9 Questions Interesting People Ask to Cut Through the Small Talk

I remember early in my young career, one of my biggest fears walking into a networking event to "schmooze" or meeting someone for a business lunch was boring the other person to tears in conversation.

I didn't want to be the wind-bag that dragged on forever, so I learned to be brief, to the point, and actually listen to the other person with all my being. I eventually avoided the mistake of talking about polarizing topics like politics or race, and learned to stay neutral, positive and upbeat.

I began to tune in to my body language and voice tone to avoid sounding monotone, or looking like a bump on a log. I trained my brain to show emotions, laugh at people's jokes, smile when they smile, and make light of awkward situations.

The biggest lesson I learned in conversations with others

But the biggest lesson to ensure that I was being an interesting person that drew others in came down to asking the right questions. I found that this is what triggered authentic responses in the other person.

By showing interest and curiosity about someone's story, accomplishments, passions or interests, the law of reciprocity usually kicked in, and I had my turn to shine. There was a bonus attached to this strategy: Persuasion increased which helped me to steer the conversation in the direction I wanted it to go. 

But here's the key: If you're at a work-related function or meeting someone to talk business for the first time, your best move is not to ask work or business-related questions; it's to discover common ties with that person that will steer the conversation back to the "work stuff," but with a deeper connection.

In other words, get to know that person! To really exercise persuasiveness and make a quick connection that may turn into mutual benefit (and possibly a new friend), I'll leave you with these eleven. Granted, some may not be your ideal, ice-breaking conversational starters, so use your best judgment when and where to use them to deepen the conversation.

9 questions for having great conversations

David Burkus, best-selling author of three books and an award-winning podcaster, has contributed the first four questions on this list from an interesting article he wrote for Harvard Business Review. The others come from my own personal favorites and what other entrepreneurs and great conversationalists recommend.

What excites you right now? 

As Burkus explains it, this question can go many different directions (work life, personal life, etc.) with a wide range of possible answers that may overlap into your own life or work, which will open up the conversation further. And asking it allows for the other person to share something that they're passionate about.

What are you looking forward to? 

Similar to the last one, but this is more forward-looking which, says Burkus, allows for the other person "to choose from a bigger set of possible answers." 

What's the best thing that happened to you this year? 

Same technique as the previous two, but this one goes back in time for the other person to reflect on something pivotal that may have changed the course of their lives. It also opens up a wealth of answers to choose from, which may overlap into some of your own areas of interest or expertise for further discussion. 

What's the most important thing I should know about you? 

Because it can come across a little direct, this is certainly not your first question and it may not even be your third or fourth, but it "gives the broadest possible range from which they can choose," says Burkus. Use it in context, listen for clues, and wait for the right timing.

What's your story?

One of my personal favorites, this is open-ended enough to trigger an intriguing story--a journey to a foreign country, meeting a famous person, getting funded for the startup of your dreams, a special talent used for making the world a better place, etc. It's a question that immediately draws in the other person and lets him or her speak from the heart.

What is one of your most defining moments?

This is another great question that invites the speaker to share on a deeper level, which builds momentum and rapport quicker. Obviously, a few casual questions before it helps set the mood for hearing about a profound moment or transition in that person's life.

Why did you choose your profession?

This assumes that, at some point, you dropped the mandatory "What do you do?" question. As a follow up, it's a question that will reveal multiple layers of that person's journey. It'll speak to their values, what motivates them, and whether their work is their calling. It may also trigger a different, more thought-provoking response: Some people aren't happy in their jobs. By asking, you may be in the position to assist or mentor a person through a career or job transition.

What are you currently reading?

You may have the same authors and subjects in common, which will deepen your conversation. Also use this question to ask for book recommendations. You may find the conversation going down the path of exploring mutual book ideas to solve a workplace issue or implement a new business strategy.

How can I be most helpful to you right now? 

To really add the most value to a conversation, once a level of comfort has been established, ask the other person how you can be most helpful to them, whether personally or professionally. You'll be amazed how pleasantly surprised people get by that thoughtful gesture, and how responsive they are in their answer. Your genuine willingness, no strings attached, to making yourself useful to others leads to more interesting, engaging, and real conversations that may lead to future opportunities.

Remember, when you approach another person in conversation, the skill you want to utilize right off the bat is to immediately show sincere interest in them. This will pave the way for a smooth conversation that can go places.

Whatever question you decide to use, the important thing is to always ask open-ended questions and to avoid work-related questions or business questions until much, much later in the conversation. You'll be surprised by how seamless the transition is to discussing business, conducting a sales pitch, or exploring partnerships now that both parties are into each other. Try it, and let me know what you think.

Warren Buffett’s Advice for Hiring Based on These 3 Traits Is Brilliant (but Only 1 Trait Really Matters)

Billionaire Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, has lived by a set of awe-inspiring values and principles that has led to unbelievable success.

So whenever he imparts his wisdom, you want to tune in. As it relates to hiring the right people for your company, he said:

Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don't have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it's true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.

Why integrity is so important in your hiring decisions.

First of all, we're not negating the other two traits as deemed of lesser importance. You absolutely need intelligence in a knowledge economy. And energy is the fuel that propels passion and motivation.

But a lack of integrity? Like Buffett asserts, it's a clear non-negotiable. When you hire someone with integrity, it's the central pillar that holds all three together or the structure collapses.

Integrity is what makes it hard to question a person's decisions. His or her actions are open for everyone to see and you can rest assured that he or she will use good judgment. 

In tight, collaborative spaces, colleagues of such hires will quickly see them as dependable and accountable for their actions, which is a laser path to developing team trust.

Hiring people with integrity also addresses the leadership void. A person who walks-the-walk of integrity eventually becomes a role model who commands respect and exercises great influence. These are the type of leaders people desire and whom you want to promote to management roles. 

12 questions to ask when interviewing and hiring for integrity.

Practically speaking, assessing integrity is really about asking the right questions that will get to the core of a person's character (in addition to standard tests/assessments, "job auditions," and role-play exercises). But first, whomever is on the interviewer's seat must be skilled in the science of behavioral interviewing. Here are twelve questions I have used in the past:

1. Tell me about a time when you experienced a loss for doing what is right. How did you
react? 

2. Tell about a specific time when you had to handle a tough problem which challenged fairness or ethnical issues. 

3. Tell about a specific time when you had to handle a tough problem which challenged fairness or ethnical issues. 

4. When was the last time you "broke the rules"? What was the situation and what did you do?

5. What would you do if you suspected that an employee was stealing?

6. Describe a situation where you saw an employee or co‐worker do something you thought was inappropriate. What did you do?

7. Think of a situation where you distrusted a co-worker/supervisor, resulting in tension between you. What steps did you take to improve the relationship. 

8. When working with people, in general, describe your preferred relationship with them. (this question is used to assess honesty and the capacity for open communication.)

9. What values do you appreciate the most in a team environment? [you're looking for things like honesty, fairness, openness, transparency, and inclusiveness in your answers.)

10. If we ever got into a bind with a client, would you be willing to tell a little white lie to help us out?

11. What would your current/past manager say makes you most valuable to them? (Besides intelligence, energy or technical and hard skills, listen for clues that point to integrity.)

12. What are the characteristics exhibited by the best boss you have ever had, or wished that you have had? (A person of integrity will mirror those they follow or look up to, so listen for clues.]

Remember: No integrity = no trust. Your hiring team must ensure that, no matter how talented, experienced, and smart job candidates are, they will protect your company, your employees, and your customers by hiring people every person can trust.

Integrity, intelligence, and energy = a great hire.

Putting all the pieces together, you have a great package deal. And while integrity may weigh heavier, the bar must be set equally high for each of the three traits. Writing for CBS Money Watch, author Tom Searcy explains it like this:

  • Hire someone with high energy, high intelligence, but low integrity and you'll get a smart, fast-moving thief.
  • Hire someone with high intelligence, high integrity, but low energy and you'll get a shopkeeper, not an engine of growth.
  • Hire someone with high energy, high integrity, but low intelligence and you'll get a strong functionary, but not a great problem solver or visionary.

4 of the Most Important Ways to Double Sales in the First 90 Days of the Year

Let's talk a bit about sales pipelines. According to the classic definition, sales prospects (people or companies that haven't bought from you) go into one end of the pipe and customers (people or companies that are now buying from you) come out the other end of the pipe.

The problem with the pipeline analogy is that it encourages linear thinking... if you pour more prospects into the top end, more customers come out the bottom. But that's not true, because if your salespeople are following up too many lead or the wrong leads, "opening the spigot" can actually reduce the number of sales that they eventually make.

A better way to think about sales pipelines is that they operate a little like compound interest. Small increases in efficiency, when applied simultaneously at multiple points in the sales cycle, result in geometric increases of your final sales results. There are four specific metrics where incremental improvement ripples outward to generate huge sales increases:

  1. The quality of sales leads
  2. The elapsed time to develop a leads
  3. The number of leads that you close
  4. The average value of each sale

Before explaining how to improve these metrics, I'd like to give you some incentive. Imagine that you improve each of these metrics by 20%. That means you'll get 20% more sales, right? Wrong. Improving all four metrics by 20% doubles your sales, like so:

Before:

  • 100 prospects enter the pipeline
  • 50 are qualified (sales lead quality = 50%)
  • 100 days (development speed is 2 days per customer)
  • 10 customers (close rate = 20%)
  • Average sale=$10,000
  • Total Sales = $100,000

After:

  • 100 prospects enter the pipeline.
  • 70 are qualified (sales lead quality = 70%)
  • 80 days (development speed is 20% faster)
  • 32 customers (close rate is 40%)
  • Average sale=$12,000 (20% more)
  • Total Sales = $201,600

If you want to check my math, a key point is that the 20 days you save by increasing your lead development speed can now be spent developing additional leads, which adds 20% to the total generated by the 32 customers at $12,000 per customer.

Now that I've explained the basic concept, let's look at how to increase those four metrics. I could probably write a book about each of those metrics, but instead I'll draw on the expertise of one of the smartest sales gurus I've ever met, Donal Daly, CEO of the sales tech company Altify. (I posted a summary of these ideas a while back.)

I haven't spoken with Donal for a few years, so I'm basing the below on conversations we had as I prepared to write my definitely-not-a-bestseller-but-still-pretty-useful 2011 book How to Say It: Business to Business Selling.

1. Improve the Quality of Your Sales Leads by 20%

If you're calling on the wrong people, you're spending time on "opportunities" that never had a chance. If your leads are higher quality, you're less likely to be calling on the wrong people. Therefore, your sales activities will generate more sales in the same period of time.

A high quality lead, by definition, is one that's highly likely to become a customer. Your challenge is therefore to come up with a specific definition of what constitutes a high quality lead for your offering, and then get the marketing organizations focused on finding more of them.

A marketing group cannot possibly create a useful profile of a high quality lead without the active participation of the sales group. The sales team must therefore provide them with regular, direct inputs who's interested and who's buying, along with all the specific details (like job title, industry, typical organizational structure, etc.),

Once the initial profile is agreed-upon, the Marketing group must commit to generating, and nurturing, leads that correspond to that profile. To do so, they should be given online tools that allow them to mine social networks and business databases to find individuals that are likely to be interested, inside companies that have the money to buy the offering.

The sales team should commit to keeping the CRM database current and accurate. Because the CRM system tracks sales efforts, it can provide the marketing group with a treasure-trove of statistical data defining the current customer base and how effective the sales organization has been when selling to those demographics.

2. Decrease the time required to develop a sales lead.

Even if you're calling on high qualities leads, a certain percentage of them won't be potential prospects, usually because they don't really have a need for your offering, or they do have a need, but no money to buy. Eliminating these "opportunities" from your sales cycle, means that you'll spend more time with real ones.

Realign your thinking so that your initial conversations with a sales leads are not for the purpose of selling, but rather to identify which leads are most likely to become customers -- and which are least likely. Then you make sure that only the most likely prospects are put into your pipeline, so that you seldom, if ever, waste time on false prospects.

The key issue is always value. First, the "prospect" must have the budget to buy, or at least some budget dollars that could be spent, if the need is great enough. Second, the prospect must have that need, and the need must have a financial impact that's overwhelming larger than the cost of your offering. Anything less, and you'll never be a priority.

The initial conversation with a sales lead must be peppered with questions can disqualify the prospect as a potential customer. For example: a question like "how would you handle this problem if you didn't have a solution like ours?" might elicit a response like "we'd probably struggle along for a few more years" in which case the prospect may not be serious about buying.

Sales management must treat the elimination of a lead from your list as much a victory as the conversion of the lead into a real prospect. If you don't compensate and celebrate the winnowing process and only celebrate when you find a real prospect, you'll start sneaking questionable prospects into the pipeline.

3. Increase your average close rate.

Even if you're calling on the right people, if you do or say the wrong things, you'll spend time and money on opportunities that don't pay off. Once a lead is completely qualified as a prospect, then the prospect is going to buy, either from you or your competitor. Therefore, increasing your "conversion rate" for a fully qualified lead is always matter of outselling the competition.

The most frequent reason sales reps are outsold is that they didn't talk to the right people - and the competitor did. In many cases, the failing sales rep failed to research and completely understand the actually process by which the decision would be made, and who would play what role in that decision-making process.

It's common practice for sales reps to communicate with a senior decision-maker at the beginning of the sales cycle, and then revisit that connection at the end of the sales cycle, in order get final approval. However, if your contacts are limited during the middle of the sales cycle, you're probably not going to know what your competitor is doing, and who your competitor is calling upon.

Insist upon being in regular communication with decision-makers, so that there won't belong periods of time where you don't know what's going on, or what's changing inside the customer account. And don't be afraid to ask your contacts who else is calling on them. It's probably not a big secret and (guess what?) your competitor is probably asking them about you.

Selling against competitors means constantly differentiating your offering so that it fits the prospect's need better than whatever the competitor is offering. To do this, you must deeply research the prospect's business and the competitor's strengths and weaknesses, versus your own. Remember to be subtle, though. Rubbishing the other guy makes you look bad.

4. Increase the average dollar value of each sale.

There is a fixed amount of time and resources connected to every sales effort. While it may take more effort to cut a $1 million deal, it's usually not nearly ten times as much as effort as cutting a $100,000 deal. Therefore, the more money that you can make on each sales opportunity, the more you'll make overall.

You must fully develop the customer account during the sales process. This means giving each account your full attention, and spending enough time on it to be able to uncover the full opportunity. Fortunately, this will be easier to do if you're implementing the first three steps, because then you'll be selling to fewer prospects, but with a better chance of making the sale.

Research the prospect thoroughly, prior to your first sales call, and then continue to research and probe during the sales cycle in order to continue to uncover additional ways that your firm can help that customer. Make this a constant element of your sales process.

Remember that you're not trying to pump up the sales price, but to truly be of service to the customer. Your entire attitude, from start to finish, MUST be can result in a proactive collaboration, between you and your customer contacts, to make sure that the (mutually advantageous) deal is as large as possible. That way you're helping them even more.

Always use discounts as sparingly as possible. In the case of standard discounts, that drop in margin is already reflected in the business model. However, extraordinary discounts offered merely to secure the sale, can not only make the current deal smaller, but (if publicized) can result in discounts (and smaller deals) from future customers.

That's it. Go ye forth and make vast sums of money this year!

Steve Jobs’s Advice on the Only 4 Times You Should Say ‘No’ Is Brilliant

In the frantic pace of life to do more and be more, we hardly think about the importance of focus.

That's why, for those free-spirited, creative-thinkers and entrepreneurs chasing after their dreams, this prophetic quote by Steve Jobs 21 years ago hits the nail on the head even more so today. Here's what he said at an Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 1997: 

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

Coincidentally, another notable thought leader has the same idea in mind. Brené Brown recently tweeted:

Without focus, your very ability to think, reason, communicate, problem solve and make decisions will naturally suffer. You just can't maximize your efficiency or go into a state of flow if your mind is wandering off into multi-task land. Speaking of...

Key to better focus: Give up multi-tasking.

The common characteristic of people who had the most time and the highest income is the ability to singletask. -- Tim Ferriss, New New Internet Speaking

Imagine what we could hear, learn and share if we were 100 percent present in a conversation. The reality is, we multi-task everything. You're probably multi-tasking right now as you read this. Is music playing in the background or in your ears? Another webpage or e-mail open? Someone else talking to you? Something is always begging for our attention.

As Tim Ferriss said, what if we were totally focused on being one-taskers? What if we truly focused on one thing, one business problem, one task, one conversation?

We'd be more focused, adaptive, and therefore better decision makers. And the better we can solve problems, the more productive we become. 

The most successful people, in fact, are very patient, avoid juggling many things, and live by the motto "one step at a time."

Additionally, research says multi-tasking it's a myth and can be damaging to our brains. You end up splitting your focus over many tasks, losing focus, lowering the quality of your work and taking longer to hit your goals.

Jobs alluded to saying no to a thousand things. You can start by saying no to these four focus-robbers:

1. Say no to cluttering your mind.

Your first order of priority is to de-clutter your mind from "stuff" -- unimportant things, tasks, calendar items, appointments, meetings, social events, and other frivolous activities that you can re-prioritize for later, delegate to others, or simply drop from your to-do list altogether. The less your mind is cluttered, the better your focus will be.

2. Say no to interruptions.

Technology is one of the greatest obstacles to gaining good focus. The constant distractions from notifications can take you off track. First, when you get in the office, avoid jumping into email; you may get sucked into a whirlpool of others' needs, so do this last. Next, minimize interruptions by going airplane mode, or turning off notifications and placing your smartphone in another room nearby (better yet, how about using an app blocker like Freedom on all your devices?). So, what do you lose by not doing any of this? One study with a group of employees found that if all interruptions were eliminated, those employees would recapture 3-5 hours a day every day, which equals 40-60 percent of the standard work day.

3. Say no to time robbers and yes to time locking.

Time locking is the perfect way to recover stolen time from the people you work with -- the time robbers -- that interrupt you constantly. Avert them by simply scheduling a specified block of time on your calendar to devote strictly to an important task or activity that requires your most focus, energy and undivided attention. That means your co-workers need to know about your intent to time lock, so that they'll cooperate in allowing for no interruptions, other than real emergencies. 

4. Say no to your own unbelief.

Sometimes the whole business of having one true focus that will leave a legacy really comes down to a "mindset" of believing in yourself. For those BHAGs, you will need to stay positive about the journey ahead and look at the progress you've already made in hindsight. Set good boundaries and treasure your time and focus by staying positive and by sharing your BHAG with a few close colleagues so they can cheer you on and help keep you on target.

Surprise: Facebook Research Shows It’s Not Bad Bosses That Make People Quit, It’s This

Raise your hand if you've heard the saying, "People leave managers, not companies." That should be the majority of us, as the research over the years keeps telling us this is a big reason for employee turnover: Boss sucks = people Quit.

Facebook's HR and People Growth team thought the same, so when their People Analytics team tracked why their employees were leaving, a different and surprising conclusion surfaced. 

What Facebook found.

In Facebook's case, bad bosses are not in their corporate DNA; they've spent years on hiring and developing the best of managers, and employees generally are happy with their bosses. This makes their discovery that much more intriguing. 

So why were their people quitting? In one short sentence:

It was the job that made them quit.

Yes, their work, tasks and responsibilities -- the very reasons we have been telling ourselves are not why people quit, are the actual reasons people quit. Time to revise the old cliché​ to "People leave jobs, not their managers."

As Facebook further analyzed the data, they found some clear differences in the people that stayed, as published in the Harvard Business Review.

  • People that stayed found their work enjoyable 31 percent more often.
  • They used their strengths 33 percent more often.
  • They expressed 37 percent more confidence that they were gaining the skills and experiences they need to develop their careers. 

What Facebook recommends to keep employees from quitting.

Even if people quit over their jobs, it still falls on management to make sure it doesn't happen. Retaining employees at Facebook comes down to creating the job around their talent's skills, strengths, interests and passions; then customizing work experiences that are motivating and enjoyable, that play to their strengths, and which keeps them growing and progressing along a career path.

Facebook offers several actionable ways to do that.

1. Craft the kind of jobs your people are passionate about doing.

Humans are wired to follow their passions, and many, say the authors, are looking for ways to bring their passions into their jobs.

This is where the strength of a manager with the mindset to support and meet the needs of employees comes in: They'll help to craft the kind of meaningful jobs employees will enjoy in the long-term.

One example given by the Facebook HR team involved a director, Cynthia, who was tasked with managing a large HR team. After a while, Cynthia wasn't enjoying what motivated her and brought her the most energy: solving problems with her clients in a previous role.

With her manager's support, Cynthia hired someone to eventually take her role so she could move back to an individual contributor role. In other words, Cynthia wasn't just hiring a direct report; she was hiring her future boss. 

It worked like a charm, thanks to that manager's willingness to support Cynthia with her career change. The new hire ramped up quickly into her new management role leading Cynthia's former team. And Cynthia, according to Facebook, "is now thriving and solving problems with the clients she loves so much."

2. Find out what people enjoy doing by conducting an "entry interview."

We're all familiar with the dreaded exit interview, and I've written about its better alternative -- the "stay interview."

Wharton professor Adam Grant, author of Originals and Give and Take, also contributed to the Facebook HR study, and introduces the practice of the "entry interview." From the HBR article:

In the first week on the job, managers sit down with their new hires and ask them about their favorite projects they've done, the moments when they've felt most energized at work, the times when they've found themselves totally immersed in a state of flow, and the passions they have outside their jobs. Armed with that knowledge, managers can build engaging roles from the start.

3. Find out what strengths people have, then let them play to their strengths.

Right now, you may have several polymaths under your roof you could leverage for business outcomes. Did I lose you? Polymaths are knowledge workers that are good at many subjects, never just focusing on one. It would behoove managers to recognize their diversity in skill as a true gift, and allow them to try new things.

But first, recognize who they are and what strengths they bring to the table. You may find out that a network engineer in your IT team is a closet (and kickass) product designer with teambuilding skills, or your administrative assistant is a multi-lingual problem solver with leadership potential.

Once you find out the unique and varied strengths of knowledge workers that aren't reflected on that cut-n-paste job description posted on your careers page, here's what the Facebook HR/People Growth team recommend:

  • Create new roles and job assignments that leverage people's whole array of strengths and gifts.
  • Give knowledge workers the time and resources they need to seek and share crucial information and knowledge that will get the work done. Some estimates suggest that knowledge workers spend more than one-quarter of their time searching for information, stated the Facebook team.
  • Build a searchable database of experts once you, the manager, know who does what. The goal is to put employees' strengths on display so that people know whom to contact.

4. Create work that meshes with personal priorities.

Managers should pay attention to ensure that new roles, responsibilities or promotions don't conflict with employees' personal or family lives. It's up to management to work with employees to ensure work/life integration benefits both sides.

For example, if a new promotion requires more travel that negatively impacts the care taking of aging parents back home, or if a new mom is coming back from maternity leave only to find that her work schedule conflicts with parenting (a real-life scenario shared by Facebook), managers must be flexible and consider tweaking the job so it seamlessly meshes with personal commitments.

In closing, the Facebook People Growth team stated that managers who give their employees this kind of support "find that their people not only deliver but also stay longer --  they're proud of where they work." 

3 Fiendishly Clever Ways to Get Customer Support to Do What You Want in 2018

Few things are more frustrating than dealing with  customer support personnel. You've bought a product or service which is not working for you, and you want somebody to fix it, help you out, refund your money, etc. without consuming hours of your time. Here are three ways to get what you want from these annoying situations:

1. The "Kindly Brontosaurus"

This technique only works in face-to-face situations, like when returning an item or trying to get a gate agent at the airport to give you something unusual, like a seat on a packed flight--from airport staff and reservation clerks.

Jessica Winter writing in Slate explains the technique as

"...a foolproof method of persuasion for securing a seat on a packed flight--and for that matter, for convincing authority figures of all stripes to give us things that aren't ours... Approach the gate agent as follows: 

You state your name and request.

You make a clear and concise case. And then, after the gate agent informs you that your chances of making it onto this flight are [zero]... nod empathically, say something like 'Well, I'm sure we can find a way to work this out,' and step just to the side of the agent's kiosk.

You must stand quietly and lean forward slightly, hands loosely clasped in a faintly prayerful arrangement.

You will be in the gate agent's peripheral vision--close enough that he can't escape your presence, not so close that you're crowding him--but you must keep your eyes fixed placidly on the agent's face at all times. Assemble your features in an understanding, even beatific expression.

Do not speak unless asked a question. Whenever the gate agent says anything, whether to you or other would-be passengers, you must nod empathically.

Continue as above until the gate agent gives you your seat number.

The Kindly Brontosaurus always gets a seat number."

The technique called the "kindly brontosaurus" because of your beatific, kindly expression and because you're as unmovable as a huge dinosaur. In other words, you must remain in position, even if you're told to return to your seat. Eventually the gate agent will give you what you want simply to get rid of you.

2. The "Good Guy Discount"

This technique was originally developed to get retail salespeople to offer you a discount but works equally well with customer support reps. The basic technique was discussed in a brilliant episode of the podcast This American Life, which Esquire magazine summarized as follows:

"As you're checking out for an expensive item, you schmooze with the cashier--or, better yet, sales associate (denoting that the person you're speaking with has a little more authority, hopefully)--and say something along the lines of, "Hey, I'm a good guy; you're a good guy. Any chance I could get a, you know -- a 'good guy discount'." And smile. And charm."

As with the Kindly Brontosaurus, the basic Good Guy Discount technique is intended for face-to-face interactions. However, due to the psychology of customer service, the technique is even more effective when applied to customer support personnel, even (and especially) over the telephone

Why? Because customer support reps are usually overworked, underpaid, and woefully under-appreciated in their own firms. To make matters worse (for them) customer support reps take the brunt of customer ire due bad product design, long on-hold times for support, and the irritating "on hold" music that companies play so that you'll get fed up and hang up.

Customer frequently and vehemently vent their frustration even though the poor customer support reps have absolutely no control over any of it. Because they're so frequently abused both by their management and by their customers, customer support reps are so relieved to hear a friendly and sympathetic voice that they'll usually do whatever is within their power to help you.

Here are the specific steps for using this technique.

  1. Greet the rep brightly and cheerfully, as you're truly happy to be speaking with them. (Note: this is easier if you decide to happy to be speaking with them rather than ticked.)
  2. Ask how their day is going. Tell them how much you appreciate any help they can provide. Apologize for the customers who are rude to them.
  3. As you explain your problem, make it clear that you don't hold the support person responsible for whatever problem you want fixed. Repeat how much you appreciate any help they can provide. 
  4. If there's "wait time" during the session (like when the rep is searching a database for answers to your question), make small talk. Nothing fancy needed. "How's the weather out there?" works fine.
  5. If the call reaches an impasse and you sense that the rep has some "wiggle room," say something like: "Hey, I'm a good guy and you're a good guy. Any chance you can bend the rules a bit? I'd really appreciate it."

You'd be surprised how well this works.

Note: the key to making this work is to reach inside yourself and find real curiosity about, and real sympathy for, the other person. The more effectively you tap in to your own empathy, the greater level of rapport you'll achieve.

3. The "Personnel Letter"

This method works best when you're asked, prior to the connection, whether you'd like to participate in a customer satisfaction survey, Here are the steps:

  1. Greet the support person cheerfully.
  2. If the support rep provides their name, note it down. (If not, remember ask for the rep's name early in the conversation using "what did you say your name was?" 
  3. Ask "Do many people stay on the line for the survey?"
  4. Regardless of rep's answer, then ask: "Do the results of the survey come up in your salary review?"
  5. If the answer is "YES," say "That's good. I'm definitely going to stay on the line because that's what I always do. Also, you should know that when I get particularly good service, I write an email or even send a hard copy letter praising the person who helped me. Would I send that to your manager?" If the answer is "NO" say "I understand. I asked because when I get particularly good service, I write an email or even send a hard copy letter praising the person who helped me. Would I send that to your manager?"
  6. Get an email address and a snail mail address if possible. If the support person won't or can't provide it say: "No problem! I'll just Fedex the letter directly to your CEO at your corporate headquarters. It will go down the chain... don't worry about that"

The rep now realizes that it's in their best interest to give you the absolute best service possible. In addition, unless the rep is very stupid, they'll also realize that letter could also contain complaints, should the support person do a crappy job. 

Few things focus the mind of a line employee better than knowing that everyone up the management chain is going to know what's about to happen over the next ten minutes.