A significant skill and competitive advantage is already inside you. Top performers in athletics, music, arts, and extreme sports call it “flow.” Flow is your ability to manage your expectations and detach from outcome. This is how it works. When you surf for the first time, your expectations are probably pretty low. You start to perform well until you realize you’re doing much better than you thought you would, and you get that first glimpse of success. Then what happens? All of a sudden, your carefree approach gives way to struggle.

Minimize Outcome Expectations

There’s something about the weight of expectation and attachment to a successful outcome that makes most people tense up. What’s the difference between surfing a four-foot wave and an eight-foot wave? What comes fluid and easy riding the four-foot wave now feels strained by caution and indecision on the eight-foot wave. Your focus changes from enjoying the moment to worrying about messing up. The irony is nothing has changed accept your perception. You feel more risk riding an eight-foot wave, but the technique is fundamentally the same.

It’s similar to the conversations you’re having with prospects. The less expectation you have regarding the meeting progression and outcome, the more present you’re likely to be. The more expectations you have entering a meeting, the tighter you feel. You’re likely to perform with more angst and caution, and less likely to stretch your questions and learning.

Avoid the Distraction of Negative Thoughts

What happens the moment you realize the prospect is being open with their answers, and you find yourself in a strong position to help them? For most, natural flow gives way to angst and caution. The weight of expectations emerges and distracts your thinking. The inner voice says, “don’t screw this up,” or “be careful, this might be a great opportunity.” You go from a pure natural focus guiding your innate skill to ask, listen, and learn, to corrupting it with the burden of expectation and outcome (“Holy shit! I might generate a second meeting!”).

Unfortunately, unless you have a mindful process to pull yourself back from expectations, you’ve lost your performance flow. You know this – you’ve been there. The remainder of your conversations with the prospect no longer feel like you’re in a groove. Those fundamental skills that helped you in the beginning – asking, listening, and communicating – feel choppy. Again, nothing has changed in this scenario except your perception.

Keep Focused on the Fundamentals

The difference between riding a four-foot wave or an eight-foot wave is twofold: The ability of the surfer to minimize their experience expectation prior to hitting the wave, and detaching from the end result. This allows the surfer to stay in the moment and not get caught up in distracting thoughts of success or failure. They keep their focus on their fundamentals and process. It’s the same in sales. To have great conversations, you’ll need to learn how to deliberately eliminate your expectations prior to your prospect interaction, and avoid the pitfalls of anticipating a positive result. Only then will you reach maximum peak conversation performance – flow.

Stay Engaged in the Present Moment

As surfers have their techniques to stay in-the-moment to engage and protect their peak performance flow, you should have yours. A powerful way to protect your flow in a conversation is to remember that no matter what the prospect says or does (good or bad) – it doesn’t mean anything yet. Avoid labeling anything they say as “good” or “bad.” The prospect might say, “we didn’t realize the possible issues we could be facing.” Most sales people hear this and experience a surge of excitement, causing them to immediately share more of their expertise in hopes they can solidify their prospects admission of pain as change worthy. This is how you fall off the wave. You’ve judged a simple statement as a “good” sign of your success. All your future questions and listening now focus on how to leverage what you learned to get that second meeting or opportunity to formally present your solution. You’ve gone from focusing in-the-moment to focusing on the end result.

Remain Neutral

Avoid labeling what you’ve heard as “bad.” The prospect says, “we’re not sure a change makes sense right now.” Most sales professionals hear this and feel the panic of not achieving a positive outcome. As a result, they fall off the wave. Their focus shifts from not caring about the result to really caring about it (“Shit! What do I need to say to overcome this objection and prove why it’s better for them to do something with me now?”).

In either example, a neutral thought process – “it doesn’t mean anything yet” – can help you maintain your flow. Stay in the moment to maximize your asking, listening, and learning skills. The “yet” gives what was said a degree and sense of impermanence. It’s what the prospect shared and thought in the moment, but may not represent what’s appropriate in the long term. The “yet” allows you to stay in the flow and maximize your ability to stay away from expectations, and perform your learning skills at a high level.

In the end, it’s your ability to stay away from expectations and the anticipation of results that will help you find your conversation peak performance, learn more, and separate from the competition. After all, the person who learns the most wins the most.