WordFood - how we feed or starve our realtionships

- Julia Hubbel

Julia’s ability to get this group of type-A executives to engage in true networking was incredible. She is truly skilled at motivating the group to engage and interact with each other, and her openness and honesty really come through.

— Shelley Stewart, Jr.,
Senior Vice President of Operational Excellence and Chief Procurement Officer, Tyco

July 3, 2012

The WordFood Ballpark Diet

Have you ever met someone who talks about one thing, and one thing only? You can’t get them off that one nut? I know people like that. Sometimes it’s high tech, or it can be a hobby, or sports. In WordFood parlance that’s called the Ballpark Diet, when people are a one trick pony. Sometimes this is when they use language that’s way over your head to lord it over you to show their superiority. Other times it’s when they really can’t switch off, and they are in a comfort zone. It’s nearly impossible for them to talk about much else.

I use the example of two male friends who’ve known each other for years but who only talk about sports. One friend’s wife gets cancer, and he wants to discuss this with his pal, but his pal is incapable of engaging him on this subject. It’s just too personal and deep. We all know people like this. We have to find new avenues to approach this person and ask them questions about how they might feel if this happened to them and make it personal and real, so that it engages the emotions. We have to touch a different part of their psyche so that they’re not running on automatic all the time, always in that zone. We need to take a chance to engage them in a neutral area, where there is a possibility for a different kind of exchange, a more authentic conversation. This takes empathy on our part, putting ourselves in their shoes, and considering their feelings, not trying to force them around to our way of thinking.

However, BallPark can work to our advantage at times as well. For example, a client of mine is a Bears fan. I happen to be a football fanatic, which he didn’t know. This client had been on the fence for a long time about using me as a speaker for an event of his. This time when I called him up I immediately asked him about aspects of the team’s performance and discussing my favorite Bear, Brian Urlacher. This took him by surprise, and we spent our first fifteen minutes happily engaged in football talk, aspects of the game, quarterback strategies. He was delighted to know I was a fan.

By the time things rolled around to business, there was a completely different openness to our working together. This time he spoke warmly about having me as a speaker, and since then events have moved forward.

It often helps to know someone’s Ballpark language to create the connection first. You don’t have to be an expert. It does help to do your homework. What people do appreciate is the effort to speak on their terms. If someone in IT starts using terminology that leaves you in the dust, gently remind them that you don’t have a degree in computer science. Most of the time they’ll revert to language for the rest of us humans.

If you’ve got a client who has a passion, it’s a great strategy to put a little effort into learning about it and engaging them on that topic. It can be a deal maker.

Where people are using the Ballpark Diet to keep others away, try finding that neutral ground where you can find something new to talk about and you won’t foul out. Be patient. There are good reasons they are playing it safe.

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