pianist stop rehearsing as soon as they have given their first recital? In art, does the artist stop improving after they have enjoyed the first exhibition of their work?

The answer in all cases is obvious, and we should apply the same common sense principals to the on-going development of our sales teams.

The reality is that selling in today’s climate is both an art and a science. Selling is a profession that demands a far wider range of skills than ever before, skills that require continual fine-tuning and constant practice.

In summary – On-going reinforcement and development is essential: The operative word here is “on-going.”Even if salespeople have undergone progressive sales training, there’s no guarantee that they will be successful. It is common knowledge that skills grow “rusty” over time and salespeople are prone to pick-up bad habits along the way, or to simply skip steps and take shortcuts that can lead to long-term trouble.

Perhaps even more important these days is the fact that markets, competition, technologies, and customer preferences are all in a constant and accelerating state of change. This fact requires that sales people are able and willing to rethink their sales strategy and approach frequently and receive a regular top-up of skills and motivational coaching.

Our people are the most valuable asset we have – doesn’t it make sense to invest in that asset and increase its value?

Are You Up to the Challenge of Change?

Becoming a strategic and consultative Sales Superstar requires significant changes in your “world view” -how you think about yourself, and how you think about your relationships with key stakeholders. You are faced with new ways of thinking, many of which directly challenge what you have been taught and believe.

When faced with significant innovations in thinking, we tend initially to find ourselves in one of the following three characterizations:

The “Authoritative Critic”

The “Authoritative Expert”

The “Enthusiastic Apprentice”

We can think about these three characters as being on a spectrum that runs from outright rejection to eager acceptance

As we take a brief look at each of these, allow yourself to wonder where on the spectrum you fall in your process of becoming a Sales Superstar.

The Authoritative Critic

This individual quickly dismisses new ways of thinking, rejecting them as ridiculous, foolish and unwise.

What is this individual’s motivation? Fear of change, of loss.

The Authoritative Expert

This individual is one who typically responds to the introduction of innovative ideas by rejecting the reality that the ideas are indeed innovative. This individual is typically thinking “What’s the big deal? I’ve always done it this way.”

What is this individual’s motivation? Fear of losing face, of appearing inadequate.

The Enthusiastic Apprentice

This individual is excited by innovative thinking and is eager to learn. He/she may not understand or totally embrace the innovative concepts, but they are excited about the possibilities that well-informed change may bring about.

What is this individual’s motivation? It is hunger for knowledge and excitement about the possibilities that may come with new knowledge.

The nature of change is dynamic. As much as we might like to believe that change is linear, the truth is that deep transformative change develops in a spiral pattern.

As you reviewed the above characteristics, you may have seen parts of yourself in each description.

Knowledge is the power. The more aware you can become of your own process of “spiralling” through the process of change, the more conscious and intentional you can be about choosing change, choosing growth, and choosing to become a Sales Superstar.

The Key to Why Your Customers Buy From You?

I want to end the week by looking at buyer motivation, because all meaningful actions are performed for some reason or purpose – this is commonly called motivation.

Success in selling requires an understanding of these basics of motivation:
a) Your motivation, both as a person and as a salesperson
b) The other person’s motivation, both as a person and as a buyer

The most important fact to remember in influencing the behaviour and decisions of others is that people do things for their reasons – not ours…

Every successful sale then is made, not so much because of the excellence of your product or of your sales pitch, but because consciously or unconsciously, you have found the human reason why your prospect should buy. You have found the door to their motivation and have opened it. The more you understand the function of human motivation, the more successfully you will sell.

In its simplest form, motivation emerges as a cycle. It starts with a want or need – expressed or hidden. Inherent in this is a problem – a problem that must be overcome in order to satisfy the want, which must be solved. Once solved, the want can be satisfied and the cycle is completed.

In terms of personal development, there are several levels of needs.

You will no doubt be familiar with Maslow’s pyramid of needs. These needs are basic to everyone you sell to, live with, or encounter.

At the bottom of the pyramid are the Physiological Needs – they include food, shelter, warmth, sex and sleep. They are instinctive needs common to all living creatures. Until these needs are satisfied, the higher needs are purely academic.

Then comes safety, which is almost as basic (security is another word for this need ) – Security in one’s job, in one’s place in society, safety from unknown dangers, freedom from pain.

Love is a more sophisticated, but no less essential need. Every human being wants others to care about them, to receive affection. They want to have the approval of others, to be understood/accepted/respected, to belong. And equally important, they have a need to be involved, to care about and give affection to others – the two are inseparable.

Self-esteem is equally essential. Every human being needs to feel that they are important in some sphere of life ; that their presence on earth has meaning and significance. The mature person knows that this begins with self-respect. This need provides a tremendous motivational force.

Self-actualization is the highest need – for personal growth and achievement, for self-fulfilment, the best use of one’s capabilities, the fullest possible realization of potential within an honest understanding, both of the limitations and scope of that potential.

People, of course, are different. Their needs will vary in degree, in shape, and in the nature of their answers – but they are common to all. As you are alert to them, as you understand them, so will your success with others be measured.

How do people seek to satisfy their needs? Thorndike’s Law of Effect supplies the answer – “People tend to behave in a way to gain rewards and avoid punishment.”

Again, this varies with different people. Generally, people can be classified into three dominant types:
The Achiever
The Seeker of Social Recognition
The Security-Minded
(But no one is likely to be a pure type)

The Achiever is most likely to be oriented toward gaining rewards.
The Security-Minded is likely to be dominated by the desire to avoid punishment.
The Social Type stands somewhere between the two.

These are the dominating factors, but in varying degrees, each has a little of the other two in them.

In terms of selling, whatever the dominant drive of your prospect, they are above all buying benefits. Benefits are best defined in this context as the results of the product, which enable them to gain rewards and/or avoid punishment.

In making their decision, the buyer uses the Minimax principle: “To minimise their losses – to maximize their gains.”

This is true, whatever the personality orientation. The emphasis depends again on their individual motivational drive.

The Law of Effect then “depending on specific motivation“ relates directly to the Pyramid of Human Needs, and expands in this manner:

The benefits you have to offer are both negative and positive. The right emphasis, directed in the right way, offering both to determine preference, is your shortest way to your objective.

In summary, according to Russell: “The essence of motivation is finding meaning in what we are doing. Motivation is an inner control of the individual.”  In other words, only you can really motivate yourself.

All these concepts apply to you – in all phases of your life and your work – as well as they apply to others.

Finding the right meaning in what you do will be the great motivator for a more effective you.

Understanding the nature of what motivates each person you deal with will enable you to help them make a decision, which is favourable to both of you.

Have a great w/e !

Four Secret Negotiating Behaviours You Need To Understand

As I have said often enough here on this blog, I enjoy negotiating very much. I have worked hard to learn and perfect my skills over many years, and practiced in a variety of circumstances. So allow me to share just four secrets with you today…

A skilled negotiator will create high levels of rapport and be sensitive and empathetic to the people they are negotiating with, yet can still be hard on the issues. The ability to separate the people from the issues, and recognize that negotiations are often fraught with emotional intensity, can help sharpen the focus on the interests of the other party to better balance perceptions.

If the negotiation doesn’t appear to be going anywhere and your prospect is behaving like a bully, you might feel angry and frustrated. You may already have considered simply agreeing to their demands. In difficult negotiations, there are four vital behaviours that can increase your resourcefulness and, consequently, your opportunities for getting to “Win-Win.”

1. Manage your emotional state
Build rapport by matching the other person’s style – pace and approach until you have achieved a connection. Personalize the negotiation by using “I” rather than your organization’s name – this demonstrates your belief in your proposal and highlights your credibility.

In the face of feelings like anger, disappointment, frustration, confusion and resentment, we often react without thinking. In such a situation, mentally detach yourself and think about it before you respond. It helps to reframe attacks and tactical manoeuvres as feedback that the other person’s interests have not been fully acknowledged. Stay focused on your goal of reaching an agreement.

2. Look for quick mutual wins to build the belief “We can agree”
The more abstract your communication, the more likely you are to reach an agreement. Therefore, seek to gain agreement at an abstract level first and then get into the detail.

For example, if two people wanted what appears to be very different things, such as a) nuclear disarmament and b) more resources spent on defense. If you looked at finding out both sides’ highest intention, you may discover that peace was the desired outcome for both people. Therefore, at this abstract level, they have found agreement. So the negotiation can continue by gradually getting more detailed.

Questions that chunk up your prospect into the bigger picture include:
- For what purpose?
- What’s your intention behind (negotiating point)?

Seek to address the easiest/quickest areas of agreement first, to help ensure that the process of agreement is simple and straightforward. If you discover an area where agreement may not be reached quickly, then agree to leave it until later. If some points become contentious, it can help discussions if you both move your body, because the mind and body are connected; Physical movement helps to create mental movement. That’s why a walk can work wonders during tough negotiations… Provide regular summaries of what you have both accomplished, to install the belief that the negotiation is making progress.

Some sales people write out all the points to be negotiated on separate sheets of paper. Then, as each point is agreed, they move the paper to a different place, so that the buyer can physically see the progress being made, which serves to motivate the entire process.

3. Use active listening skills and ask questions to give you a greater understanding of the other person’s viewpoint
Giving good attention to people makes them more intelligent. Poor attention makes them stumble over their words and appear stupid. You are best positioned to change someone’s mind after you have listened to that person. People tend to close down and stick to their position until they feel heard. The goal of active listening is for you to hear and understand other people – their words, thoughts, and feelings – and to let them know you’ve heard and understood them.

Acknowledge their motivations, feelings and point of view – even when you don’t agree with what they are saying. Your goal is to understand the message, not judge the validity of what they say.

4. Build trust by negotiating fairly
Demonstrations of power erode trust. If you are on the receiving end of this type of behaviour, describe your observations and the consequences of continuing the current process. For example: “You know you’ve named what seems to me a low price, and so now I’ll name a higher price, and then we’ll each insist on our position until one of us gives in. I don’t find my best negotiations work like this.”

Then propose a different way to proceed, for example: “It would help me to understand the criteria of a fair offer if we could take a look at some of the relevant standards in this industry.” Before beginning the negotiation, it can help to agree the ground rules and stick to them. Act with integrity and hold a healthy respect for the intentions of the individual you are negotiating with.

There is always a reason why a point of negotiation is important to the buyer and, if we can appreciate more about their underlying reasons, this knowledge can be used and acted upon.

Strong negotiation skills are absolutely fundamental to becoming a top 5% sales player. So my advice is: Do work hard to hone your skills.

Top Sales World Publish “Top 50 Best Summer Reads”

Here is an extract from the introduction …

“When a man (or woman) is tired of reading, he/she is tired of life.”

With apologies to the great Samuel Johnson – (1709-1784) – one of the most quoted men of the 18th century.

Here then are our – as in the Top Sales World’s editorial team’s – favorite 50 books for your edification and delight.

Are they the best 50 sales and marketing related books ever written? We cannot claim that, but certainly many of them would be right at home if such a list existed.

TSW’s contributing team is the largest group of sales experts  ever gathered in one location, and they share their pearls of wisdom daily – for free.

If you have yet to discover the most popular and significant sales-related location on the planet, please join the orderly queue, and make your way there immediately. HERE 

I do hope you enjoy our selections, and when you find yourself at a loose-end, or in a state of involuntary ennui this summer, do refer back to this document, as often as you wish.

You will find all the details HERE 

Are You Getting the Wrong Customer Reaction?

Before looking outwards at our prospects and customers we need to look at ourselves, because each of us is a unique human being with our own desires, challenges and thoughts. To understand how we can communicate, and therefore sell more effectively, we need to understand the human communication process.

Every minute, our unconscious mind absorbs over two million pieces of information through our senses. We are” bombarded” with sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches. Yet, according to Professor George Miller from Harvard University, we can only process around seven chunks of information consciously at any given moment. That is an awful lot of information that our conscious mind chooses to ignore, or to be more accurate – delete! This means that every individual will process information based on what they are focusing on at that time.

The information that enters our unconscious mind goes through three filters to reach our conscious mind. We delete most of it, because there is no way that our conscious mind could cope with what is held in the unconscious mind. We distort the information, based on our current situation. For example, a child may interpret the ordinary sounds of a central heating system very differently if they are left alone in the house. This is why, sometimes people can completely misinterpret what we are saying to them, they are distorting the information because they are focusing on a different meaning to the one we wanted to convey.

We also generalize information. For example, once we have learned what a chair looks like, we can instantly identify other chairs – even though we haven’t seen every type of chair. We can generalize the way most doors are opened, how most cars are driven and even how to identify when a person is either male or female.

After the information has been filtered into our conscious mind, there are only four things we can do with it inside our head – we make pictures, sounds, we talk to ourselves or we have feelings. The combination of these things creates an emotion that has an effect on our physiology. For example – if we feel embarrassed, we might blush ; if we feel angry, we may tighten up our muscles. Every thought we have affects our body, and the way we move our body affects our thinking. Our mind and body are totally interconnected.

If you observe someone suffering from depression, they are often round shouldered, they look down a lot and many of them will be using a lot of negative self-talk – “Why does this always happen to me?” “I’m useless” “What’s the point?” etc.

Contrast this to a person who feels really confident – they stand upright, their shoulders are back and they use eye contact. Because every thought we have affects our body, this means that our emotional state also affects our behaviour, which consequently affects and influences the results we get.

Therefore, if we want to change aspects of our lives, including the way our prospects and customers react to us, first we have to change our own thinking - attitude is 80% of the success factor in frontline professional selling…

Has Empathy Become More Relevant in Professional Selling?

These are troubled times for workers – it seems that no one is guaranteed employment security anywhere any more. The creeping sense that no one’s job is safe, even as the companies they work for are thriving again, means the spread of fear, apprehension and confusion.

An attitude of self-interest is, understandably, growing more common for employees confronting downsizing and other changes that make them feel their organization is no longer loyal to them.

This sense of betrayal or distrust erodes allegiance and encourages cynicism. And once lost, trust – and the commitment that stems from it – is hard to rebuild. If employees are not treated fairly and respectfully, no organization will gain their emotional allegiance. Sensing others’ development needs and bolstering their abilities is emerging as second only to team leadership among superior managers.

For sales managers, developing others’ abilities is even more important – indeed, it’s the emotional competence most frequently found among those at the top of the field. This is a person-to-person art, and the effectiveness of counselling hinges on empathy and the ability to focus on our own feelings and share them.

Research suggests the best ‘coaches’ show a genuine personal interest in those they guide, and have empathy for and an understanding of their employees. Trust is crucial – when there is little trust in the coach, advice goes unheeded. This also happens when the coach is impersonal and cold, or the relationship seems too one-sided or self-serving. Coaches who show respect, trustworthiness and empathy are the best. One way to encourage people to perform better is to let others take the lead in setting their own goals rather than dictating the terms and manner of their development. This communicates the belief that employees have the capacity to be the pilot of their own destiny.

Another technique is to point to the problems without offering a solution: this implies the employees can find the solution themselves. And people hunger for feedback, yet too many managers, supervisors and executives are inept at giving it or are simply disinclined to provide any.

Virtually everyone who has a superior is part of at least one vertical ‘couple’ in the workplace; every boss forms such a bond with each subordinate. Such vertical couples are a basic unit of organisational life.

Therein lays the blessing or the curse: This interdependence ties a subordinate and superior together in a way that can become highly charged. If both do well emotionally – if they form a relationship of trust and rapport, understanding and inspired effort – their performance will shine. But if things go emotionally awry, the relationship can become a nightmare and their performance a series of minor and major disasters. While vertical couples have the entire emotional overlay that power and compliance bring to a relationship, peer couples – our relationships with co-workers – have a parallel emotional component, something akin to the pleasures, jealousies and rivalries of siblings.

If there is anywhere emotional intelligence needs to enter an organization, it is at this most basic level.

Building collaborative and fruitful relationships begins with the couples we are a part of at work.

Bringing emotional intelligence to a working relationship can pitch it towards the evolving, creative, mutually engaging end of the continuum; failing to do so heightens the risk of a downward drift towards rigidity, stalemate and failure.