What DOES that Yellow Light Mean?

How to handle hiccups in conversations with prospective clients
There are two kinds of people in the world…
…those who slow down and get ready to stop at yellow lights and those who speed up to beat the light.
And yellow lights don’t just happen in traffic. They show up in every conversation. Yellow lights are signals that something is not connecting, that something is getting lost in translation.
And yellow lights happen all the time in conversations with prospective clients. How you react to them has everything to do with how the conversation unfolds.
With how well you can tell the story of your work.
With how effectively you are able to hear and respond to the other person.
And with how you feel about yourself afterward.

You can tell when the light turns yellow
You can tell when the conversational light turns yellow. Here are a few of the signals:
* You sense a change in the mood.
* You see a shift in the expression or posture of the other person.
* You feel a physical contraction in your body.
* You notice yourself starting to speed up.
You can probably add to that list. Take note of your yellow light signals. Knowing what they are helps you notice them when they arise. And when you notice yellow lights, you can interpret and respond to them skillfully.

A yellow light tells you to slow down
When you see a yellow light, you can be sure something doesn’t feel quite right. For whatever reason, a sense of unease has crept into the conversation.
That doesn’t mean disaster is at hand. It could simply mean that the other person:
* Doesn’t understand.
* Has questions that they may not yet be able to articulate.
* Questions your thinking, assumptions, or motives.
* Disagrees with something.
* Is confused by something.
* Feels at a disadvantage in the conversation.
None of those are disasters. They are perfectly ordinary parts of a normal conversation. And the appropriate response is to slow down, check in, reconnect.

A yellow light doesn’t mean trouble
There’s a tendency in conversations with prospective clients to assume that a yellow light means trouble.
If you interpret a yellow light as trouble, you are at the mercy of the fight or flight reaction. You’ll either grind to a halt–getting out of the conversation as quickly as possible–or barrel through–stuffing your feelings and running roughshod past the signal to slow down.
Because that’s what a yellow light actually means: Slow down. Get ready to stop, if that’s what’s called for. Look around. Notice what’s going on. Slow down so you can respond to the shifting currents of the conversation.

What slowing down looks like
One reason people barrel through conversational yellow lights is that they don’t know what slowing down looks like. Or, because they are nervous, they forget.
The simplest all-purpose slowing down strategy is to ask a question. And the simplest question is: “What are you thinking?”
Ask that question with interested curiosity. Ask from don’t know mind. Then pause. Give the other person time to gather their thoughts.
Breathe. The more comfortable you can be, the easier it will be for the other person to respond.
It’s that simple.

It’s all about being conscious of the yellow light
If you’re unconscious of the yellow lights in conversations with prospective clients, you’ll grind to a halt or barrel through.
In either event you lose connection. Even though the conversation continues on the surface, it’s essentially over. The two of you are already busy looking for a way to end it gracefully.
But when you are conscious of the yellow light, you have a chance to stay connected. To ask the simple question that keeps the conversation alive and that can help you serve more just-right clients.


  1. Zenobia Garrison

    Great post Molly! I’d like to add another little tactic that works within the context of your article. When closing a sale and there’s hesitation, always discern whether fear is the issue or bad timing. If it’s the former, it’s worth the effort to help that individual see that what they are currently doing isn’t working and help them explore what could happen if they never pursued their heart’s desire because of fear. If it’s the latter, it’s best to give the prospect space and see if they will allow you to follow up within a finite period of time. If they don’t it’s probably an indication they aren’t interested. Gaining clarity on these two issues is helpful when you reach a yellow light.

  2. Hattie Wolfe

    As always, I find your e-zine insightful, Molly, and encouraging. I would add that one risk of ignoring or mis-reading yellow lights is that we run right into a red light for our marketing. We stop suddenly. We get off track. We give in to the fear and don’t go forward again when the green light arrives. How helpful to recognize the many different possibilities a red light presents to us? Thanks again.

  3. Hattie Wolfe

    And how helpful it is to make a typing error on a post on your blog. I meant to end my last post by saying How helpful to recognize the many different possibilities a “yellow” light presents to us. Embarassment could have made me slink away in shame. And not come back. I’ll just say, oops, I was moving too fast a moment ago. Thanks for the chance to slow myself down. And thanks for all of the wisdom before this that is beginning to sink in.

  4. ron

    Molly, what a well written, insightful post.
    Your serviceful heart just shines! Really.
    I would add that when we as coaches stand in our truth and develop the habit of truly seeking to understand and serve that we will generally be able to “read conversational cues” appropriately and find common ground in our conversations with existing and potential clients. For me, effective communication all comes down to (1) sensing the resonance vs dissonance (2) slowing down (3) coming from a perspective of non-attachment and service (4) being open to learn and (5) developing the habit of seeing every interaction as a precious opportunity to connect with another one of our “Brothers” or “Sisters” in our huge spiritual family of humanity. For me, co-active coaching is a “sacred living art” and a model for deepening our lives and relationships. Thanks again, for your inspiring post. Namaste,
    Ron Capocelli, CPCC

  5. Tammy Vitale

    The simplest all-purpose slowing down strategy is to ask a question. And the simplest question is: “What are you thinking?”
    Brilliant! Thank you!

  6. Candy Cohn

    This is a terrific piece. I’m “selling” an overnight camp, so it’s especially vital that I not only spend time, but also take my time when dealing with parents during the prospective registration time. I try to think of it as giving them a sample of how I’ll treat their family during camp. I know it’s a big decision to send a child to camp, and there are so many questions and concerns. Usually I can get parents to express them if I can talk to them. The problem is that often times I end up leaving voice messages or sending unanswered emails when it comes time to follow up. I can never understand why people don’t just send a quick reply when they know they’re definitely not interested. I greatly appreciate the ones who do, and I let them know this!

  7. Molly Gordon

    @Zenobia: Good advice. And even when the prospective client is fearful, giving them space is essential. In that case, give them space to experience and acknowledge their fears before going into the costs of not acting.
    @Hattie: Your extension of the metaphor rings true! And I love that you made a mistake to match the many mistakes I made. And that you came back to illustrate the value of the metaphor!

  8. Molly Gordon

    @Ron: Perhaps some day all human interactions will be approached as a sacred living art. ♥
    @Tammy: As always, you cut right to the marrow!
    @Candy: It can be disheartening when people don’t follow up to say, “No.” I try to hold them in my heart and let them go. As long as I remain attached to their answer, positive or negative, I am entangled.


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