In business and personal life, there’s a rule that feels ruthless. It feels mean. It feels unsettling, but it’s a fact …
Self-preservation is the first law of nature.
In a given day, nearly all that we do is for self-preservation. Eating healthy? It’s for me. Wearing nice clothes? It’s to impress others and increase my social standing. Driving a nice car? It keeps me safe, increases my perceived social status and allows me to focus on other matters.
Everything we do is for ourselves
We’re greedy. But for good reason. At the end of the day, nobody is going to look out for you the same way you’re going to look out for yourself.
Sure, you may have kids. You may spend a few hours each day looking out for their safety and security, but that’s the minority of your life. And even that action of helping your children could be seen as you investing in your future by having kids who support you and stop by to visit when you’re in the nursing home. Poetic? No. But real.
We all accept this. Across the world, people act in the same way. All animals act in accordance with this law.
Then why do we try to appeal to someone’s generosity when we need something done?
I don’t often find myself in a position where I need the help of another to get something done, but when I do, the last thing I want to do is to ask for a favor.
Just yesterday, Warren, a mentee of mine, received an RFP from a big company in his niche. His point of contact asked him to pull together a quick statement outlining the work he did. The note that the point of contact at the business was going to pass on asked people to “give this young man 30 minutes of their time to discuss working together.”
To discuss working together? Warren has a lot of talent, but zero of that talent was about to be broadcasted to the key decision-makers in the organization. Warren posed the meeting as an act of generosity on the company's side. He failed to appease their self-interest.
Instead of appealing to the generosity of people who have never met Warren, who have never even heard of him, I encouraged Warren to rewrite the request to appeal to the self-interest of the business:
“Warren did some research on the business and found a few major holes in your social media strategy. He believes you’re losing out on a market segment that has the potential of being very long-term clients. He would like 30 minutes to discuss his findings and to see if our company has the resources to handle this gap, or if he would be a suitable contractor.”
That rewrite asks for the same thing, but it does so in a way that appeals to the self-interest of the business.
It’s easy for a busy business person to turn down a meeting with some vendor. The business people may ask themselves, “What’s in this for me? Why should I make this meeting happen?”
Do you find yourself appealing to the generosity of others? Have you said something like . . .
- Can I get 10 minutes of your time?
- Let’s get together for a meeting so we can discuss your company.
- Let’s chat and see where the conversation takes us.
If you have, you’re appealing to generosity. There’s nothing inherent in the meeting for the other party. A simple rewrite gets to the point . . .
- Let’s get together for 10 minutes. I’ll show you how to increase revenue in these two sectors. If that meeting is valuable, we can book something longer after.
- I’ve read about your company, and I know of a way to [deliver a benefit].
- Let’s get together and talk about [key outcome for you].
Your meetings should have a direct benefit for you, but you must not disclose that as publicly as the benefit your prospect will get. Show them how they’ll improve. Show them how they’ll be more successful. By changing the way you approach even the simplest of requests, you’ll see a dramatic increase in people agreeing with and appreciating the chance to meet with you.
Steven Covey reminds us in "How to Win Friends and Influence People" that we must do six things:
- Become genuinely interested in other people.
- Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
- Be a good listener.
- Talk in terms of the other person's interests.
- Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
Rules 1, 4, 5 and 6 talk directly to what I mean when I say we must appeal to others' self-interest. We want to be genuinely interested in others. We want to listen well so that we can understand their needs. Then we must position what we’re asking for in terms of what someone else has interest in (typically themselves). Finally, we must do it sincerely.
These rules are as old as time. If you disobey them, you do so at your own peril.
Image from DrimaFilm/Shutterstock