Being Comfortable with the Unknown

Like millions of people throughout the world, I woke up this morning to an unknown election result. Darn! I wanted to know what was in store for the next four years and I wanted to know NOW!

People like predictability. People like to know what’s next. Living in the unknown can be uncomfortable, yet that’s where we are at this moment in time. 

So, if you want to get more comfortable with the unknown—whether it’s the unknown of an election result or the unknown of everyday life—here are some tips:

Stay present in your body. When your mind starts to spin, shift your attention to your body and breath. Notice the coolness of the air when you breathe in and its warmth when you breathe out. Notice the connection of your feet with the ground beneath you. Whenever your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath or your feet.

Realize that this, too, shall pass. Everything changes. At some point we’ll all know the outcome of the election. And then in four years another election will take place and we’ll go through  uncertainty once again. We’re in the midst of an event in the timeline of history. 

See if you can let go of the need for a predictable result, realizing that “knowing” can be an illusion, anyway. Consider the times when you thought you know how everything was going to go, then something came out of left field and completely surprised you. Even when you think you know, life is full of unpredictable twists and turns.

Which leads me to the last point. It’s okay not to know. Can you let go of the need for a predictable result and instead, bring your awareness to the present moment? Remember, you can bring your attention to your feet connected to the ground anytime. Because one thing you do know is that as long as you’re on this earth, gravity will hold you close.

Here’s a link to my latest Mindful 180 podcast episode where I discuss this topic. Listen here or on your favorite app. I hope it serves you today and in the weeks to come.

For added support, I’m offering Mindful Stress Management Workshops for workplace teams over Zoom. I have limited availability, so please send me a direct message on LinkedIn or email me at for booking inquiries.

 

Mindful Sales: Stress or Strategy?

Most sales professionals hope to know at the end of their presentation whether the customer wants to move forward. Yet, the timing doesn’t always work out that way due to reasons beyond the rep’s control, i.e., although they’d prefer to be the last vendor presenting, there might be presentations following theirs—or although they’d like to be the one to present to the board for final approval, they don’t always get the opportunity to do so.

In that waiting period between presentation and customer response, the sales representative can still reach out to the customer with a thank you note, with additional supporting material, or with anything else that makes sense. Yet, there still may be a short period of time where they’ll simply need to wait for an answer. Some sales professionals find that their minds fill with worried thoughts during this waiting period. They may think: What if they don’t accept my proposal? I need this sale to make my quota this month. If I don’t get this sale, my job is on the line. All these thoughts will do is cause stress; they won’t change the outcome of the sale. Sales professionals can only control their own actions and put their best foot forward. After they’ve explored the customer’s needs, wants and challenges—and offered their best solution—the next move is the customer’s.

Instead of stressing while waiting for an answer—remember, worrying won’t change the outcome— try strategizing instead. Consider that your customer will have a finite number of responses. Let’s take a look at four likely categories of responses.

1. The customer will say let’s move forward.
2. The customer will have an objection.
3. The customer will decide not to make a decision now, as they’re not ready.
4. The customer will tell you they’re going with someone else.

What would you do in each case?
Number one is easy: Process the sale.
Number two: Can you address the objection?
Number three: Can you explore the reasons for not being ready? If the customer is truly not ready, make sure you cycle back at a later date.
Number four: Did you miss something in the discovery process? Is there still time to go back? If not, are there other opportunities either now or in the future? Are there other departments or individuals within the organization that may have a need for your product or service?

Once you have your strategies in place, it’s time to sit back, let go of your stress, and contact a new prospect during this waiting period. Keep your energy moving, and keep your sales pipeline full.

Identify Customer Needs with Mindful Listening

Listening closely to your prospects and customers can be challenging, especially since the mind can process words at a rate of approximately 500 words per minute, but people talk at a rate of approximately 150 words per minute. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of listening to a customer and realizing your attention has been pulled away by distracting thoughts. You can use mindful listening skills to help you focus on customers, encourage them to talk, and identify their needs and challenges.

One effective mindful listening skill is the technique of paraphrasing what your customers say. I learned about this important skill while in college, working on a telephone crisis intervention hotline. During my training for the job, the supervisor’s instruction to “repeat what the callers say back to them” was confusing. I said, “You want me to repeat what the callers say back to them? Wouldn’t that be awkward?” The supervisor looked at me with a twinkle in her eye. “You think it would be awkward to repeat what the callers say back to them?” I nodded emphatically. “Yes, I do! (pause) Oooh. Now I get it.”

When you repeat your customer’s messages back, it creates understanding and shows the customer you’re listening. It also leaves room for a customer to say, “I didn’t exactly mean that, what I really meant was this.” You can either paraphrase the customer’s words throughout your conversation, or when your customer is finished answering your questions, by saying, “Just so I can make sure I understand . . .,” and then summarize what you just heard.

People love to have someone take an interest in what they say. The more you listen, the more you can learn, and the more you learn, the greater the probability of uncovering a need your product or service can fulfill. You can even practice mindful listening skills with family and friends—they’ll likely appreciate your attention to them!

Focusing on the Task at Hand

One of the divers in the Thai cave rescue of 12 soccer players and their coach spoke of the importance of focus, saying, “You cannot let your mind slip out of focus, because when you start thinking, ‘I’m going to get stuck,’ that’s when you panic. You cannot think about anything else besides the task at hand.” The whole world watched the skill and focus these divers brought to the task at hand—and let out a collective sigh of relief as the last boys were rescued.

While few, if any, people reading this post have the experience of cave diving, most people still need to bring focus to their tasks at hand. A proven way to develop this focus is through the practice of meditation. Contrary to what some might believe, meditation is not a practice of suppressing thoughts, but it’s a process of coming into awareness of them—and then shifting your attention to a neutral object of awareness (such as your breath) each time another thought grabs your attention. Essentially, it’s like you’re taking your mind out of drive and shifting it to neutral–again and again and again, sometimes as often as every second or two. Just as the repetitive motion of doing abdominal crunches builds core strength, this continual shifting of awareness helps build your mind’s muscle—and develop your ability to focus.

People often tell me they can’t meditate, saying that their minds won’t settle down. Like starting any new practice, be patient and give yourself time to learn. It’s best to start small until you get used to meditating, and then you can gradually increase your practice time. You can find a selection of free, three-minute guided meditations here: https://soundcloud.com/joyrains.

You can also weave “mindful moments” into your day to help develop focus. For instance, try a walking meditation by bringing all your attention to the soles of your feet as they connect with the ground. Any time your mind wanders, simply bring it back to the feeling of the soles of your feet. Meditation practice doesn’t have to take a long time; sometimes it can be as simple as remembering to pause—if only for a few moments.

Tips for Turbulence

Whether you experience turbulence on an airplane, in your work life, or in your home life—meditation can help see you through times that are challenging. You can practice meditating by shifting your attention from your thoughts to something neutral, such as your breath or the feeling of your feet on the ground.

If you’re traveling in an airplane that starts to pitch and shake—your imagination may kick into high gear. The scenarios you imagine are dire: the plane dropping thousands of feet, crashing into the ocean, and your family members grieving your demise. Pretty soon you are in a full-blown stress response.

WAIT. Consider that your stress response is more in response to your thoughts than in response to what’s actually happening with the plane. You don’t know that the plane is going to drop, or that you’ll crash into the ocean, or that this will be the end of life as you know it.

CONSIDER. All you know is that you are experiencing turbulence. That’s it. See if you can stop making predictions about a dire future outcome.

CONNECT. Plant your feet on the floor beneath your seat. Feel the connection between the soles of your feet and the carpet. This will help keep your attention in your body, rather than lost in anxious thoughts.

BREATHE. Bring your attention to your breath moving in and out of your body. Perhaps you can notice the coolness of the air when you breathe in and its warmth when you breathe out. Notice your chest rising and falling. You can even silently say to yourself, “rising, falling” with each inhale and exhale to help keep your attention on your breath.

Every time you notice another anxious thought arising, see if you can release it, and gently bring your attention back to your feet and your breath. Bring your attention back as often as needed, even if it’s every second or two.

Remember, turbulence is not a permanent condition, and this, too, shall pass.

Mindful Selling: Changing the “Rejection” Story

Top baseball players don’t get a hit every time they’re up to bat. If they get 3 hits out of 10 at-bats, they’re doing great.

Same with top salespeople. They don’t close 100% of their sales. They get a certain number of “no’s.”

Hearing the word “no” is part of the selling process. If customers said “yes” all the time, companies wouldn’t need salespeople; they’d only need order-takers.

But some salespeople can feel rejected and become despondent when hearing “no” all day.

Research out of The University of Michigan suggests that the brain processes rejection the same way it processes physical injury. No wonder people can become despondent!

As a career sales professional and a mindfulness instructor, I’d like to put a different spin on the idea of rejection in sales.

One of the concepts I teach in mindfulness is to become aware of the stories you tell yourself. When a prospect says no, do you tell yourself a story that you were rejected?

Consider instead that the prospect simply is not in a place to engage with you at this time.

Maybe you caught the prospect on a bad day.

Maybe the prospect buys from her brother-in-law.

Maybe anything.

If you’re a sales professional, encountering prospects who are not ready to engage is part of your job.

I recommend meeting each prospect or customer with the expectation of moving the sale forward. However, if you meet resistance, know that it’s part of your job. See if you can understand it, so you can figure out your next step.

Note that I said if you meet resistance, not if you meet rejection. Resistance is about the customer’s state of mind.

And that’s what sales is all about. Focusing on your customer’s state of mind: understanding your customers, discovering their needs, and seeing if you can serve them.

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