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There is a drill in tai chi often referred to as tui shou, or push hands. It is designed to help a practitioner master his or her balance and control while learning to “read” (translate: feel) or anticipate the intentions and actions of a partner (or a potential adversary).

It’s fascinating to watch, even more fascinating to experience.

You don’t have to practice martial arts to understand or apply these principles. In fact, you may be a master without even realizing it. Most good sales staff, service advisors, business owners and even technicians practice a form of tui shou multiple times a day, every day, generally without realizing it.

Understanding it can have a significant impact in life as well as for your career, positive or negative. A good salesman immerses himself in a dance that takes place at the counter— the complicated choreography of give and take. A great service advisor knows where the client is at all times—when and how aggressively to advance, when to retreat, when to speak, when to listen and when to remain silent.

THINKSTOCKAn effective leader can sense when there is a ripple in the force—what’s going on in the shop, when things are going right and when they’re falling apart. An effective shop owner knows and understands the relationship that he or she shares with employees and suppliers, clients and potential clients.

You engage in tui shou when you are deeply engaged in conversation with someone you are trying to convince or cajole, when the conversation shifts back and forth, when points are won and lost. And, you are successful so long as you are able to maintain contact with your partner, so long as you are able to sense where they are leading so you can follow; or, whether or not they are willing to follow, so you can lead.

While I’ve always preferred the physical contact involved in practicing push hands, I’ve almost always understood its implications when it comes to interpersonal relations. The lessons are invaluable, especially the need to remain connected, engaged.

Bad things happen when you lose contact with your partner, when you lose that sensitivity. You can lose your balance. You can lose control—as much as any of us can have over another. But, most important, you lose your connection to that other human being, to the energy that flows through them to you and then back again. Losing connection can mean moving too fast or not fast enough. It can mean ignoring critical and yet very slight cues that can lead you to success or doom you to almost instant failure.

Loss of connection can result in misunderstanding and miscommunication. In martial arts that can mean a subtle shift from tui shou to another practice called chi sau: from push hands to sticky hands, from an exercise in sensitivity to combat, figuratively speaking, of course. A shift like that can result in lost opportunity, which translates to lost sales.

So, here’s my challenge: The next time you’re standing at the counter engaging a client or potential client, take a deep breath, close your eyes for a moment and then reach out—not physically, not with your hand or arm—but with your energy. Sense where they are and allow them to sense where you are. Move with them, guide them, take them where you know they need to be in order to remain safe and mobile.

If you’re successful, you’ll know where they are almost instantly. You’ll know what they’re looking for, whether it’s performance or economy, minimal service or maximum safety. But, more than that, you’ll understand how to best communicate your ability to move with them, to help them get to wherever it is they’re headed safely and at the least possible cost.

And then let me know whether or not it made a difference. Better yet, let me know what difference that difference actually made.


Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at mitchschneidersworld.com. Contact him at mschneider@ratchetandwrench.com

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