Defending the used-car salesman stereotype.

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Yesterday, I bought a car.

I'm taking a risk, because as of the end of this week I'll be joining the ranks of the self-employed, so the days leading up to this were more me sitting huddled over my pennies, nursing them tenderly and a bit obsessively, muttering 'precious' under my breath, than throwing notes up in the air a-la Julie Andrews singing 'the hills are alive' as I wantonly squander my fortune. 

I bought it from my local dealership, because I understand loyalty in a way I never did as a customer in the past,  but would have been happy to buy from any of the other dealerships I visit - I've trained and coached hundreds of staff and managers across nine sites - and almost all of the people I've met have been awesome. 

After four years 'in the motor trade', I've learned a thing or two that might be helpful to know about, should you ever be in the position of buying a car, and be feeling less-than-excited about the whole experience (armouring up for going into battle, anyone?)

I should probably say, I think the manufacturer makes a difference to our experience. Buying a car from Lexus, Audi or BMW will have  a different atmospheric 'flavour' than buying one from Ford, Renault or Peugeot, for example. I'm a Honda girl, and my experience has been that the workforce matches the brand = reliable, trustworthy, friendly, exciting (the latter if you're at the touring-car-racing and maybe less so if you're in a 1.2 litre Jazz pottering around town (no offence intended). 

The old me wouldn't have had a clue what she really wanted ("I like the red one"), would have approached the test drive with a serious case of the heebie jeebies, hoping that I would 'pass', and would have probably kept quiet at the negotiation stage and sat by passively whilst I let my badass husband face down the salesman with steely glares and a pokerfaced 'silence-off' because everybody knows when you are negotiating on buying a car that HE WHO SPEAKS FIRST, LOSES.

Gone are the days of the sales manager throwing your keys onto the roof of the dealership and threatening to leave them there until you buy a car in a 'no-one walks' scenario. 

I had a completely different experience this time, mostly because I understand the process better, and because I bought my car from people I like and trust - we've built a relationship over time so it was easier to have confidence that I was getting the best experience I could have.

Here are five things I've learned, based on my own experience and I'm not saying I'm an expert - but might help someone else shift their thinking hence writing this post.

1. Give them the opportunity to serve you well. Salespeople (yes, even used car ones), at least the ones in the main dealerships that I visit, are warm, empathic, honest and smart human beings. They 'get it' that you don't want to be 'ripped off'. Often, they are working in a culture that values the sale, granted, that's what they're there for, after all, but the individuals I work with are emotionally intelligent enough to recognise that you're a human being, who wants things to be fair, and they, too, value honesty, trust and respect

2. Ask for what you want! Be really clear that you want the very best deal they are able to get for you, without to-ing and fro-ing whilst you both negotiate. My salesman (get me, 'my salesman' :)) yesterday said "I'm not even going to try to sell you a car" with a non-resistant and humorous style because a) I've been training him for years on the value of having the customer feel in control, and b) I'd been clear that I was definitely interested in a car, but that I was also exploring other options. It helped him, to know exactly where I stood.

The 'smoke and mirrors' dance of entering the sales process and getting to a 'deal' (I think) has been created because of a lack of trust and honesty, often on both sides (car sales environment has often been blamed for this - but I know I've added to that in the past by not being open and clear about my intentions). (Hello... transferrable skill useful in many other situations!).

Show your hand. Otherwise, you will be playing the game you thought they were playing before you walked in, and they may not be. They don't want to sell you a car that you're not happy with.

3. Trust your first impressions. The salesmen (and one or two women) in the dealerships I visit, are decent humans, too. If you can help it, try not to stereotype or pigeon hole them. Give them the opportunity to help you find the right car for you. One or two are still 'old-school' and may try to come over all alpha-male and salesy, in which case you should absolutely hot foot it out of there quicker than Quicky McQuickface. Otherwise - give them the opportunity to serve you respectfully. 

4. They are there to sell cars - it's what they are rewarded for and what the business exists to do. That is okay. It can be done with fairness, honesty and they will look to get the best deal possible for you.

5. There isn't always a lot of profit in a car. Not eleventy-thousand in each one, contrary to customer-popular-belief. Really. Sometimes a used car sale might make a hundred quid for the dealership. Sometimes less than that, or nothing.  

Ask for the best deal, but don't take the mick. And the 'can you throw in some mats' request costs them money - so by all means ask, but don't assume you're being 'seen off' if they can't say yes. It maybe beyond their control.

As customers, we want fairness, trust, and reliability - 'please don't rip me off', 'will you look after me?', and 'do what you said you were going to do'. As salespeople (at least, the ones I've had the privilege of working with) want the same. It's about time we stopped stereotyping and gave them the opportunity to serve us well.

[No salespeople were harmed in the writing of this post.] And I'll be back to write about aftersales staff because they are awesome, too, in my experience.

For me, this is an opportunity to practice inclusion, and believing the best about people! And also good boundaries, and the ability to sniff out any 'power-over' techniques or anything that feels shady. It's totally ok to walk away from that or anything that doesn't feel good to you.

Would love to know about your car-buying experiences in the past. Have you had similar good experiences as a customer? Comment below, and share if you liked this. Thanks!

Why people don't speak up in teams.

It's Monday morning - you're at the weekly team get-together and everyone's focus is on the latest issue or problem to resolve. You've been doing the job for a while, have got some great ideas about how things could be improved in this area, burning for you to share them. How likely are you to speak up and share your ideas?

If you're in a working culture where you are encouraged to contribute, however diverse your ideas, it's likely there is trust between individual members of the team and managers or leaders.

If you don't feel able to speak up, you're not alone. 

One of the things I often see in my organisational work is a culture where team members will talk honestly amongst themselves, having a very clear point of view about some aspect of the role or team, but may not speak up about it more widely. When asked how things are by a manager, the employees say that all is well, usually because they believe that something unpleasant will happen if they speak honestly. They tell me a different tale in our work together, because they are able to speak freely without fear of judgement or consequence.

For someone to speak up in the workplace, there has to be a culture of psychological safety. Kahn* defines this as 'being able to show and employ one's self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career'.

In psychologically safe teams, there is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. Individuals in the team feel accepted and respected. I imagine also that individuals would feel safe to show their vulnerability* (taking the risk to speak up, sharing how they feel, even though there's no guarantee of the outcome, mutual and based on trust, not over-sharing) in a team where trust has been built over time.

Psychological safety is different from building trust. Trust is built incrementally, over time, and relates to the way one person views another, and the belief they have about that person.

Psychological safety is the belief about the group norm (does it feel okay to speak honestly in this group?), and its focus is on how one person thinks they might be viewed (if I speak up, will I lose my job, look stupid, or damage my reputation?).

There are important chemicals that help to create social bonds and loyalty (oxytocin, for example) released into the bloodstream when trust is present. These help to counteract the effects of feeling judged or criticised (which is likely to elicit the fight/fight response), so a physiological 'result', underpinning perceptions of judgement, acceptance and safety. Literally, a culture of trust helps to offset the negative effects of a stressful role.

As a leader, you're unlikely to get engagement, innovation or people willing to learn from their mistakes, without developing a healthy sense of psychological safety in your team.  To do that, you might need to look at how well you develop relationships that are built on a healthy foundation of mutual trust.

It's easier to develop it when there is good social cohesion - teams that have mutual liking between each of the members, who belong to a group they are proud of, doing tasks and work that are committed to, where they care about the group's outcomes and performance. Inviting employees to take part in decision-making can help too, as part of a 'participatory management' approach.

A final important idea to consider is one of accountability - setting boundaries and holding people accountable may be a lot more work than shaming and blaming - but it's one that is likely to help to build a healthier workplace. 

The starting point is asking yourself whether the culture you're working in, is one that consciously cultivates openness, inclusion, respect and trust, where people are encouraged to speak openly and held accountable for what they said they would do. If not, it's likely you'll have a workforce where people keep quiet, making it harder for them to be influenced. 

References:

Brown, B. (2012).  Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Gotham Press.

Kahn, W. A. (1990). Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at WorkAcademy of Management Journal33 (4): 692–724.


The Daring Way™ is a 3 day workshop exploring topics like leadership, courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy. Next open workshop 6,7,8 September at Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, Penrith, Cumbria, or you can commission an in-house workshop or bespoke session for your organisation or team. For details see www.braveologist.co.uk/the-daring-way


If you liked this, please consider sharing it with others you think might appreciate reading it, too. Thanks. And - I'd love to know about your experience of speaking up in workplaces. Leave a comment below!

How to talk about shame in the workplace - a worksheet and activity guide

Greetings, fellow brave souls!

I had a couple of people do the Daring Way and then ask for ideas for bringing some of what they learned to life back in the workplace, so I created a two pager which might help with future requests.

Shame can be a trixy topic even in emotionally-intelligent workplaces, so if you're an HR or L&D professional, internal coach, manager or change-maker, or someone who would just value some guidance about how to talk about shame at work - I created this for you. Hope it helps.

P.S. I'd say (based on my experience of facilitating this work for 18 months now) we need to do our own work (inner soul-searching as well as research) before facilitating conversations about shame. It's not for the faint-hearted. The rewards for the well-being of the workforce and its leadership are huge, though, I believe. Enjoy!

 

I would love to know about your experiences with talking about shame in the workplace, or how you see it show up in your team or at work.

Feel free to share in the comments below (remember to maintain confidentiality :-))

I run workshops around topics like these - please see the Daring Way pages for details!

Like this? Please consider sharing it! Thank you.

What I learned about empathy from a used-car salesman

 Image by Felix Russell-Saw at unsplash.com

Image by Felix Russell-Saw at unsplash.com

If you're anything like many people I know, or like I was before I did some work in the motor trade, you probably can relate to thinking generally about car salesmen like we might think of sharks.

Dangerous, predatory, untrustworthy.

So when I was part of one of the most heart-warming conversations I've ever had, I knew some day I'd be writing about it. I got permission from the people involved to write this, this week, so here it is.

Let me introduce you to a manager and a team - we'll call the manager Mark (because that is his name).

This manager has been dealing with a sales person who recently lost a very young child, after becoming ill with a rare condition that claimed his life after several months.

I wasn't mainly moved by stories I was told about the whole team attending a tiny person's funeral while the most senior manager 'held the fort'.

It wasn't even by the tears I saw in a colleague's eyes as he talked about what it is like to have one of your team go through something so painful.

Nor even knowing that after returning to work, Mark sent the rota schedule home so the salesperson's wife could complete it to give her some choice over when her partner came back to work.

It was something else.

Mark (he's a parent too) and I were talking about empathy - it's a huge part of the work I do with them and he said:

"How do you do empathy though, when you haven't been through what someone has been through?"

"When they say 'do you know what I mean though?'

And you have to say 'no'.

'No, I have no idea what this must feel like for you'."

Compassion takes courage because it's hard to put yourself in someone else's painful shoes.

Because you can't imagine what that experience is like AND because you have to try, if you are to find the place in you, which knows what they are going through.

I've thought about this a lot.

Partly because I've learned a lot about empathy from this team, and their love and support for their colleague and his family.

And here's what I know.

You can empathise with someone without having had their exact same experience.

Maybe you've never experienced the intensity of what they're experiencing, but you can still relate. If you've known sadness, or fear, or loss of any kind, you can relate.

You can use words like these (I learned most of these from my Daring Way work)

  • I'm so sorry this is happening to you.
  • I don't know what to say, but I am here with you.
  • I will stay with you while you go though this.
  • I am so glad you told me.
  • What do you need, right now?

I think it's more hand-holding and sitting, than fixing or understanding or minimising.

To be willing to empathise, we have to be willing to get it wrong, to maybe say something clumsy, or have it come out not like we intended.

It's okay when we have good intentions to connect with, to feel with, the other person.

It's what binds us in our common humanity.

And if we can be willing to get it wrong and 'circle back' to put it right, we're more likely to try to empathise.

  • I'm sorry, that didn't come out like I wanted it to, let me try again.

or

  • I don't know what to say, but I am here with you. What do you need?

or

  • I don't think I listened well enough when you told me. I'd like to try again. Do you feel like talking?

I wanted to share, because I'm blown away that I'm having these conversations in a culture which most would agree isn't our first thought when we consider places we might find heart-warming empathy and connection.

Isn't that wonderful?

I love that I can easily describe the used-car salespeople that I know as compassionate. Kind-hearted. Empathetic.

This is an extreme story, but it's not the only one I have from my work in the motor trade. Many times I have driven away from a day's Emotional Intelligence coaching in a dealership with my heart bursting wide open with the connection and deep feeling I've witnessed there on that day. 

So if you're wondering if we can empathise with someone's pain, my answer would be yes.

If Mark can do it, so can all of us.

 

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