Rubbed the Wrong Way

Last week, I treated myself to a massage in hopes of alleviating some pesky lower back pain. Upon my arrival at the spa, I met Mary, my massage therapist, who guided me to our room.

"You get under towel-uh, and I come back-uh," she said, smiling, in timid, broken English.

I obeyed and waited, lying like a slab of meat about to be pounded, sauced, and prepared for grilling.


When Mary returned, she warmed her hands, applied some oil, and began vigorously rubbing my shoulders. I was shocked by the forwardness of her attack. Where was the small talk? Where was the ceremony? Where was my opportunity to explain and complain? She was selling a shoulder rub when I wanted her to karate chop my lumbar spine.

But as I lay there, being tenderized in all the wrong places, I saw myself in Mary. How many meetings had I jumped into with colleagues before first asking about their goals? How often had I tried to sell an idea to friends, teammates, or potential partners without first understanding their motivations and concerns? Sometimes we're so focused on beginning the back rub that we forget to ask what hurts.

But there are ways to avoid this tendency when approaching potential partners. First, don't immediately "get down to business." Aim for a more human, not transactional, connection. Who are they, and how did they get here? Gift when possible, even if it's as simple as offering a cup of coffee or glass of water, and graciously accept gifts when they're offered (even if you're not thirsty). Inquire about their interests and goals: Why are they meeting with you? What do they hope to accomplish?

Once you have a good grasp on who they are and their interests, share a bit of your story as well. While listening is crucial, it's not a one-way street. Don't assume they know as much about your business or goals as you do. They don't, and you won't be insulting them by offering to walk through your company's story from 10,000 feet.


Only after you've completed these steps should you react, pitch, or try to move someone in a new direction. If you preempt this process, if you start rubbing without asking what hurts, you risk wasting their time and yours.