Three Cups of Tea

Building Relationships and Becoming a Trusted Advisor

“The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family.”  – Haji Ali; Village Elder – Korphe, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan  

K2 – The world’s second highest mountain peak, located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan

In the spring of 1993, American adventurer Greg Mortenson was part of an expedition to climb K2, the world’s second highest mountain, located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of North Eastern Pakistan. 

While making his descent in blinding snow he got separated from his group.  Instead of arriving in the village of Askole, where base camp was located and the rest of his party had been headed, he ended up 3 kilometres off course in the remote village of Korphe. 

Although only 3 km as the crow flies, Korphe is located on the opposite side of a deep chasm from Askole and due to heavy snow and the spring melt, inaccessible for over half the year.  Mortenson was stranded in Korphe for several weeks while he waited for the snow to melt.    

During his stay he noticed that the village was exceedingly poor and had no local school.  During the winter months children would either leave their families and stay with relatives in neighboring villages or more often than not, simply stay home when they couldn’t get across the chasm to Korphe.  Once the snow melted, out of gratitude for their hospitality, Mortenson pledged to return to Korphe and help them build a school of their own. 

Fast forward twenty-five years and Greg Mortenson, through the Central Asia Institute that he founded, has built over 171 schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The full story of how it all started can be found in Mortenson’s autobiographical; “Three Cups of Tea; One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time.”  Although some of Mortenson’s claims are suspect and he has been accused of financial mismanagement the fact remains that there are now dozens of schools providing education to thousands of children across the remote mountain regions of Central Asia, where there were none before. 

I was reminded of Mortenson’s story recently while contemplating the often long and drawn out sales process in my business.    More specifically, I remembered the way in which Haji Ali had explained to Mortenson how to go about building long lasting relationships with the Balti people – Slowly, over tea.

There are as many different approaches to sales as there are sales people and clients.  There is no one-size-fits all approach.  But over the years I have observed that most new sales follow a path that roughly correlates to Ali’s three cups of tea theory. 

Meeting One – You are a stranger.

It is the sales person’s job in this first meeting to put the prospect’s mind at ease.  Listen to the prospect’s needs, wants, goals, dreams, and fears.  Do not interrupt.  Remember, no one trusts you at this point, offering grandiose advice without a full understanding the problem will only reinforce that distrust. Speak only when necessary, asking clarifying questions, or answering questions directed at you. 

Once the prospect has told you everything now is your turn to speak.   Resist the temptation to offer a solution.  Your job is to simply leave the prospect wanting to see you again.  Give them the impression that you are the only person in the world who can help them.  But don’t tell them how. 

I often leave these meetings by saying something like, “You’ve given me a lot to think about.  I know I can help you with this but it’s going to take me a few days to get my head around all this.  Can I call you on Tuesday?” 

When I call back on Tuesday like I promised I simply say; “I have found a solution to your problem, when can we get together so I can explain it to you?”

Meeting Two – You Are An Honored Guest

I’ve already told them that I have the answer.  They are happy to see me and eager to hear what I have to say.  They put on the charm and roll out the read carpet.  It’s as if The Pope himself or some other wise guru has come to visit with a special word of wisdom just for them. 

I begin by repeating back to them as verbatim as I can remember, the exact concerns they had the last time we spoke.  I ask them for feedback and confirmation that I understood them correctly.  When we are both in agreement that I understand the problem.  I lay out the solution being careful to link it back to their specific needs every chance I get. 

Some prospects will be so excited and happy about the solution that they will want to sign the contract right then and there.  Unless you want to make a one-off sale and forever cement yourself in the prospect’s mind as a one problem solution, resist that temptation.  Tell the prospect that they need to sleep on this.  You are trying to go from honored guest to trusted family member.  Family doesn’t rush into things.  By telling the prospect to sleep on it you are simultaneously giving them an out and elevating your status to as the kind of person who has their best interests in mind, like family. 

At this point I leave the meeting by saying, “Take your time with this, read it over, do your own research.  If there is anything you don’t understand, call me.  I’ll check back next Thursday and see how you’re doing.” 

When I call back on Thursday I ask if they have any questions and then tell them when I am available to come by and implement the plan. 

Meeting Three – You Are A Trusted Family Member

Now it’s time to do business.  This time when I come, the prospects tend to greet me like an old friend or relative.  The formality is gone, the red carpet has been replaced by a dusty floor mat.  I am no longer the wise guru with all the answers, I’m the kind uncle, or brother who’s looking out for the family.  There is no need to put on airs, I’ve already seen their dirty laundry, there is no point hiding it anymore.

At the start of the meeting I take a quick minute to reconfirm their needs and remind the prospect how my proposal solves their problems.  At this point there are very few questions left to be answered. This meeting is light, conversation centers around general life and personal matters.  Signing the contracts is just a formality and it’s done almost as an afterthought. 

Once contracts are signed, I reinforce the family image but reminding the clients that I am in their corner.  They can call me any time, day or night, there are no questions they cannot ask.  I promise to stay in touch and set a reminder in my calendar to call them twice a year, once on the anniversary of the signing of the contracts and once on their birthday, just like family. 

This process has worked for me consistently for 7 years.  My best clients have become friends.  Review meetings are more like reunions.  Without even realizing what I was doing, I’ve been following the ancient Balti tradition of three cups of tea since I started in this business. 

It works.  But more than just being a tactic for making more sales, if you’re genuine it’s a great way to make friends.  Most of my clients I think would agree, I’ve got a lot of friends. 

Protecting what you work for

Safeguarding your family’s lifestyle with insurance

When you first started working, you may not have given insurance a second thought. However, as you enter your peak earning years, you have a lot more to protect. It’s likely that you and your family depend on your salary for the lifestyle you enjoy – and life, critical illness and disability insurance can help protect that lifestyle if you are unable to work.

The number one cause of bankruptcy in Canada is an unexpected and uninsured illness or injury. That is why I placed “Regulate Risk” as number 2 in my Six Steps to Financial Freedom. If you haven’t already subscribed to this page and received your free copy of my e-book of the same name you can request it here.

There is a lot of confusion about the various types of personal risk insurance on the market so here is a quick primer of the three most common types of insurance and how they work. Contact us any time for more information or to schedule a FREE, no obligation consultation.

Life insurance

Life insurance is important for everyone, especially if you own a home, have children or are responsible for other family members. How much you need depends on factors such as you debts (e.g., your mortgage), education goals for your children and other income needs. Here are two of the most common types of life insurance:

Permanent life insurance (also known as whole life and universal life) provides protection for life, as long as your premiums are paid. In some cases, you can accumulate a tax-advantaged investment or cash value that may increase the amount you leave to your beneficiary.

Term life insurance provides protection at a guaranteed rate for a specific period of time, typically 10 or 20 years or to age 65. The policy is renewable at the end of the term, though the rate will be higher. This type of insurance is often used to cover a financial obligation that will disappear in time, such as a mortgage.

Critical illness insurance

Even though survival of heart attacks, strokes, cancer and other critical illnesses is increasing, recovering from such setbacks often requires weeks or months away from work. Extra costs, such as alternative treatments and accessibility modifications to your home, may not be covered by your provincial health plan.

Critical illness insurance provides a one-time cash benefit if you’re diagnosed with one of the conditions defined in your contract. The benefit can help support the day-to-day needs of you and your family while you take the time to access treatment get well and return to work.

Disability insurance

Relatively common conditions such as depression or osteoarthritis may prevent you from working for a period of time. So can a serious car crash or back injury.

Disability insurance provides monthly benefits to help replace your salary or wages after an accident or illness. This type of protection is especially important if you job is your family’s primary source of income or if you run your own business.

Do you have enough coverage?

Keep in mind that, even if you have insurance through a benefits plan at work, it may not be enough to maintain your family’s current standard of living in the event of your death, critical illness or disability. An individual policy can help top up your benefits – and stay with you if you change jobs.

Check out the insurance calculators provided on our product pages to find out how much insurance you may need and the potential costs. Contact us any time to schedule a FREE, no obligation consultation.

In Increasing Measure

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. [2 Peter 1:5-9]


I’ve recently spent a lot of time thinking about the choices we make and how today’s choices have a profound impact on tomorrows outcomes.

See my last post from Sunday [here].

One of the things we need to be aware of, if we are to achieve our future goals is the fact that, no matter how hard we try how fast we run or how deeply we desire something, we simply can’t have it all right now. That’s basic stuff but what is a little harder for some people to grasp is the idea that we shouldn’t want it all right now either. Unless you know for a fact that you’re going to die tomorrow you have to leave something undone for your future self to work on. Life goes on and you need a reason to get up in the morning. As the preacher at my grandmother’s funeral put it, “you need to be preoccupied with living.”

My paternal Grandmother died suddenly of a heart-attack at 78 years old. She had her first heart-attack in the spring of 1989. When the local preacher went to visit her in the hospital she didn’t want to talk about her brush with death, all she wanted to talk about was how proud she was of her family. That summer four of her grandchildren were getting married and she was feeling great pride and hope for the future.  This young preacher, only in his mid twenties himself was amazed and blessed just to sit and listen for several hours while my grandmother recounted story after story of raising her family. Just six weeks later she had a second heart-attack and died. Grandma never lived to see any of those weddings but she was present at every one of them.

My father is the fourth of eight children. At the time of her death my grandmother had 25 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren. And for all of her nearly 8 decades on this earth she never grew disinterested in any of them.

When I think of my grandmother now, over 25 years after her death, I remember a woman who loved life and was full of grace. She personified what the apostle Peter was talking about when he said we must possess these qualities in increasing measure. She was never satisfied or rested on her laurels. Even though every one of her children faithfully followed Christ into adulthood and nearly all of her grandchildren are active members of the church, she was never tempted to take a victory lap. On the contrary, she knew what it meant carry grace and in so doing grew deeper and deeper in love.

I was reminded of my grandmother recently when having a conversation with a religious legalist. Almost immediately in my relationship with this person it became obvious to me that they were broken and beaten down by circumstance. Also a child of a large family, 14 children I believe, and the same age as my grandmother at the time of her death, this person can neither offer nor accept grace in any measure. The rules, however arbitrary, are made to be followed without question and maybe, if you’re lucky, you might get enough of them right and earn your way to acceptance. This person is trying to fix their brokenness with legalism.

“My son, my son why are you striving? You can’t add a thing to what’s been done for you,” sang Keith Green in the 1970s. That’s grace and it’s all you need.

When we buried my grandmother we sang “Bind us together lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken, bind us together with love,” that’s grace too and it’s all my grandmother ever wanted for her family.

Legalists go through life waiting for the other shoe to drop, they don’t only cry over spilt milk, they rage, blame and shame over it. But grace shows up with a roll of paper towel under her arm and says; “Pobody’s Nerfect, let me help you clean this up.”

Being preoccupied with living in this way, continually growing and learning “in increasing measure,” and finding grace in the small stuff, I believe is the secret to a fulfilling life. That’s the way my grandmother lived and I know she died happy, still thinking about tomorrow.

Not a bad way to live if you ask me.

“Can We Pray for My Dog?”

injured dog

I’m not good with kids.

At least I don’t feel like I am. I tend to be one of those adults that are constantly thinking about big things.  I always have an idea for a big new project or I’m thinking about big consequences and digging deep for big meaning. I like my conversations to be powerful, heavy and deep. Little things bother me. Little things are insignificant. Little things are a waste of time.

That’s why last night at Home Church God gave me an opportunity to do something completely out of character. And I loved every second of it!

Our regular crowd consists of between 10 to 15 adults and about 8 to 10 children. The children range from babies up to about 9 years old. At the beginning of the evening the children go down to the basement to play games and watch movies while the adults stay upstairs and talk about the important stuff.

I love my Home Church. We discuss all the things I thrive on, we dig deep into scripture and learn a lot of great stuff together without the distraction of childish concerns. Last night however I learned more about the value of simple faith from a 9 year old girl than I have learned in nearly seven years as an elder in my church.

As our meeting was wrapping up the children came thundering up the stairs and interrupted our prayer time. Rather than try and stifle their enthusiasm I simply skipped the closing prayer and told everyone we’d pray for one another on our own time throughout the week, if anyone had anything specific we could be in touch directly via text or on our Facebook page. That was it there was no point in trying to bring it back down and pray with all those kids running around.

But this one little girl, who couldn’t be more than 8 or 9 years old, sat down next me and said “Aren’t we going to pray?”

My immediate thought was, “No you’re being too noisy, go play with your brother” but there was something in the way she asked that pulled me up short. I knew there was something on her mind so I said “Well, you and I can pray, just the two of us, what would you like to talk to God about?”

Surrounded by all the noise and chaos of the rest of the kids she proceeded to tell me a story, as only a 9 year old girl can, about how her dog got a scratch on her nose and a cut on her paw while she was away for the weekend and she didn’t know how it happened. I’ll be honest, a dog that sounded like it maybe had a run in with a neighbourhood cat is not something a guy like me considers very significant but to this little girl it was her whole world. It was significant enough that she sought out an adult who she hardly knows and asked for help talking to God about it. So I did the only thing I could do, amid the din I leaned in, bowed my head and asked God to heal her dog.

Six months from know I’m not going to remember what our adult Home Church discussion was about, the details are already starting to fade but I am going to remember the simple faith of that little girl. And perhaps more importantly I hope she’s going to remember that it’s okay to ask an adult to pray with her for the things she finds significant. That’s what Home Church community, no family, is all about.

Our key scripture passage last night was Ephesians 2: 8-10

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

We talked a lot about what it means to do good works, to pass on our faith and to extend grace. Maybe because I’m a slow learner and maybe because I need to work on my relationships with children, God gave me an immediate object lesson that I won’t soon forget.

We would all do well to pray for the injured dogs of the world and anything else children find significant.


Life Stages – John’s Story

The following is a personal story from my own life.

As many of you know, I live in a multi-generational home with my wife and her parents.  In 2011 my father-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and it was determined that my wife and I would transition our careers and move back home to help take care of him.  Over the past 2 and half years his condition has continued to deteriorate and yesterday we move him to a nursing home for the final stage of his life.

moving day

This photo was taken at the end of a long and emotionally draining day. I’m not in the picture, my wife is on the left, the rest are my in-laws, I tend to be the family photographer and don’t get into many shots myself.

Moving is stressful enough at the best of times and I can only imagine what was going through my father-in-laws mind as we explained to him, over and over again, that he would not be coming home.  As reality sunk in the questions turned to accusations with the most hurtful being, “so you’re throwing my out of my house?”  To their credit, my mother-in-law and my wife were both very strong and no tears were shed, until we all left and were on our way home.

As this process has unfolded over the last few weeks it got me thinking about the stages of life.  As we explained to him, several times, John worked hard all his life, now it’s time for him to relax and let other people take care of him.

We all start out helpless and frail, totally dependent on others for survival.  As we grow both in physical strength and intellect we are able to learn to survive on our own.  The first major transition is when we start school.  Starting at around age 4 or 5 we are separated from our family for about 6 hours a day, we learn to socialize, problem solve and work in groups other than our traditional family units.

The next major transition occurs about 13 or 14 years later when we move away from home for the first time.  Now our learning deepens, we must be able to obtain our own sources of food and we continue to develop our knowledge we begin to specialize in various areas as our abilities become a commodity that we trade with others.

Next we establish our own family units in order to pass our knowledge on to another generation.  In this stage the student becomes the teacher in many different ways.  In my personal experience, since my wife and I have no children of our own the passing of knowledge is a bit different than in a traditional family but it occurs none the less, through our jobs and the relationship we have with our nieces, nephews and countless other young people that touch our lives.

The later stages of life start with retirement.  That time when you stop working either by choice or through necessity due to diminished capacity.  Helping people plan for and navigate through this stage of life is a big part of what I do.  For some it can be one of the happiest times, they can finally take their foot off the gas and relax knowing that they have worked hard and made a plan.  For others who haven’t planned properly or just aren’t ready it can be terrifying.

For many, including my father-in-law, the final stage is the time of life when you completely surrender your physical needs to the help of others.  At this point you have come full circle.  You are now in need of help and support to maintain the basic functionality of life.  Again, if you make a plan when you are younger, this transition can be a smooth and natural process but if you aren’t ready or you leave it too late, it can be abrupt and terrifying.

I feel like I should make some profound statement at this point and tie this whole thing together.  Land the plane if you will.  But I can’t.  I don’t have anything profound or encouraging to say.  You will transition through life, that’s just the way it is, whether or not you are prepared for it and how you react is out of my hands and sometimes, in the case of a disease like Alzheimer’s it’s out of your hands too.

The only thing we can do is plan, as best we can and hope for the best.

For more information on planning through various life stages write to .  And buy my book by clicking the link above.  Between now and Mar 23, 2014 all proceeds from the sales of the book go to AIDS Care at The Meeting House.

Treasures in Heaven

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there  your heart will be also. [Jesus; Matthew 6:19-21]

So I just spent the weekend at my in-law’s house.  Let me first say that my in-laws are great people, real salt of the earth types.  My father-in-law spent 35 years working at the national headquarters of Canada Post, before that he worked in the defence industry.  My mother-in-law was a stay at home mom.  The Cleavers have nothing on these two.  But I learned something about them this past weekend that was a bit disturbing.

My father-in-law’s heart is stored in the basement.

Disposophobia, more commonly known as Compulsive Hoarding, is a newly recognized mental disorder.  It is the fear of getting rid of stuff, even if the items are worthless, hazardous or unsanitary.  According to the Mayo Clinic; hoarders collect items because they believe they will have some value in the future but compulsive hoarding impairs mobility and interferes with basic activities, including cooking, cleaning, hygiene, sanitation and sleeping.   It’s really just been in the last 10 to 15 years that psychologists have begun to treat hoarding separately from other closely related disorders like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and most psychologists still believe it is just a manifestation of OCD and not a separate disorder at all.

Regardless, I have no problem pronouncing my father-in-law a hoarder.  Everything from years of Life Magazine (dating back to 1950s), broken telephones, old clothes, and practically every piece of mail he has ever received, from personal letters to bills, some dating back more than 40 years are stored in his basement.  And it is next to impossible to get him to go through any of it and determine what has value and what can be thrown out.  To me, that is the very definition of disposophobia.

But this isn’t just about my father-in-law.  Hoarding is a 21st century epidemic and from a spiritual point of view, it’s a symptom of a much bigger issue.  It’s about our human tendency to place value in the wrong place and on the wrong things.

Jesus it seems knew a thing or two about hoarding.  He knew that it would “impair mobility and interfere with basic activities.”  Most of all he knew that if you place undue value on things it would damage relationships.

He goes on in Matthew 6 to talk about the damaging effects of worry.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life  more than food, and the body more than clothes? [Matthew 6:25]

Worry, to me is what lies at the heart of hoarding and OCD.  It’s a matter of trust.  If you place your trust in Jesus and His Kingdom (or community) you don’t need to hang on to things in the same way.  When you release your hold on the things of this world you can more freely give them away to people in greater need thereby building relationships with people and furthering the kingdom.

One incident this past weekend drove that point home for me more than any other.  We found a box containing 4 winter coats.  All where is slight need of repair, lining was torn or they were stained in some way, but they were otherwise in pretty good shape.  He hasn’t worn any of them in years.  Winter is coming so we suggested we take them to goodwill so someone less fortunate could benefit.  He panicked!  Claimed that he might wear them again, that he needed time to look at them and think about it.  He came up with ridiculous scenarios in which he lost or damaged his current coat and needed one of these old ones in an emergency.  (There really is no limit to our human creativity under pressure but that’s a topic for another time.)  In the end my brother-in-law finally just picked up the box and walked out.

The bottom line is this; hoarders are really nothing more than compulsive worriers who don’t trust anyone, especially God.  Therefore they become their own worst enemy when it comes to experiencing true community and joining in the workings of the Kingdom of Heaven.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these  things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. [Matthew 6:31-34]

Release your worry and pray for the hoarders, Meekonomists seek first the kingdom and his righteousness.