Learning To Hang On Loosely

There’s only one thing I know for sure when I look at my calendar at the beginning of the week: It’s going to change.

That’s even more true in pandemic.

Between tech failures, bandwidth limitations, family crises, double-booking, the crush of events, the press of proposals, surgery, last-minute recollections of car pool duty, and let’s not forget chronic exhaustion, I need to be ready to roll with what happens in other people’s lives.

I go back to the idea that the Universe is a lot smarter than I am.

It knows, in a way that I don’t, when I’ve tried to jam too much stuff into a week. 

That’s when clients call in sick and have to reschedule, or stayed a week longer on the road and have to move their sessions.

I often struggle to respond generously — especially when I have created goals for myself, and decided that I need to be firm in how I manage the finite resources of my time. One school of thought dictates, “I must set boundaries with other people: define those boundaries firmly for myself, declare them clearly to others, and defend them — tell someone when they break that boundary and that it’s not okay to do that.”

I put a clause in my clients’ contracts: they can reschedule one session at no charge, and then they’ll pay me a rescheduling fee of $500 for every schedule change after that.

I have a hard time telling a client that, yes, they can move their session, and then reminding them that they’ve agreed to pay that rescheduling fee. 

When is it better for me to be generous, and when do I truly need to hold the boundary? Generosity and Boundaries are both on the list of seven elements that Brene Brown presents (in her works Rising Strong, and Dare To Lead, among others) as fundamental to developing and sustaining trust in relationships. Until right now, I hadn’t considered how often they push up against each other for me. 

When I decide to make an exception to a boundary, am I letting myself down? Am I weakening the foundation of trust with that client by showing them that I don’t really mean it when I declare a boundary?

Or is it both practical and compassionate to agree to reschedule a meeting (particularly when it’s one of a set of multiple meetings that all need to move) at no charge because someone feels sick? If they’re sick, they can’t concentrate on doing the work we had planned together, and my commitment to them is not just to deliver my services but also to help them get the result that they can only achieve when they do the work.

That’s different from, “Hey, we decided to take the kids on vacation at the last minute, so we have to move the session.” 

The former is a time for compassion and understanding. How would I want to be treated if I were sick? The latter situation, I am making a note for another day, is one where I will charge the cancellation fee.

The client who stayed out on a road trip a week longer? Two considerations: first, he’s out MEETING FEDERAL BUYERS. He’s getting an extra week of live practice in all the skills I’ve been teaching him, using all the techniques of relationship development and lead generation detective work, that will help him be even more successful. He can’t do a session with me if he’s out concentrating on meeting buyers. His buyer will only be in that place or at that event that week. It was in our mutual interest to reschedule the session, and his results are likely to be even stronger as a result.

And…this is the same client who took extra time to have a testimonial conversation with one of my prospects who’s thinking of working with me. Did I close more business as a result? No, not yet, but the prospect got a firsthand realistic idea of my client’s experience in working with me, and what it takes to be successful. So not only is that prospect more likely to become a client when the time is right, but they are more likely to be set up for success when they do. And this is the client who’s thinking of extending their engagement with me once the basic program is done. 

I invested in building the relationship.

But here’s the funny thing that happens when my appointments shift: it always works out better, because suddenly I get two things that are precious: first, an opening of time that was otherwise booked. I never have any trouble filling that time. I usually have a ten item list jostling for dibs on which one is the right size to fit into that slot with high hopes of getting finished.

And, second, when someone reschedules a sales call, I make the effort and activate my generosity circuits. Yes, it’s an effort to not get my socks in a twist and think, “ohhh, they’re putting me off. They just don’t want to say no.” I’m almost as glad to talk to someone for five minutes and find a better time on their calendar, for when they’ve got their new sales team in place, or have finished the big proposal and can clear the time to work with me, as I am when someone tells me, “No, this program isn’t right for me,” or  “We don’t have the resources to work with you right now,” or “the Federal market isn’t a high enough priority for us.” 

I’m happy to get a clear “no” because it means they have clarity about their own way forward.

I’d far rather reschedule, or even get a “no, thanks,” than to have someone just fail to show up for a call and not tell me why

I take issue with the school of thought that one closes the sale by pressing someone to define their objections clearly, and then addressing and removing each obstacle.

People do business with people they trust. 

I truly believe that people say yes when they have confidence that by engaging me, they will be on track to get the result, and the experience, that they want. If the conversations we had didn’t give them that positive sense, then no amount of argument is going to change that. I would rather receive a straight-up no, early, with grace than hear, “Don’t call me; I’ll call you.” I’m not going to claim the title of Queen of Follow up, but I do take a lot of notes during thousands of conversations. Sometimes, someone will come back to me TEN YEARS after we meet, and be ready to engage. And my notes tell me a lot about the journey they’ve been on between then and now.

Somebody else might say, “Hey, if they’re not ready, let ‘em go. There are more people to talk to.”  That’s true, too.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a counselor. We were talking about how anxious I was feeling about…probably this same issue, sales and prospecting and my business. 

“I get that you need to stay focused,” she said. “But what if you could just hang on loosely?”

Hanging on loosely is not only less stressful. It makes it easier to let go of the things that aren’t really worth the effort to hang onto, the things and people and experiences that belong to someone else.

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