Know When To Walk Away

June 2nd 2014

The art of recognising a time waster and knowing when to walk away

I talk to thousands of people every year about the art of influence, and reading the client. In sales, we win some and we lose some and the same applies to any industry where you are dealing with people, especially HR. Hopefully we win more than we lose. But how much time is spent wasted on trying to influence a decision that is never going to go your way? How many times can you think of when you’ve spent countless hours trying to follow up after an important meeting with a team member, expecting changes and practises to be put into place only for it to seem as if your thoughts went in one ear and out the other.

If, like sales, we think of management and HR as a numbers game, then surely if we can reduce the number of “never going to happen” chances as early as possible, then do we tighten up our odds for a win?

This sounds easy, but anyone with budgets to meet, and weekly meetings to report to, knows that it’s difficult to walk away from a potential. But here’s the thing to remember. For each time you let a time waster go, it opens up a chance to implement realistic and positive change. It stops wasting your time, and the time of your decision maker. When done properly, walking away can often leave an employee or decision maker thinking that your idea is that good, that you don’t need to desperately chase every opportunity. Remember when you were a kid, and you never wanted to play with the green blocks? Right up until the time that another kid started to play with them, and then you’d sell your grandmother to get hold of them! That mentality carries on to adult world too!

Walking away involves a confidence; not only in your ability to read the warning signs, but also in the way you handle the conversation with those you are managing. I do a lot of sessions on the art of reading people. One of my favourite lines is “If you’re in a meeting and someone starts picking off imaginary lint, it’s time to wrap it up and go!” The simplicity is delicious, and more often than not, it can be a simple body language sign such as this that gives the biggest clue as to their interest and engagement. Of course there are many people in this world who simply have a short attention span, so before you give up, if you feel you’re losing your audience, throw in a quick question to bring them back on track.

So, how do we recognise the signs of “this is never going to happen?” Well, if you break it down, implementing a new strategy or training program should be a reasonably simple process.

  • You have a product or service
  • You identify that someone has a need for your product or service
  • You clearly convey why your product or service is better or more economical than anyone else’s product or service

If you’re product or service is something that your business needs, then why not ask the decision maker that simple question? If the answer is no, then walk away. If the answer is yes, then try some other questions around what might be the influencers as to why they might implement your ideas. Learn the process of a decision maker. What are the key factors in how and why they make a decision. Some common ones may be:

  • Priorities in the decision makers work flow. Things change, the decision maker may have to shift his/her priorities in order to complete a more important or pressing task. But in reality, this should not mean more than a month. 
  • They need sign off from a higher power. Again if this drags out – Walk away
  • Money and budgets are tight. This is common, and understandable. But you know the value of your program / idea, and you should know where to draw the line – Walk away

In all cases above, you can learn a lot from your decision maker simply by asking them a series of direct questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Knowledge is power, and learning as much as you can about the decision makers state of mind, can you help you be confident about your decision to walk away.

I always try and remember. What sort of opportunity and money could I be losing by continuing to chase this. If you spend a total of 10 hours chasing someone for a follow up meeting or phone call, what does that equal in terms of what else you could have done with a new idea, team member or program?

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