I recently attended an Art of Sales Conference in Vancouver, which featured such thought leaders as Daniel Pink and Jeffrey Gitomer.  One speaker particularly struck me – Jeffrey Gitomer.  He got me thinking about barriers leaders face in connecting with others at times.  And he got me thinking about my own barriers.

First, Gitomer had quite a sense of humour, being willing to poke fun at himself as well as others who had paid to be there.  He started with a very direct line – your customers aren’t interested in what you are selling. They are more interested in their lives, their careers, their kids.

This was a somewhat freeing thought; you could almost hear the proverbial exhalation in the room – that or the scratching of heads – well, if that’s true, now what?  Gitomer’s point is we don’t have to be obsessed with the features and benefits of the various products and services we are selling.

No, according to Gitomer, it matters very little.  And in fact, what matters, and matters a lot more, is our ability to connect with others.  He says be compelling, be interesting, and above all else, don’t be boring! From there, he asked us to think about the extent to which we are fun, approachable, friendly?

These questions really got me thinking – and thinking a lot about how often I shut down or close off conversation with my “already knowing”.  You see I have this terrible practice of already knowing what someone’s response will be to me.

My “already knowing” makes a quick judgement that certain people will “fit” with me and certain others won’t.  Now this seems crazy and entirely immature.  Isn’t this the stuff of grade school?  Aren’t these the very questions my kids are grappling with in grades 2 and 4 right now?  Do I fit in here or not?  Damn.  Yep, as it would turn out, deep within my psyche is a weird core belief that I may not fit in.

When I reflect on this core belief, I realize how limiting it is.  It is disturbingly closed off and pervasive. My “already knowing” prevents any opportunity to connect.  So circling back to Gitomer’s questions about how friendly we are, how approachable we are, sadly I realized in some very specific circumstances that I may not be as friendly as I thought, and perhaps not all that approachable.  And it isn’t because I don’t want more connections.  No.  It is because I am shutting down potential for connection before it even has a chance.

It’s so easy for us to operate on ‘auto pilot’, and as leaders operating on this level – let’s call it ‘unconscious’ – we may miss opportunities for genuine connection which not only enriches our experience of life (both at play and at work), but makes us better leaders because we are real and willing to show up and be seen.

Let me clarify, we operate in this unconscious way not by choice but simply because we are human. Each of us in a unique way is a layer cake of psychology, behaviours and experience.  And yet our story is only partially told – typically by a mix of our own disclosure and another’s interpretation of our actions and behaviour.  Unfortunately it is rarely complete and fulsome.

In order to overcome this, leaders need to develop great self-awareness to know if any limiting beliefs are in operation as well as proactively analyze the story behind the limiting belief.  We can’t make sense of people’s impressions of us or how our behaviours affect others without looking at any limiting beliefs that may be in operation.

Moreover, we as leaders cannot shift behaviour without exposing those beliefs, putting them under a microscope, getting curious about where they came from and how they have been reinforced.  And then consciously, actively re-tell the story.  By re-telling the story we get an opportunity to make conscious the unconscious.  We get the opportunity to challenge the strength of a limiting belief in our lives.

Imagine for a moment, a leader who is responsible for coaching and bringing out the best in an employee.  Imagine that employee has a particular way of working that irritates the leader, makes the leader feel dismissed and unimportant.

Over time the leader starts avoiding exchanges with this employee because it is easier than addressing the issue.  And even if the leader decides to potentially raise the issue of improving the relationship with the employee, that leader is going to have to be vulnerable in order to help the employee understand the impact of his/her behaviour on the leader.

Even more important than that, however, is that leader will have to analyze his/her response to this employee.  The leaders needs to get curious……why does this particular person push my buttons so easily? What’s going on here?  My bet is there is some kind of limiting belief or judgement that is interfering with leader’s ability to stop reacting and attend to the relationship.

So, what limiting beliefs are present in your life, guiding your behavior?  Ask yourself what is holding me back?  Perhaps consider my example, to what extent are you open to others?  Are you willing to stop “already knowing” and instead stay open to the potential of connecting with another?

You never know how much more may be available to you if you do so.  Maybe you’ll be better able to lead others, inspire others, invite greater engagement or simply have greater ease with others.

You won’t be alone.  I’ll be working on my grade school belief, keeping an open heart long enough to connect with people and stay curious.

Joanne Spalton, Senior Consultant