Have you ever made the mistake of asking someone, “How’s business?” and after a rather over-the-top response, mumbled to yourself, “Sorry I asked?” It’s so easy to quietly fault the somewhat obnoxious, partially arrogant, and maybe a tad egotistical response. Well, I want to go to bat for these rats that can’t seem to stop bragging about their success.
I know these rats well, by the way, because I have fallen into this trap as well. I think I’ve finally learned how to answer that loaded question, but it took me about ten years to figure out this dance. “How’s business?” I guess we have two responses available.
The first is the honest response. Gosh, I love a good honest answer. In 1993, I left my cozy nest at Xerox, hung out my entrepreneur shingle, and went into business for myself. As with most startups, business was tough. I scrambled for every training session, keynote, and speaking gig I could find. My honest response to the question, “How’s business?” would have been: “I go to bed at night staring at the ceiling, shaking in my new business boots and hoping tomorrow will be a better day. How’s business for you? By the way, would you like to hire me to work with your company and teach them how to sell?!”
That brings us to the second response – the one that is sometimes not so honest, and may go over the line a bit. “How’s business?” “Why it couldn’t be better! I’ll be in Las Vegas next week conducting a seminar, I have a radio interview the following Friday, and I just landed my second Fortune 500 Company as a client. I’m rolling big-time!” The funny thing is that I’m not sure which response I like more; the one that sounds pathetic or the one that sounds conceited.
So, how the heck do you answer the question, or market the response to “How’s business?” It must be a delicate reply, and quite frankly, I’d take the time to practice the response. I believe it requires a healthy dose of honesty and, uh, well, let’s just say imagination.
“How’s business? Thank you for asking. I wouldn’t say that this economy is a friend to the seminar business, but I will say that it has forced me to sharpen my tools, focus harder on my clients, and be innovative. In a sense, it has made me a much better speaker, and it has allowed me to create some real traction with my existing clients and the new ones that have come on board.”
Nothing in that statement is untrue, and yet, if you read it carefully, it allows for a significant amount of, let’s call it, “wiggle room.” That’s how business is going for me; how’s business for you?
The next time you ask the question, have some compassion for the response you might end up hearing. Most people who actually want to stay in business do not want to advertise to their clients and prospects how difficult business is. Instead, they tend to err on the side of what might be perceived as arrogance. It is not arrogance. It’s a difficult question to answer well. I’d suggest practicing your answer to that question, and practicing a little patience and empathy the next time someone goes a little over-the-top in positioning their response.