Have you ever been in this place?

You are sitting across the conference table from a group of executives from a firm that your company needs as a strategic partner.  You are wrapping up the final points in your presentation, and as you are finishing you can already see it written on their faces.  There’s an objection ready to be launched in your direction.  They are not buying what you are selling today!  As you finish, a moment of awkward silence fills the room, as a few of your prospects shuffle their papers before one of them finally speaks up.  “We like what you are saying but… your product is just too expensive.”

What do you say next?

You can feel your heart rate starting to increase and your palms are getting sweaty. Perhaps their is butterflies in your stomach as you search for the right response and you feel like you are about to shake.  You are searching your mind for a proper response, but can’t quite find the right answer so you respond by saying, “Our product is not as expensive as it seems…”

WRONG ANSWER!  You just told a very intelligent person, who you need to form a relationship with, that he is wrong.   You can practically hear the bricks being laid down on the ever expanding wall that is forming between you and the deal that you need to make.

The emotional response…

If you’ve been in this place before (as I have) you are suffering from an emotionally induced handicap of your higher cognitive functioning.   Your fear of rejection, fear of failure, etc. is triggering an adrenaline surge which we know as the “Fight or Flight” response.  This response literally shifts the body’s resources from higher reasoning skills into more instinctive abilities.   This is an unfortunate response in a boardroom because even though your endocrine system is trying to help you survive, “fighting” or “flighting” win front of your potential customer is not going to help get you to where you want to be.  In fact, the area of the brain which is being handicapped (higher cognitive reasoning) is exactly the part of your brain which you need the most in this moment.

How do we break the cycle?

Like any other learned behavior, we have been conditioned from an early age to fear failure and rejection.  We pick this up from the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) feedback the world has given us from our childhood upto the point we are at now.   Just like a boxer who ducks under or pulls away from a killer right hook, we are trying to escape a blow to our ego.   There is good news however, we can learn new responses to stimuli and reinforce them through practice.  Instead of leaning away, we need to learn how to lean in.

Leaning into an objection…

So what does it mean to lean into an objection?  In simple terms, it means to pursue it.  The person you are communicating with is offering you valuable information when they object to something.   The rational mind can learn through practice to see this as an opportunity to gain insight into the world of the person you are wanting to influence.

Some might say, I don’t really have the opportunity to practice “leaning in” in scenarios like the boardroom.   That may be true, but all of us receive objections in our day to day lives.   Has your spouse ever told you, “Honey, you are ALWAYS late from work.”   If you are like me, about the only word my mind seems to hear is the  “ALWAYS” part!   The emotional response says, “Always? How about last Tuesday.  I got home early on Tuesday!”

Again… WRONG ANSWER!   What my emotional mind is hearing is an objection or criticism, but what my wife is really telling me is that she wants us to spend more time together.  That is nearly the opposite of the message that my emotional mind received!

Overcoming the objection

So let’s try this again…

Customer: “Your product is just too expensive.”

Your “leaning in” response: “I can see that cost is an important issue.  Let’s discuss this further, but before we do, are there any other concerns you have about our proposal?”

Yes, you have just leaned into that killer right hook, but surprisingly, instead of knocking you to the floor, the objection has just slipped right past you.   Instead of building a wall, your response has actually caused you to walk around the wall, and look at the gap between the two of you from the perspective of your potential customers.  Now there is an opportunity for further dialogue, further discovery, and future relationship.

So the next time an objection presents itself, do not duck, lean in.

    Phillip T. Stoller