We don’t do it much anymore today, but in days past, bartering for goods or services was a way of life. You might have something to offer of value, a service or a product, that others wanted. They, on the other hand, had something you wanted. No reason to go out and trade money, just come to an agreement on the value of each, and make a trade.
I think my grandfather was from the last generation of real ‘barterers.’ Growing up, it seemed I rarely saw him pay for things. Instead, he went about an elaborate verbal dance with someone and figured out what he could provide in return for something he needed. Now to be sure, my grandfather was a man of many talents. He was a taxidermist, bee keeper, furniture builder, bird dog breeder and musical instrument maker, just to name a few of his skills. There is no telling how many jars of honey he traded to get things he needed. To say the least, he likely had something someone wanted.
But his real skill was the ability to see what others needed, and figure out how to meet their needs. His understanding of not only what they needed, but how he could benefit them to meet their needs, was a real talent. The idea of “maximizing” the relationship — getting the most for himself and less for others — wasn’t a quality he found valuable. In his mind, everyone should win in a transaction.
In our lives today, our ability to influence others is improved when we learn to have a bartering mindset. In this fast-paced world, we often lose sight of the needs of others and focus solely on trying to achieve what we set out to do. This can present itself in ways that we really don’t intend, and in fact can hamper our ability to influence and get things done.
What are the lessons of bartering that we can apply to our work today? Here are 5 things you can do to change your viewpoint, and be more successful in influencing others.
- Always be on the lookout for ways you can add value to others. In a bartering situation, you can’t approach everything in a single transaction mindset. If you need to get something done, you typically focus on solving the problem and searching out people who can resolve the issue. However, in a bartering world, it’s just too difficult to do everything in a single transaction. Every day, you have to be looking for opportunities to not only solve today’s problem, but maybe tomorrow’s — or perhaps, even a problem you don’t yet have. Always be scanning for opportunities to add value to someone else, because you don’t know when they may have the solution to your problem as well.
- Don’t think in a “what’s in it for me” mindset. We all want to get a good deal, save some money, and feel like we’ve gotten our money’s worth. However, in the search for the best deal, we can forget the other side of the transaction, and what they need as well. “So what if the salesman is going to lose money? Isn’t that just the way it works?” This type of mindset might work for the short term, but in the long run it ruins your ability to continue to do business with that person, and likely others that they tell. If you approach each opportunity with a “what’s in it for us” mindset, both parties win, and you might just make a customer, or vendor, for life.
- Know what you have to offer, and be able to show it. Many people talk a good game. If my grandfather was really interested in trading for something, he was sure to bring a sample of what he had to offer to show the other person what they would receive. He didn’t just make promises, and then not deliver on what he said. The same goes for us today. You have to be able to “show” your work. The product might be different today, but you have to showcase what you have to offer. That might include honest recommendations on LinkedIn, samples of the work you can provide, or even free sessions with the customer. Whatever the product is, be able to back up your promises, and word will get around.
- Do your homework. As important as it is to know what you have to offer, you also have to know what the other person really needs. Good questions to the customer on what they are looking for, what problem they are trying to solve, or what keeps them up at night are critical to solving their problem. You may have a great product or service, but if it doesn’t fit their needs, your wasting their (and your) time. Trading jars of honey to a family that doesn’t like it is wasting time.
- Learn the art of conversation. Bartering isn’t typically a process where you put something in the paper, and see who calls you up. Bartering is a person-to-person process that requires the ability to analyze what others need, discuss options, and find ways to meet their needs. To influence others, you need these same skills. While you might try to influence by setting directives, or mandating changes, the real skill of influence comes from your ability to discuss, probe and understand what others need. Influencing others doesn’t come by telling them what to do, or convincing them you are right. Influence comes when you can help others achieve their goals.
Influencing an organization is crucial to the ability to make change or get work done. Doing this by making sure that everyone involved comes away with their needs and wants met is the surefire easiest way to get there. Take a lesson from the past, and start thinking like a trader.
Have you ever been on the ‘losing’ side of a transaction with someone who you just felt only had their needs in mind? How did that make you feel? What are some great techniques for helping you learn what others need and want as well?
[This piece was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse by John T. Mason, CIO at Hill Country Memorial Hospital and founder of Path of Hope Foundation.]