Perception is everything

Saturday, 01 June 2013
Pamela Pitcher cautions employers not to overlook emotional intelligence when hiring new staff

When recruiting, there are certain traits to consider that make for a good hire, in addition to a person’s technical ability. These extra attributes are what I call the ‘3 Cs’: curiosity, communication and conscientiousness.

Of course, when it comes to trust, estate and investment matters we look for strong technical skills because we are in the financial and legal advice-giving business. Technical skills, while essential, are not more important than the 3 Cs because it’s these traits that determine the quality of an individual’s emotional intelligence.

The 3 Cs were taught to me by a former manager, and, in the past, when he or I have recruited people using the 3-C formula, they became very successful at their work. We both noticed that when we strayed from the criteria when hiring, the recruit didn’t last, because they didn’t come across well – and coming across well with clients is paramount in a people business.

If you are curious and conscientious but cannot communicate effectively, this can lead to misunderstandings with clients and co-workers. If you are curious and can communicate well but are not conscientious, there tends be a lack of effort when working. And when you communicate well and are conscientious, but without curiosity, there can be a lack of that spark that ignites passion, sometimes making for lacklustre performance.

The three Cs


When a person is curious, they bring with them a zest for life and learning. Learning is a journey. An employee who is curious will ask questions of their employer because they want to learn and grow. They will observe that there may be many ways to achieve an outcome. They are open to change. Their curiosity spills over to excellence with client care because they want to know what is important to the client. For the curious, knowledge is a treasure.


When we communicate well, we are likeable. If people don’t like you, they won’t want to do business with you. It’s that simple. Good communication is not just about articulating verbally; it’s about conveying a feeling that you understand and appreciate whoever you are talking to. Good communicators instil trust and confidence so clients are comfortable divulging information. Without that connection, we won’t divulge what we are really thinking.


Conscientious people will take pride and care in their work and when working with others. They are trustworthy and dependable. They do not require a lot of supervision. They are self-aware, know what they want to achieve, and are driven by self-imposed goals, not just those of their employer. They consider strategies to achieve these goals because they want to succeed.

Strategic thinking

Dale Carnegie said: ‘Believe that you will succeed. Believe it firmly, and you will then do what is necessary to bring success about.’ Yet it takes more than simply believing you will succeed: it takes strategic thinking. Research indicates that only 6 per cent of the population thinks strategically, which means 94 per cent don’t.1 The more specific you are in setting your goals, the more you can programme your brain to achieve what you want.

The 3-C individual may take up a lot of an employer’s time when first joining, but they can’t help it. They are curious about everything; so conscientious that they’ll want to do everything well; and won’t resist communicating their wants, needs and perspectives. Eventually they reach a confidence level when they can just be let go to succeed. They become our top performers.

STEP practitioners are in the business of providing intangible solutions for people. We may have websites and offices, but do they drive client traffic to us like those industries selling tangible items? No. STEP practitioners, by and large, rely on receiving clients via referral. Before you can provide technical expertise for a client, you must sell yourself to obtain the client.

The goal for any such practitioner is to develop and maintain referral sources. In turn, develop clients from those referrals. If you are good at what you do, your clients will refer other clients to you. Consequently, we have two sets of clients with different needs: our referral sources and the clients we advise. The more effective we are at communicating our value, the better the quality of referral we realise. Effective communication is a learned technical skill. Often, employees are sent on sales training courses to assist with their communication. Sales training is often process- driven – about making the pitch and closing the deal, or what to do to a client. People aren’t processes. In one survey2 90 per cent of people said they didn’t make a purchase because they weren’t being listened to. But when we communicate effectively, we consider what we can do for a client. We are all potential clients. Ask yourself which approach you would prefer – to or for?

Continual development

Some people, as they become more successful, have a tendency to lose the perspective that made them successful in the first instance. Over time our brains learn what works and what doesn’t work when dealing with clients. The brain learns through patterning, and if certain patterns lead us to success, those are the ones that are repeated.

During our careers, as with all learning, we move through four distinct levels:

  • unconscious incompetence;
  • conscious incompetence;
  • conscious competence; and
  • unconscious competence.

For the seasoned professional, working on autopilot can be to their detriment if they are not careful. When you no longer step back and look at a client situation through the eyes of curiosity, you can begin to miss things; important things. Perhaps we don’t take the time to communicate like we used to and find ourselves being a little more impatient. We’ve heard these same questions and concerns from clients and colleagues a hundred times over, so we may conclude that it’s best to save time and effort simply telling the client what we think they should do.

Have you ever felt hurried through a meeting, certain that the person didn’t really understand your concerns? How did it make you feel?

I have a friend who was a successful lawyer, and at the peak of his legal career he told me that he felt like a hamster stuck in a wheel going round and round. The more he billed, the more was expected of him from his firm. With only so much time in the day, it’s no wonder he kept on doing what he knew would bring in the billings. Another well-learned pattern, but he wasn’t happy.

Some say old dogs can’t learn new tricks. I say get some control over what happens in your brain. Remember to remember what clients want. Keep your perspective fresh.

Perspective is a particular attitude towards a way of regarding something. As much as we have our perspective, it’s just that – ours. Each of our clients has their own perspective and the skilled communicator understands that. A simple exercise to refresh your perspective is to practise different points of view or perceptual positions.

The first position is ‘I’, or our own. The second is the client’s point of view – the one we need to understand to know how best to communicate with them. The third position is one of observer, observing both your client and yourself. What do you look like as you’re speaking to your client? Is your body language inviting: eyes on the client, leaning forward? Or is it closed: no eye contact, dithering with a pen? What do you hear yourself saying: are you conversing or pontificating? How do you feel: anxious because you want the meeting over, or calm because you know your client is valuable and deserves your time?

Those who are willing to learn can reprogramme their minds to acquire more successful patterns of thinking.

We get stuck in patterns – some positive and some not so positive – because the unconscious mind is like a sponge. It remembers everything. Think of the mind as an iceberg. The conscious mind is the tip of the iceberg that sits above the water and the unconscious mind is the much larger part that sits below the water. The conscious mind busies itself sorting and filtering perceptions because it can take only so much information in at once. If we learn a way to be successful,  that pattern is forevermore contained in our unconscious mind. We will continue to use that pattern even though it may no longer serve us. For the hamster to get off the wheel, the unconscious mind needs to choose a new pattern that will make it even more successful. Moreover, it is likely that how you define success later in life differs from when your career began.

The more we use only certain portions of the brain because it’s easy to do what we already know, the more the other parts of the brain atrophy. Use your brain for a change. It is equally, or sometimes more, important that you understand your clients, because your clients need to understand you. Be sure to speak their language and get an understanding of the world they live in. Never stop learning. Learning is like a sailboat against the current: not to advance is to drop back. 

  • 1From The Neuro-Linguistic Programming Training Manual by Peter Freeth and Stepheni Smith
  • 2According to John La Valle of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, author of Persuasion Engineering
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Pamela Pitcher

Pamela Pitcher TEP is a Business Development Consultant at Pamela Pitcher Consulting.

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