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Now We’re Talking!

January 27, 2015 by Sherpa

Selling to seniors isn’t an easy process. A seemingly straightforward conversation with an aging prospect can run off the rails into unchartered territory. One minute you’re talking about the lawn needing mowing, and the next you are hearing a tearful story of the passing of a friend or loved one. That escalated quickly, what now?


No doubt talking to seniors can be frustrating and full of protests, wandering stories and uncomfortable moments. While you are there to give advice and learn more about their current living situation, but that’s not going to happen right away, especially if your prospect is in denial about their need to move. You will ask when they will be ready to move, and they will say “Not yet. Thanks anyway for the pie.”


But if you can recognize what is motivating your prospect to reject your advice and/or avoid the subject of a move, you can be better equipped to say the right thing to get the ball rolling and eventually have them join your community. Do remember that the senior with whom you are speaking may understands what you are saying, but—much like a rebellious teenager—they are going through a stage of development, a late-in-life one, that requires a little patience on your part.


According to an article in Caring.com, adult children who give advice shouldn’t dismiss their aging parents’ reactions as “something old people do.” It has more to do with the psychology of aging, specifically the need for control and legacy review, something both adult children and sales counselors should be aware of:


“Because adult children tend to be in the dark about what their adult parents are going through, they often interpret their parents’ wandering conversational style or stubborn behavior as a sign that they’re failing or developing dementia. Because of such misunderstandings, it’s common for adult children to become trapped in struggles over issues like housing and health care. These battles and miscommunications not only damage relationships but distract our aging parents from important legacy work they need to accomplish.”


In order to help work out legacy review and get prospects “unstuck,” Caring.com put together a list of the ways to better motivate your older parents or prospects:


Make time: Your interactions with your elderly parents will be more satisfying and productive if you can carve out substantial time to spend with them, rather than dropping in for five minutes or touching base by phone between meetings at work…


Listen, listen, listen: Make sure to take the time to really listen to your parents. If they bring up something that seems unrelated to the matter at hand, it’s always tempting to interrupt and steer them back on track. But if you pay attention, you may find that a seemingly irrelevant point indicates a concern you weren’t aware of. Encourage your parents to reminisce, and pay careful attention to the story behind the story.


Ask good questions: If your parents are reflecting on an experience or sharing a memory, try to help them gain more understanding of the experience by asking open-ended questions. For example, if your mom remembers a trip with a beloved sister, ask, “what was your relationship with Aunt Susanna like?” Good questions will help facilitate your parents’ life review process.


Consider creative ways you can help your parents shape their legacy: You can help your parents build a legacy through concrete, communal projects, like making photo albums, interviewing them for an oral history, or making a quilt or other hand crafted object together.”


Mentioned in the article is psychology-of-aging expert David Solie. In a recent article by Solie about how NOT to keep the conversation going with older adults, he reenforces the importance of asking good, open ended questions and learning more of the “behind-the-story” information that can give clues to what is REALLY bothering your prospects. But don’t try to steer them back on track, he writes, by using what he calls the “Righting Reflex.”


“Attempts to inform or direct clients about change typically involve phrases such as ‘You need to get outside help’ or ‘It is important to develop a long-term care plan.’ However, this aggressive phrasing can provoke a push-pull of ambivalent thoughts—’I want to change, but I don’t want to change’–that defaults into resistance. An advisor’s attempts to counter this resistance through prescribing, persuading, or convincing may only entrench clients into defending the status quo. This a response aptly called the ‘righting reflex’—a client uncomfortable with change may push back, reflexively preferring the status quo to the off-kilter feeling that the suggestion of change may bring. No matter how logical or beneficial the advice appears, ambivalence-tainted conversations can quickly shift from cordial to gridlocked.”


Rather than counter arguments with advice or the prospect of a change, you can “turn into the skid.” This means that when a prospect is voicing a complaint or a reason for not making a change, as a sales counselor you should ask, “Why do you feel that way?”


Instead of saying, “You can do it, you can move,” say, “A move is a big decision, and you are right to not take it lightly.” Solie calls this “reflective listening.” By repeating what the prospect has said, you create the opportunity for your prospect to explore their ambivalence and explore both sides of the decision to move. Unless the prospect makes these realizations themselves, your advice will be met with resistance. So prompt the important conversations, and let your prospects come to their own conclusions.


Beware the righting reflex, because you don’t want your prospect to shut down on you before a breakthrough is reached. Take the time to listen to the tangential conversations and look for a source of ambivalence in their current situation. There might not be any magic words that gets you to the finish line, but there are plenty of ways to ask the right questions to keep the conversation going in the right direction.

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