Thursday, July 7, 2011

One Afternoon's Musings...

No, you can't.  That was an answer I wanted to give to this unfortunate question that came my way this afternoon:

"Hi! Can I ask you about your hair?"


I've been going non stop since about 5:30am this morning: email, phone calls, drove to 2 different places and walked a few miles around Chicago's Loop in the pursuit of a multitude of complex errands/projects.  Like many of you, I've a lot on my mind these days and everything feels like a race against time.

So, there I was on State Street making a mad dash towards a government office where I had to fill out the same form for the third time.  It was around 3:30ish, the office closes at 5 and I was meditating on pleasant thoughts so I could wrap this thing up for once and for all.  I was a bit very anxious.

It was at that very moment when that question I mentioned above was delivered unto me.  I smiled, thanked the woman and declined politely.

That question makes my hair stand on end - pun intended.

I've heard that question before -- either directed to me, to people I'm with or other passersby on the street.  I'm always amazed that people think it's a good question and that they coach their staff to ask it.  Here's why:

  • It puts people in a defensive posture particularly as it's hurled at them out of the blue.
  • For some, hair is sacred.  To ask about something sacred in the middle of the street seems...  unholy.
  • It makes people (more) insecure about their looks... especially if they're just starting to recover from a bad cut, for example.
  • It just might be a wig.
  • Maybe how it looks is by design.
  • It's a negative opener.
  • And so on...
It kind of reminds me of Seinfeld's close talker episode.

What's your natural instinct when someone invades your personal space?  You tend to step back or find a way to regain some breathing room.  That's exactly the posture I adopt when I hear that question about hair or anything that intrusively direct -- especially when it's so random and out of the blue.  

Like the anecdote in this post, typical pushy sales-y vendor behavior like this that make customers and prospects head for the hills.  It's out of context and, worse, they're not properly asking for permission.  The "Can I..." isn't a request so much as it's better than saying "I'm going to.,."

Ask for permission.  Make people feel okay.

It's your mission as a business person to make people feel okay with the decisions they make as they work with you.  I've said many a time that our "gut" drives our decision making with the mind rationalizing what we decide.  Our job is to attract them to us and not to repel them.  

If we, without permission, approach prospects with an opener that makes them insecure or "not okay" like this hair question, it's difficult to engage with them meaningfully.  Our mission as product/service providers is to look less like a pesky vendor and more like a critical business advisor.  

Let's think about customers or prospects -- have there been times where we've made them feel "not okay" as we've interacted with them?  Are there ways that we could be doing better?  Please share your thoughts and, if you've liked reading this post, please share with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef


  1. Your "hair encounter" reminded of the time a few years ago when a woman similarly approached me on the street and asked if she could "touch" my hair to feel the texture. Talk about being creeped out! I hadn't considered that she might be a pushy salesperson. I just thought she was a pervert or insane or something equally distasteful. After reading this post, I'm thinking maybe she was a salesperson. Her approach definitely was a loser with me.

  2. Hi Traci! Yes! and too often we unknowingly make the same mistakes as we try to engage with others. Baby steps and permission - find out boundaries and find out what it takes to get past those boundaries. It will take us farther.