My client, a bookkeeper, shared this exchange with me:
Client: “I want my monthly financial reports by the 5th of the month.”
Bookkeeper: “You’re not paying enough for me to do that.”
A standoff ensued. The client begrudgingly agreed to wait and threatened that he would find another bookkeeper for next year.
The bookkeeper was furious that he wanted premium services for a non-premium fee.
How could the standoff and the anger have been prevented?
The answer is in understanding the difference between interests and positions.
In the realm of negotiation and conflict resolution, practioners are taught to understand the difference between interests and positions.
Positions are where you stand or what you want. They tend to be firm, and you resist changing them. If asked to compromise or negotiate, you feel slighted or that you’ve lost.
Interests are the impacts that are important to you. You will seek ways to protect your interests without digging your heels in to any specific position. You feel you’ve won with options that protect your interests.
In this example, both sides had positions and stuck to them. It was up to the bookkeeper to lead a conversation about interests instead.
When the client requested the financial by the 5th of the month, the bookkeeper should have asked “What’s important to you about that?” (note: What not why reduces the emotions.)
The client might have said something like “I have decisions to make each month about some aspects of my business and having my numbers from the previous month will help me make better decisions.”
The bookkeeper could have asked which specific numbers or which specific decisions or how critical those numbers were to the decision. By learning more about the owner’s interests, the bookkeeper could have come up with a different answer.
It might not have to be all or nothing.
How does understanding positions vs interests help your professional or business services firm?
Understanding this leads to more revenue.
The better you appeal to the prospect or client’s interests, the more money you will make.
Here’s another example:
I worked with a consulting firm that promised to help companies create an inclusive culture among extremely diverse workforces.
The firm put its positions front and center. Everything was an imperative.
“You must do this” and “You must have that.”
These were their firm beliefs that were not subject to modification or adjustments.
Many companies resisted. They didn’t resonate with these positions and would not pay to have the company impose them.
I helped the co-owners think in terms of interests instead.
What interests are served as a result of their work?
Among client interests are low turnover, employees eager to learn more, great customer service, and attracting high quality candidates for vacancies.
If my client could help their client companies improve in their areas of interest, they would get more work.
It took about 5 months for the interest focused language began to bear fruit.
Suddenly they had three companies hire them because they believed the firm would advance their interests.
The company modified their training to teach the client’s employees to think in terms of interests rather than positions.
When a conflict arose between people from different cultures, they were coached to look for interests, not positions.
One frequent example is around food.
People who bring breakfast or lunch to work tend to think in terms of their position: “I should be able to eat my own food here.”
People who are unfamiliar with or do not like the odors from this food tend to think in terms of their own position: “I should not have to smell/see that food.”
When they learned to think in terms of interests instead, they were able to agree on a compromise that allows each person to meet some of their interest (eat my own food/not smell or see it.)
Apply this to your firm
I find that positions dominate the marketing of professional and business services firms.
- Their beliefs, their mission their vision and values.
- Their list of services, inputs, tasks.
These are fine as internal guides, but they turn off any prospective companies with different positions.
When the firm describes its interests instead, many more prospects see themselves in those interests.
Here’s a brief list of interests you could use in your marketing:
We’re interested in helping your firm:
- Increase revenue
- Increase profit
- Reduce turnover
- Reduce workplace conflict
- Increase safety
- Receive the payments your buyers have committed to.
- Retain existing clients
- Lower costs
- Make numbers-based decisions
- Prepare for an exit or sale
- Build a retirement safety net.
I could on.
When firm Owners or CEOs say they’re “doing okay” that’s their position. They’d feel really bad if they admitted they need help.
When the provider talks in terms of interests, such as asking the owner what’s important to them, they’ll uncover interests such as wanting more free time, or saving money, or fear of getting into something they don’t really understand.
When the provider talks in terms of interests, they have a much better chance that the owner will agree.
The Choice Framework
The Choice Framework works perfectly here.
Instead of giving either a single offer such as “$X for Y services” or a good/better/best assortment (each level has more stuff in it), they offer IMPACT PLUS, IMPACT and IMPACT Light offers. Each offers to deliver in ways that meet the client’s interests. The client sees those interests clearly and chooses accordingly.
If you’re stinging from too many rejections, it may be time to become fluent in the language of interests.
Let’s talk about that. Text INTERESTS to 703-801-0345.