My phone rings. “Rosa, can you come downstairs for a moment? Thomas and Gert Jan want to have a word with you.” “Yes, of course. I’ll be right down.” I say light-heartedly. Inside, I feel anything but light-hearted. I review all my activities of the past few weeks, worried. What could I have screwed up so badly that both my director and my manager now want to talk about it? It is as if a very stern parrot has landed on my shoulder and is whispering to me one self reproach after another: “What have you forgotten? “Have you got all your projects buttoned up properly? “Has a client complained about you? “But who and what about?”
When I walk into Thomas’ room, both are waiting for me with a beaming smile. After a song of praise full of compliments and development opportunities, Thomas and Gert Jan look at me: “As you can understand, we are very satisfied with your performance and development. That’s why we have decided that you will become a medior from 1 August.” Pleasantly surprised, I walk out. Who would have thought it? And the parrot immediately finds me again: “Well, congratulations! Medior! You do realise that you will be getting a serious acquisition target then, don’t you? You can’t do that at all.” In no time at all, the pleasant surprise gave way to uncertainty. “Customers and colleagues will have much higher expectations of you from now on. You have to be able to live up to them. The parrot throws even more oil on the fire. Irritated, I try to wave him away. That stern voice says nothing about Thomas or Gert Jan, nor about the quality of my sales skills or the expectations of colleagues or customers. Instead, that voice says everything about me. About my fear of making mistakes, that I hate to disappoint others and about my critical eye that never thinks anything is good enough. And it is exactly the same parrot, my inner critic, who is a burden to me when I have an acquisition meeting with a customer. It starts on the way in the car:
They probably think you are far too young.
What do you really know?
Just don’t ask any stupid questions!
Was this the best combination you could think of this morning, standing in front of your wardrobe?
What will you do if the customer asks a question you don’t have an answer to?
Without the parrot realising it, he creates a self-fulfilling prophecy with his destructive comments and limiting beliefs. By speaking to me so sternly and anticipating all kinds of disaster scenarios, I get tense. And when I am tense, it becomes more difficult to enter a conversation openly, to listen carefully to a client’s needs, to adjust my own story accordingly and to ask the right questions. These are all skills that I master perfectly well, but which I am less able to apply when I am putting myself under so much pressure. When, a week later, I am discussing with my manager what I need to do to further develop my acquisition skills, I realise that a sales training course will not immediately help me. What I need is for that parrot to shut its beak. In the meantime, this is almost a year ago. In the past few months, I have not only started working on my own acquisition skills, but I have also supervised a similar development at various clients for employees who needed to raise their sales figures. How to do it? To be continued!