Speaking Someone Else's Language

You can catch a lot more fish with worms than strawberries.

I like to ask the people in my audiences if they like to eat strawberries. Most of the hands go up. Yes, they do. They love them. Then I ask them if they like to go fishing. Quite a few hands go up.

“Well,” I ask, “How many of you use strawberries to catch fish?” No one. “So what do you use?” They all say, “Worms.”

I ask them, “Do you like to eat worms?” Of course, they all shout, “No!”

Now I think that’s odd, and I tell them so. They love to eat strawberries but they hate worms. And yet they use worms to catch fish. So I ask them, “Why? Why do you use worms?” They say, “Because the fish like worms.”

In fact, when they go fishing, they bring all kinds of things the fish might like. They bring worms, squid, leeches, and minnows, because if one bait doesn’t work they’ll try another.

The same principle applies to people. Yet nine times out of ten, when we fish for communication with others or seek the cooperation of others, we use the style of communication we like. We don’t even think about what the other person would like. And then we wonder why communication doesn’t work so much of the time.

In simple terms, IF YOU’RE GOING TO CONNECT WITH PEOPLE, YOU’VE GOT TO SPEAK THEIR LANGUAGE. You’ve got to use the right approach. You’ve got to use the right bait.

If your customer wants a product that offers significant time savings, for example, but you emphasize low cost, you probably won’t get the sale. If your employees want the empowerment to do a project in a way they think is best, but all you offer is a thank you for doing it your way, don’t expect full cooperation.

On the home front, the principle requires that you express love in a way that your family understands. And each person in your family probably understands it somewhat differently.

In a workshop one time, a woman who was struggling with her son, asked for advice. After listening for a while, I asked her, “Do you love your son?” Somewhat offended, she said, “Yes.”

So I asked her, “How do you express it? How do you show him?” She said she fixed him three square meals a day, did his laundry, and cleaned his room.

I asked, “How old is he?” She said, “Two.” Then I was startled. I replied, “Two? Two? Two? And you think fixing him three meals a day tells him you love him? He doesn’t understand that. That’s not his language.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t see many two-year olds saying, “I know Mom and Dad love me. They fix my meals, do my laundry, clean my room, and pay my bills.” As I tried to suggest, to a child, love is spelled “t-i-m-e” and “t-o-u-c-h.”

If you’re going to connect with people, you’ve got to speak their language. And YOU’VE GOT TO FIND OUT WHAT THEY NEED. Afterall, people respond to their needs, not yours.

Frank Bettger learned that years ago. As a professional baseball player who had to leave the game because of an injury, he began to sell life insurance. It didn’t go well. In fact, at age 29 he declared himself a miserable, debt-ridden failure.

Then as improbable as it sounds, he became so successful as a salesman that he was able to retire at age 41. He attributed his miraculous turnaround to an insight given to him by one of America’s top sales professionals, J. Elliot Hall.

Hall told him how he had failed and was about to give up his selling career when he discovered the reason he was failing. He was spending too much time talking about the wonderful features and benefits of his product. And he was spending too little time asking prospective customers what they needed.

Once he discovered that, Hall said he refocused his communication. From then on his communication was aimed at finding out what other people needed.

The idea revolutionized Frank Bettger’s career as well. Before that, he just thought of selling as a way of making a living — for himself. He even dreaded calling on people because he feared they would see him as a nuisance. But now, Frank was inspired. He saw himself as making a difference in the world. He was helping people figure out what they needed, and, if possible, he was helping them get it.

The way I look at it, everybody is fishing. We’re all fishing for something. Do you know what language your prospective “catch” is using? Do they bite on strawberries? Or do you need to use worms? And what are you doing to find out what they need? The answers will determine whether or not you catch your limit or go back empty handed.

Relationship:  Select three people with whom you have an important work relationship. Then spend at least five to ten minutes with each of them this coming week. Engage them in casual conversation where you eventually get around to the things they need from you, from other coworkers, and customers. The insights you gain will help you in all your future dealings with them.