I recently had an experience with a life coach that didn’t provide the value I expected. I enjoyed a few pointers about mindset changes and understanding how much is possible … and then it began to degrade.

He assumed things about how I work that weren’t true. They were fine points to make to the right person, I suppose, but they didn’t really apply to me.

I soon realized my life coach was “cold reading” me. He had a list of things to say that are meant to appeal to almost anyone, and I recognized 30 minutes into the conversation that he wasn’t listening to me. He was simply waiting for my pauses so he could begin “public speaking” to me again. Leaving a voice message on his phone confirmed everything: His away response held a motivational pitch that was supposed to solve all my problems — he sounded like a person on a stage, not a human being behind a desk. He never called back to foster the relationship.

I even said, “Put me on an email list until I’m ready to continue working with you,” and I never received an email … not even a canned response or a newsletter. It could have been so easy for him!

Part of me wonders if he was working straight from a script. His lack of listening and follow-up read like a giant neon sign telling me, “You are just a number in an audience.”

Sadly, it makes sense. He is part of a brand that’s spearheaded by national speakers. They’re the people he’s mimicking in his own business.

Backing up a bit: When I say he was “public speaking to me,” what does that mean?

This life coach has great ideas about how to improve the world; he thinks certain things are important to everyone, and he loves sharing his ideas with an audience — that’s great! Had I been in an auditorium, I would have felt better about the pointers that didn’t apply to my specific situation. The experience would have been authentic anyway.

In a one-on-one scenario, though, the conversation shouldn’t be at someone, it should be with someone.

Authenticity looks different in every situation. For a salesperson (and, yes, life coaches are salespeople), the best thing you can do to engage a potential customer is to listen and respond with honesty. Prewritten scripts are a great place to start, but a personal connection needs to take front and center very quickly in a relationship. Sometimes that means saying, “I’ve never seen a circumstance like this before” or asking a question instead of assuming that your potential customer would benefit from a specific solution simply because a lot of other people do.

Our recent team meeting discussed how difficult it is to say, “I don’t know.” Even though this phrase contains a fear of showing that you don’t have every answer, few phrases build more trust.

Public speaking is a great place to get attention and begin new relationships, but the conversations that follow prove who the speaker is. Let’s make honesty and authenticity our priority above “always being right.” Lending a listening ear and responding to each person we work with is the reason we’re in sales — the custom solutions we find actually improve peoples’ lives.

When we follow this motif and purpose, deals will always result. Our communities are looking for those of us who listen and build relationships first. After we have set these two founding principles in place, our areas of expertise become powerful tools, and we make a large impact on the people around us.

Dan serves as the CEO of Happy Grasshopper, where he helps thousands of salespeople make connections and build relationships with the people in their databases.

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