Source: Institute For Local Self-Reliance
Source: Institute For Local Self-Reliance
Just a few years ago, the world seemed to be bursting with an infinite supply of business. It lulled us into taking our customers for granted, until the economy tanked and shattered the illusion of endless prosperity. Suddenly, the old-fashioned “trusted relationship” started to look good again.
In this post-Madoff era of unpredictability and suspicion, people are looking for deeper, more intimate and more engaged relationships that reduce risk. When times are tough and the future is uncertain, people want to put down roots and partner with people they truly like and trust.
Bottom line: In today’s markets, the most valuable commodity is the ability to connect with others and rapidly build trust. Asking questions first and letting people come up with their own answers is far more effective than spouting facts or trying to talk someone into something. Telling creates resistance. Asking creates relationships.
Here are nine ways questions can transform relationships:
1. Questions turn one-dimensional, arms-length business relationships into personal relationships that endure for years. When a relationship is all business without a real personal connection, it lacks heart and soul. And therefore you are a commodity. A client — or your boss — can trade you out for a new model with no remorse or emotion. But when you’ve connected personally, the situation is transformed because clients stick with people they like. Your expertise and competence get you in the door, but it’s the personal connection that builds loyalty.
Take the story of a senior partner in a top consulting firm who met with the CEO of a major client. At the end of a routine briefing, the senior partner paused and asked the CEO, “You’ve had an extraordinary career. As you look ahead — is there something else you’d like to accomplish? Is there a dream you’ve yet to fulfill?”
The CEO was nearly stunned. He thought for a moment and replied, “No one has ever asked me that question.” Then he talked about a dream he had for retirement. That question was the turning point in building a long-term, personal relationship with an influential business leader.
2. They make the conversation about the other person—not about them. Most of us don’t care what other people think—we want to know first if they care about us. The need to be heard is one of the most powerful motivating forces in human nature. That’s why one of my power questions is, "What do you think?" Another is, "Can you tell me more?"
When you make the conversation all about you, you will not build their trust or learn about them. You will squander the opportunity to build the foundations for a rich, long-term relationship.
3. They cut through the “blah, blah, blah” and create more authentic conversations. No doubt you can relate to this scenario. A person says, “I want to bounce something off you.” Then, he spends 10 minutes telling you every detail of a very complicated situation. Get him to focus on the true kernel of his issue by asking "What is your question?"
This is a tough-love question. People will resist it, often strenuously. But you must ask. It forces them to take the first step toward clarifying what the issue is and what advice they need from you. You’ll move toward an authentic conversation faster.
4. They help people clarify their thinking and “get out of the cave.” The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates said we perceive reality as if we are chained inside a dark cave, and we see only the blurred shadows of life outside the cave as they are projected on a dark wall at the back. Our understanding of reality is filtered and distorted.
By asking a series of questions, Socrates would engage his students’ minds in the learning process; he uncovered assumptions and got to the heart of the issue. The “Socratic Method” is still used at Harvard Business School — and it can enable you to help others see reality instead of shadowy representations of it.
Instead of saying, “We need to improve our customer service,” try asking: “How would you assess our customer service levels today?” If someone at work says, “We need more innovation,” ask, “Can you describe what innovation means to you? How would we know if we had more of it?”
5. They help you zero in on what matters most to the other person. The next time you’re talking to someone and realize you’ve “lost” her — she’s fidgeting or she’s stopped asking questions — ask this question: What is the most important thing we should discuss today? You will instantly connect with what really matters to her — and the conversation will help her see you as relevant and valuable.
Even if your agenda doesn’t get met, hers will, and she will want to enthusiastically reciprocate. In business it’s critical to be seen as advancing the other person’s agenda of essential priorities and goals.
6. They help others tap into their essential passion for their work. One of the highest-impact power questions you can ask is, "Why do you do what you do?" When they seriously consider and answer this question, the room will light up with passion. Dull meetings will transform into sessions that generate impactful ideas.
We do things for many reasons. But when you put "should" in front of those reasons, you can be certain all the pleasure and excitement will soon be drained away. In contrast, when you unveil the true "why" of someone’s work and actions, you will find passion, energy and motivation.
7. They inspire people to work at a higher level. The late Steve Jobs was notorious for pushing employees. He asked people constantly, "Is this the best you can do?" It’s a question that infused Apple’s corporate culture from the beginning. And it’s one that you can use, too — sparingly and carefully — when you need someone to stretch their limits and do their very best work.
Often, we settle for mediocrity when we need to do our best. Mediocrity is the enemy of greatness. Asking, "Is this the best you can do?" helps others achieve things they did not believe possible.
8. They can save you from making a fool of yourself. Before responding to a request or answering someone’s question, it’s often wise to get more information about what the other person really wants. When a prospect asks, “Can you tell me about your firm?” reply with “What would you like to know about our firm?” Most people go on and on about their company, but the client is usually interested in one particular aspect of your business.
9. They can salvage a disastrous conversation. My coauthor, Jerry Panas, recalls the time he asked a man named Allan for a million-dollar donation to his alma mater’s College of Engineering. The author failed to gain rapport and explore Allan’s true motivations before jumping in with the big request.
When Allan rebuked him for his presumptuousness, Panas realized he had made a serious error. He apologized, left the room, and 20 seconds later knocked on the door and asked the power question, "Do you mind if we start over?" Panas ultimately discovered that Allan might indeed be interested in making a gift, but to the University’s theater program.
Things like this happen all the time in business and at home. Interactions get off on the wrong foot, and someone gets angry or offended. But people are forgiving. They want to have a great conversation with you. Asking, Do you mind if we start over? will disarm the other person and make him smile. That smile will ease the way to a new beginning.
One of the greatest benefits of becoming a master questioner is that it takes a lot of pressure off. It’s a huge relief to know that you don’t have to have all the answers. The right questions help you bypass what’s irrelevant and get straight to what’s truly meaningful. They make people like you, trust you and want to work with you —and once you’ve achieved that, the battle is already won.
Andrew Sobel, along with Jerry Panas, wrote "Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others."
|Guests can take the Delta River Flatboat tour to learn more about the gardens. Photo courtesy of GAYLORD OPRYLAND RESORT.|
In the 39 years Hollis Malone has worked as a horticulturist at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, he has never once gotten tired of the compliments from guests on the nine acres of interiorscapes winding through the complex.
“If you clean something up, prune something or plant something that gets people excited, that’s a good feeling,” says Malone. “It’s just great to see people’s faces light up.”
The resort didn’t start with nine acres, however. The indoor garden concept started in 1982 when architect Earl Swensson convinced hotel management to build a garden and put terrace rooms around it so people could have a spectacular view. Thus, the Garden Conservatory was born, a one-and-a-half acre spread of tropical plants that accommodated the addition of 500 rooms to the original 600 built in 1977.
Five successful years later, management was convinced that the indoor garden concept was a good thing and they needed more capacity, so they decided to add 500 more rooms and another garden. At the same time, they realized they needed another check-in lobby to accommodate the increased number of guests. The one-and-a-half acre Cascades became the second garden and created a “wow” factor with big double waterfalls cascading down a 40-foot-tall mountain and a restaurant and rotating bar smack dab in the middle.
Ten years later, once again realizing that demand exceeded supply, the resort decided to add 1,000 more rooms and a four-and-a-half acre garden to go with it: the Delta, a Louisiana-themed wonder featuring sabal (or cabbage) palms, foliage plants and even banana trees. The Delta pushed the total acreage under glass to approximately nine, with 50,000 total plants and 63 different kinds of palms. Malone says the palms work particularly well in the gardens in terms of allowing light to reach other plants.
“Their canopies don’t take up a lot of room like a big ficus tree or huge tropical tree would,” he says.
|Dine among the lush vegetaion in the Cascades Atrium at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. Photo courtesy of Gaylord Opryland Resort.|
One of the biggest challenges in maintaining the gardens is that the resort is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Plus, there is a high volume of people coming through the resort who are looking to conduct business (95 percent of the resort’s business is convention-related) and have a relaxing time. Therefore, the horticultural crew’s schedules, the type of soil used and the pest management program all have to be designed with the guest in mind.
For instance, the soil is a custom mix of composted pine bark, cypress bark, Canadian peat, German peat and solite, a rock mined in Mississippi that prevents compaction. There are hardly any organics in it except for earthworm castings because anything with too harsh of a smell would disturb guests.
“It’s a shame because some of my favorite organics are very odorous,” says Malone.
The flood that affected much of Nashville in 2010 was a testament to the resort’s ability to survive and bounce back strong. After seeing 119 rooms and the Delta and Cascades gardens severely impacted and their own work facilities destroyed, the crews rolled up their sleeves and set to work. One colossal task involved replacing 3,000 cubic yards of soil that had been contaminated by diesel fuel that had spilled out of generators. Also, 15 tractor trailer loads of tropical plants 3 feet tall or less had to be delivered to replace ones that died.
“We didn’t miss one day of work and washed plants four to five times, and they survived better than we expected,” he says.
A $10 million flood wall and other improvements now protect the property in case of a future cataclysmic event.
Part horticulturist, part guide
The staff of 19 employees typically starts their day at 6 a.m. so they can do their watering and cleaning without disturbing guests too much. But when guests start waking up and moving around, Malone encourages his staff to interact with them as much as possible. He admits that helping guests find their way after getting lost in the maze of gardens or stopping their work to explain what they’re doing or what kind of plantings they’re seeing isn’t the most efficient way to operate, but it’s part of their job. One of the reasons they don’t label plants is to encourage guests to ask questions and interact with them.
|The 40-foot-tall "mountain" and double waterfalls are a crowd favorite in Cascades.|
“When I hire people, they have to have the right attitude besides having a horticultural background,” Malone says. “If you don’t want to fool with people, this is not the job for you.”
Keeping guests safe with creative pest management techniques
The welfare of the guests plays a major role in Malone’s pest control strategy as well. All plants are treated in the greenhouse after they’re unloaded — before they ever make it into the gardens. And then the cultural approach of using predacious insects as insect growth regulators kicks in. Three different spider mites feed on the problematic two-spotted spider mites, and green lacewings work well, too. Most predacious insects have to be delivered exactly where the problem and food supply is due to their lack of mobility, Malone and his crews have come up with some ingenious ways to do this.
“For the palms, we use a fishing pole with a weight on it to throw a line up and over the tree. We then put a Styrofoam cup on the end of the line, pour the predacious insects into it and crank it back up to the foliage where the spider mites are,” says Malone.
Sourcing the best plants
You might guess that Malone is a good customer to quite a few nurseries, and you would be right. He gets his plants from 18 to 20 different businesses, including a few local growers for flowers and some Florida nurseries for tropical plantings. Most of his bromeliads come from Princeton, Fla., and his orchids arrive from Homestead, Fla., and North Carolina. He also has a 5,000-square-foot greenhouse where they keep plantings that they rotate in and out of the gardens.
“One house is devoted to coleus, which we use inside and outside,” says Malone. “We also have a small revenue-generating department that does the floral arrangements for weddings and special parties and also rents plants for exhibits.”
Guest enjoyment drives and inspires Malone and his crew every day, but it’s also knowing how his green industry colleagues feel as they stroll through the gardens and admire his handiwork.
“I hope they appreciate it,” he says. “If we maintain the gardens well, we’re a good proponent of the interiorscape business. I think they appreciate that we’re trying to promote something they’re in the business of selling.”
Jason Stahl is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio, and a regular contributor to Garden Center magazine.
Photos courtesy of Michelle Simakis.
Imagine strolling through beautiful gardens with the latest plant varieties in the ground, in hanging baskets and in containers for you to check out in their natural environment. After your walk, you decide to wander over and learn more about merchandising at an educational session or visit some of the top vendors in the horticulture industry in an outdoor trade fair. Later on, you take a break to listen to a local band that gets your toe tapping. All of this is possible this August at the Raker Trial Gardens, where BloomaPalooza will celebrate its inaugural edition.
NOTE: As of 7/1/2013, BloomaPalooza 2013 has been canceled. Click here for more information: https://www.gardencentermagazine.com/bloomapalooza-2013-cancelled.aspx
Clockwise from left: 1| Overhead view of the Trial Gardens; 2| One of the 3,500 varieties on display; 3| Sponsored row trials; 4| Large container trials; 5| The Trial Gardens are open from July 17-August 30 this year.; 6| Hanging basket trials.
LOCATION: C. Raker and Sons, Inc. 10371 Rainey Rd. Litchfield, MI 49252
Open from July 17 through August 30
3,500 PLANT VARIETIES on display in row, hanging basket and large container trials
5+ ACRES of display and comparison trial gardens
300 SPONSOR ROWS, each 15 feet long
30 BREEDERS participating in the sponsored areas
120 NEW HANGING BASKET VARIETIES with 362 total baskets shown
190 NEW VARIETIES IN LARGE CONTAINERS (20” pots) with 265 total large containers shown
1,750 HORTICULTURE PROFESSIONALS visited the Gardens in 2012
10th YEAR of being a stop on the Michigan Garden Plant Tour