The other day I complained to my boyfriend that it was cold outside. He just laughed at me; an appropriate reaction, I suppose, since it was 57 degrees in January. Considering he had just returned from visiting his family in Minnesota, where the temperature had been 15 degrees below zero (with wind chill), I also had to chuckle at the absurdity of thinking a 57 degree winter day was chilly. But then I realized it’s all about perspective. For a southern Californian, 57 degrees in January is more than 10 degrees below normal. Even though I’m not a native, I’ve lived here long enough to complain about such a chilly day, but not long enough to forget when growing up on Long Island I would have given almost anything for such mild winter temperatures.
Each of us has our own perspective and our own view of the world, but all too often we lose sight of this fact and assume that everyone thinks like we do — or at least should think like we do. But such a mindset can destroy your business. As business owners, we instead need to approach issues from the perspective of those we serve (and who serve us): our customers, clients, suppliers, vendors, employees, and even our landlords and bankers.
Most of us are still recovering from the worst financial crisis in recent memory. Yet, those things that impact us — positively or negatively — are not necessarily the ones that affect others. Even when they are, the end results may vary. A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece on another blog about how U.S. banks were vowing to be more small business friendly in 2010. The reader reaction was vitriolic (directed at the banks, not me). Charges of fraud and conspiracy were bandied about. There were complaints about the lack of small business lending, rising credit card interest rates, and other practices that were generally unfriendly to small businesses.
All of these arguments rang fairly true … from the business owners’ perspective. And while I’m not going to defend the banks, it’s also true that many banks are lending, that thousands of entrepreneurs have gotten loans, and that, according to the Small Business Administration, the dollar volume for SBA-approved loans this past fall was the highest since the summer of 2007. Ask a banker and they’re likely to say many of the business owners demanding loans are not creditworthy. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. In order to grow, do small businesses need the banks to increase lending? Absolutely. But, we also need to look at it from the bankers’ perspective. Before you apply for a loan, look at your business plan, your forecasts, your future prospects as if you were a banker. Did you provide complete and relevant information? Objectively, would you be willing to invest money in your business at this time if you were a lender?
Remember the old Native American adage that advises us to never judge another until we walk a mile in their moccasins? That is what perspective gives us, and it works for more than banking. Are you offering customers and clients the best possible experience? What about your staff? How do you manage your people? Would you want to work for someone like you? Do you respect your staff? If you don’t, they’ll know it and will respond in kind. There has been a flurry of surveys lately reporting that once this economic mess passes, a majority of Americans plan to find a new job. That’s only going to cost you more money finding and training new employees. Will this happen to you? Maybe. So before it does, try walking a mile in your employees’ moccasins. Is it a comfortable fit?
Looking at situations from both sides is a common negotiating tactic, but it works just as well in many other business situations. Switch perspectives and look at things from the other person’s point of view. There’s not a hard and fast rule to this. You don’t have to change all your behaviors. But doing this can give you insight you might not otherwise get. And in today’s challenging times, we entrepreneurs can use all the perspective we can get.
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