di Alberto Aleo
If you have ever attended a class on communication techniques or effective negotiation, you will know that at some point someone always raises a hand and says “Excuse me, but what about being spontaneous?”. This normally prompts a discussion between those who prefer spontaneity and those who think having a strategy is better: the tutor then has to intervene! The antagonism between the two positions is the result of two opposing dogmas that are objectively difficult to refute. While both seem valid, they are absolutely irreconcilable:
the creed of those in favour of spontaneity, is that spontaneity is in itself a value, while the strategists believe that nothing that we do is really spontaneous, but that we act according to unconscious strategies of which we are hardly aware – and they boast that they can demonstrate it.
The problem, for any hapless salesperson who has to choose between one or the other approaches, is that marketing history is studded with resounding successes and overwhelming failures on both sides.
So which approach should you choose?
In an attempt to find the answer I will once again return to the teachings of my former judo teacher. As a young boy in Palermo I agreed with my companions that judo was of no help if you got in a fight. Rather, we were all sure, the techniques we were learning served only to confuse us and make us clumsier as we lost our spontaneity and lucidity, both necessary if we were to respond swiftly to a blow from our opponent. In short, we were sure that:
what you learn on the street is an art that cannot be taught.
My teacher would usually answer like this: “It depends on what you want in life. If you just want to fight, you are probably right. But if you want to learn the technique then I suggest you listen and practice.” I considered this reply over a period of time, because at first I was sure I had understood the message well, but then – after greater reflection – I realized that the full meaning escaped me. I realized that between the value of “learning how to fight” and the value of “knowing the technique” the latter was preferable. Yet if I came off worse when fighting “on the street”, what sense did learning have?
If we go back to our salesperson, the question could be:
are we sure that if it were possible to insert a software in our brain, containing all the most advanced techniques of negotiation and effective communication, that we would become the perfect salesperson?
In short, I was, and maybe I still am, in favour of spontaneity but enamoured of technique; hence, my ideal was to find the formula that could make these two apparently contrasting worlds coexist. In judo, I noted, the most celebrated masters rarely fought, except for a few brief demonstrations. This was not only due to the fact that the highest levels could only be reached at an advanced age when you lacked the strength to fight, it was inherent in the discipline:
– – –
the highest ranking expert in judo goes back to wearing a white belt and stops fighting.
– – –
This again made me reflect, because it seemed to contradict the whole object of our study, namely learning and perfecting the techniques of combat. Of course, I went back to my master for an explanation and he asked me, “What brought you to this dojo (i.e. the gym)?” I replied promptly, “I want to be a fighter!”. His unsettling response was: “Here you will ONLY learn to be conscious of what you are doing; this may possibly help you to win some battles, but it will certainly make you a better person.” I realized that I had blatantly missed the objective:
winning against an opponent was not the ultimate goal of learning the technique. Instead it was acquiring knowledge and awareness about ourselves and others.
So let’s ask ourselves: where is the value when we negotiate something with someone? Are we sure that selling, like fighting, is a matter of winners and losers? If we remain within the dynamics of conflict, then spontaneity and strategy certainly clash. However, if we think that our goal is to grow in knowledge and awareness, and to do this not with the aim of defeating our counterpart or pushing him to buy our product, but to create value for both sides, then there will be no conflict between spontaneity, instinct or strategy. Rather, we should choose the most appropriate “tool” in that particular context or situation to create shared value and awareness.
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