I have recently gotten myself a new pair of spectacles, figuratively. It is called the Sight of Opportunity.
This is the Chinese word for Crisis, an illustration which you may have seen before. Taken separately, the two characters each mean danger and opportunity respectively – perfectly illustrating the presence and co-existence of both in any crisis. This is something which I have known theoretically for a long time. However, it is only recently that I begin to see the amazing outcomes that can result from adopting this knowledge in anything and everything that happens in my life.
1. Turn a seemingly negative customer feedback into a marketing and sales opportunity.
In July 2011, armed with a desire to kick-start Pro Action Café in Finland, I went about securing a venue for the event and selling this idea to get people coming through the door. It was amusing how I always signed off as Your Hosting Team, knowing full well the current manpower strength of the ‘team’ – One. My initial charged-up confidence was soon dampened by a lack of response/interest. Then came a response on the Facebook page which I had created for the event:
My heart fell when I read this. This seemed to be a rejection that says “I’m not interested in this”. I sat in that disheartened feeling for a few seconds before realizing that it would be a good chance for me to share more, and to possibly turn the tide. This was customer feedback staring me in the face! The lack of confidence that the customers had was due to the fact that this was something new and unknown, so all I really needed to do, was to share what I knew and what was true about Pro Action Café.
The café went on to garner more interest, and eventually closed with a very successful evening which left participants transformed and asking for more. Read what some of them have to say about it at https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=171849586215237&ref=ts.
Now, after the success of this pilot run, the ship has already been set in motion for a bigger and bolder run, partnering with The Hub at Helsinki, a global community where people and ideas converge. If you are planning to be in Helsinki on the evening of 11 November 2011, mark the date. Let me know and I will drop you an invitation.
Lesson: Any feedback is better than no feedback, and every feedback is an opportunity to sell.
2. Conflicts and differences can be opportunities for communication and connection.
I share an apartment with two other tenants. We are three people from three different continents, three different cultures, and as you can imagine, three different ways of living. To help us learn to live together, we have meetings and agreements, which are anally recorded in a shared Google document. Nevertheless, small things still get in the way now and then, and it is imperative to keep the communication going.
Throughout the last few months of living together, an issue that has constantly surfaced is that of not cleaning up the dirty dishes after use, even after this has been pointed out many times and change has been promised. Even though I had been mindful to communicate that I am not ok with having agreements broken time and again, I have been doing that in a ‘nice’ way, not wanting to invite conflict.
I decided that if the old method was not working, I would need to change the way I communicate. I have been ‘nice’ pretty much all my life, misinterpreting being assertive as being unkind or aggressive, and I did not want that. Last month, I learnt a definition of what it means to be assertive*, and it has served me greatly. On my way to work yesterday morning, I sent a message to the flatmates:
“I’m upset and disappointed that the dishes are still unwashed, even after we spoke about them last night. They have been there for days. It’s a big trust-breaker when agreements are being broken, repeatedly. Maybe the google docs and communication are simply not working.”
This was one of the most provocative messages that I have communicated, and I know that it is something that would not be pleasant for anyone to receive. True enough, the housemates felt that there was no need for this, as it was ‘just dishes’. I noticed my wall of defence come up, and heard my internal dialogue telling me that it was not just about dishes but about keeping agreements, and that the dishes was just one out of the many other symptoms. This defensiveness clouded me for a while before I decided that I would make time to speak with one of them that night, the one whose behaviour I have been upset with for a while. We agreed on a time to sit down and talk.
I prepared what I was going to say, and how I was going to give the feedback in an assertive, effective, and kind way. When it was time to meet, you could feel the sense of dread hanging imminently in the air, it was as if the other felt like Judgement Day has arrived.
The conversation turned out to be the best that I have ever had with him. It was transformational for the both of us, and it was the first time in three months that we really talked. We sat in the kitchen and talked for an hour, before I excused myself to go to bed as I have to be up early the next morning.
Had I settled for mediocrity or gotten defensive, I would have missed the chance to make a critical difference.
*Being assertive (personal definition): Being confident, able, and willing to communicate insight, knowledge, and know-how.
3. Add value and create a win-win situation out of what started as a personal benefit.
Last week, a window of opportunity opened up for me to sit in for a week of classes at the prestigious Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm – the largest, oldest and most international technical university in Sweden. It sounded like the perfect opportunity, only that I received the news on Sunday night and I have not gotten permission to excuse myself from work for a week.
Which meant, for this to happen, I would need to pack my bag for a week’s trip, go to the office with it the following morning, obtain permission from my supervisor, get a ferry ticket, and jump on the ferry after work in the evening. If I am not granted permission, I would go back home with my packed bag that Monday evening after work, opportunity missed.
What will get my supervisor to say yes given the short (almost non-existent) notice, and how can this become a win-win situation?
By 5pm that Monday, I was on the deck of a ship in the Baltic Sea heading for Stockholm. I spent a beautiful one week there – sat in for insightful classes, lived in an old, traditional Swedish house where almost everything seemed to be falling apart, took three-hour walks in the mornings by the lake and the forest, in good company with treasured conversations, and visited the city centre which is one of the sweetest places around. How did all these come about!
Outcomes of this project:
- An amazing week in Stockholm
- A schedule negotiated – my colleague got to be away from work on a Saturday while I covered her duties
- A professional report completed and distributed to the people who needed that information
- A timely faculty recommendation for the company which has a high potential of being the solution to a current need
- All other possible implications that could result from this project
Yesterday, the management surprised me by presenting me with a bouquet of flowers, in appreciation of my contribution and initiative, citing the Stockholm trip and the report as an example. What an honour!
Everything can be turned into a golden opportunity.
- Evening with a Stranger
- Pause. Today.