We were talking with a new business colleague the other day, and were both interested in what each other does. We asked the same questions that are asked every day in business introductions all around the world: “What do you do?” “What’s different or unique about you/your business?” and “What do others say about you/your business?”
There’s a lot of “what” questions in there.
Rarely do I hear many, if any, “why” questions. Why is interesting. It jumps right to the heart of who you are and the reasons you do what you do. It also might be a bit abrupt to ask that question right upfront. “Hi, how are you. What do you do? Why do you do that?”
Yet, getting to the why behind the what is always more interesting. After many years in business and asking the why question (and asking myself), I’ve come to the conclusion that people really don’t know “exactly” why they do what they do.
So many businesspeople use questions and answers centered around specifics, details, facts, data and results. We all like keeping score. Tell me the who, what, when, where and how. That’s safe.
We all like success and success stories. Case studies. We look each other up and down and check each other out. “How successful are they?” “What’s their story?” “What do they know that I don’t?” “Can they really help us?” “Can I trust them?”
Not many people ask about the kind of person you are, or the kind of people that work for you. Maybe it’s somewhat impolite to ask that. Maybe it’s harder to tell the truth, too. We see that in our culture and with our politicians. Could it be that they are just a reflection of us?
If someone says to me, “I’m really a nice person” I almost don’t believe them just because they said it. Or the same goes with their team or staff. “We have really nice people. People really like working with us.” Now, I’m really nervous. In society, being nice is somewhat like being a dastardly liar or phony, or both. You are obviously hiding some deep, dark evil inside.
Okay, maybe it’s because I’m older. Maybe I just don’t care anymore about what people think (well, that’s not true). I guess I really don’t know. But I said it. When asked the why question; it this case, the “Why have you been so successful for 22 years in this business?” I couldn’t resist, just this one time, anyway…
“It’s because we are nice. Seriously.” Heaven forbid. There, I said it.
As much as we’d like our clients and partners to say how much we’ve helped them grow and be successful (scoreboard material), they always (almost always, that is) say just that. “They are really nice people.” Period. Go ahead, puke now.
The funny thing about all this is, that the experience is what people really remember. The rest are just transactions. Important. But maybe, just maybe, they’re not everything.
“I hope that what it comes down to at the end of the day is that people believe that I believe what I am singing. It comes down to being believable. You don’t have to be likeable, though, I think I am.”
– John Mayer
“Those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”
– Jesus (Matthew 20:16)