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Name That Behavior

Name That Behavior

From Career Tips, 2009 Volume 12, December 2009

Have you ever been on a job interview or sales call where the other party:

  • Glanced at the computer screen while you spoke?
  • Took phone calls or answered emails?
  • Picked up items from the inbox to process?
  • Got interrupted by a knock on the door?
  • In any way seemed distracted or showed a lack of engagement in your conversation?Anything that takes away from engagement dramatically reduces the power of your conversation, and your odds of success. So what do you do to re-engage?


    Many moons ago, a course on conducting performance appraisals introduced me to a technique called "Naming the Behavior." I later discovered how powerful this is in every manner of emotionally-charged discussion. 

    Consider either the job interview, or discussion with a prospect interested in your services. Both are sales conversations, although many candidates fail to fully recognize this. Is there a much more emotionally charged situation than when you are trying to sell something to the other party?What happens if your prospect (the interviewer) is distracted?

    Many would ignore this and press on, hoping to reengage as they go. Sometimes this works, but more often it doesn't. Something is going on (or NOT going on) that could tank you achieving your objective. You ignore signals like this at great peril!

    The most powerful case studies in the world lose their impact if the prospect isn't paying close attention. Even if certain aspects happen to stand out, it is unlikely they will retain much of what they heard if they weren't very engaged when you made your presentation.

    What can you do to bring their focus back to you before you waste that story? Name the behavior!

    How does this work? It's pretty simple:

    1. Observe the behavior.
    2. Politely name it out loud.
    3. Watch what happens.
    4. React appropriately.

    For example, if you notice that the interviewer seems very fidgety, glancing at the computer screen, drumming fingers on the desk, what do you think would happen if you said:

    "You seem distracted about something. Would it be better for you if we rescheduled?"

    This will instantly bring the interviewer's full attention back to you.

    Perhaps a bombshell was dropped in his lap this morning that he needs to respond to by the end of the day. Possibly she met the perfect candidate yesterday, and is just going through the motions with you. Maybe there was a freeze put on the job after the meeting was scheduled.

    In any of these instances, "naming" is a powerful technique to help surface the issue, which at least gives you a chance to try and get past it.

    And it shows that you are:

    1. Perceptive,
    2. Confident enough in yourself to raise an issue, and
    3. Capable of holding your own in a "challenging" conversation.

    Now I know some will object to the question above, because you've gone to a lot of trouble to prepare for and free up your schedule for this meeting, and you really don't want it rescheduled. In my experience, you won't often find the interviewer taking you up on that offer, but there will be an appreciation that you were willing to do so. This helps build rapport and engagement that is so critical to a powerful meeting.

    If they really do take advantage of the chance to reschedule, there has to be a reason (which you want to uncover, if it's not automatically revealed). Don't you think that at some level they will feel like you have done them a favor, particularly if it's going to help them deal with a critical priority? Isn't that a powerful place for you to be when you come in for that rescheduled meeting?

    Now as I mentioned, you need to watch the reaction carefully. You might get:

  • A renewed, laser-like focus on you. Go forward and take advantage of it.
  • More information about the source of the distraction, like, "I'm sorry, I was just asked to make a presentation to the CEO at the end of the day." You might build a lot of rapport (and get more insight into the operation) just by asking some questions about that presentation.
  • A chance to show what a team-player you are. "I'm sorry, an email came in just before you showed up that distracted me." To which you could respond: "Would you like to take a 10 minute break to respond to it? I'd be happy to wait outside while you do so."
  • Information as to your chances of landing the job. "Actually, we had a surprise internal candidate apply yesterday, so that I'm not sure if the opening is real." To which you could respond: "I certainly understand. Can I ask if there is anything I could demonstrate to you about my qualifications that would make a difference in your decision?"Whatever the reaction, it gives you more information and returns the attention to where it needs to be for you to succeed - on you!