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The five categories of breadcrumbs: identifying important hints in conversations

In a previous post, we discovered that by removing distractions we increase our potential to listen and maximize influence, enabling us to rapidly build trust with clients. But once the distractions are removed, how do you navigate through the conversation and truly understand what your client is trying to tell you? 

Every time your client makes a statement, they drop a hint, a “breadcrumb”. Stop, pick it up and seek to discover more.

If you can detect these breadcrumbs you will learn what matters most to your client. This will allow you to engage with your client at a much deeper level.

Trust generally takes months or years to build, but if you can identify breadcrumbs you can quickly align to your client’s thoughts and will understand what they truly want to discuss. This is the power of empathy based listening and is the key to building trust.

What does a breadcrumb sound like and how do you effectively identify them? 

There are five categories of breadcrumbs:

1. The subjective adjective

When a person uses subjective adjectives in a sentence they are doing so to attract your attention. It is usually at this point in the conversation where your client will stop and pause and wait to see how you respond. This is where you need to dig deeper to understand why they have described something this way and to get more detail on the matter.

Typically, you may want to use this window as an opportunity to change topic and push your agenda, maybe ask for the BSA information which prompted the call in the first place. Instead, don’t let the moment pass, show your client you were listening and ask for more detail on the topic they were talking about. 

When seeking to identify the breadcrumb, the words to look out for in conversation are: weird, huge, unbelievable, crazy, different, and fine.  For example, “ever since the pandemic things have been crazy on our team”.

This is where you should say, tell me more…

2. The hard left turn

If you find yourself in a conversation with a client who suddenly changes topic, this is a hint that what you were previously discussing isn’t important but the pivot is. The key here is to give your client time to address the topic he does want to discuss. 

Examples of a cue your client has changed the topic include: believe it or not most of our clients could not care less; but it still does not address the issue; we’ll look at it but I’m not sure it will matter

3. No better time than the present

When in conversation you hear any of these or similar phrases: that’s a story for another day; don’t get me started; let’s not go there; this is your breadcrumb.

The client is testing you, and measuring your level of interest. Take advantage of this opportunity and seek to discover, ask about the topic and gain his trust by showing interest.

4. The loaded question

When your client asks you a specific question upfront they are directing where they want the conversation to lead.

Your client is asking this question for a reason, if you merely provide the answer you miss the opportunity to gain a deeper level of understanding. The best way to approach these direct questions is to respond with a brief answer and then to enquire about their thought process. 

Examples of these kinds of questions could be:
“Are your clients moving cash now or what are you using as touch points for clients since Covid?”

5. The exclamatory statement

These are the easiest breadcrumbs to identify. They sound like a subjective adjective, but they are in a statement form.

Examples include; “Here’s the deal, let me tell you something right now; have I ever told you about; I cannot believe I’m telling you this.”

If you miss these breadcrumbs it will become clear to your client that you were not in fact listening, and THIS could negatively impact trust.

Empathy based listening is the key to building deep, trusting relationships and by learning to discover the conversational breadcrumbs present in every conversation you will reach the next level of trust with your client. Click here to watch a short video where Eric shares how to identify breadcrumbs in a conversation.

Information on Eric Maddox can be found here: