Don’t Let It Ruin Your Day

Is your child driving you nuts with their self-destructive behavior and refusal to listen to your hard-earned wisdom? (Alternatively, are your parents driving you nuts with their constant attempts to control and guilt-trip you?)

Is your client behaving badly? Not returning calls, not making decisions, refusing to face up to tough decisions, constantly back-sliding on your (excellent) advice?

Did one of your (ostensible) good friends diss you recently? Have they refused to apologize, and continue to evade the issue? Have you heard by the grapevine they said something more that appears to confirm their betrayal of you?

Well, I have your answer. Here it is. Don’t Let It Ruin Your Day.

Of Course, You Already Know This.

But that’s just the problem, see. You already ‘know’ it, so you think that therefore you’ve already extracted full value from the proposition. You think, ‘Yeah, yeah, you can’t control other people, it’s not me it’s them, serenity now yada yada, live in the moment – I got it.’

But you don’t  ‘got it.’

If you did, you wouldn’t be living in a constant state of resentment, stress, and worry.

One of the dominant myths of our time is that if you cognitively understand something, you have mastered it. But the brain is a very weak weapon when up against the heart and the nervous system. Knowing something and a dollar may get you a cup of coffee.  Eons of wisdom literature suggests there’s something more to it.

A closely related myth is that the answer lies in doing something. At least that gets one step beyond “understanding” – or so we think.

But the belief in action suffers the same defect. It assumes that there exists An Answer. You’re smart enough to know that The Answer is probably not going to be found in better analytics, Big Data, convincing arguments or brilliant aphorisms. So you look to the softer side – you get better at empathy, listening, vulnerability, open-ended questions and the like. Maybe The Answer lies in better behavior.

Nope, sorry. As long as you’re attached to the outcome, you’re still bound to your attachment – and the attendant resentment, stress and worry. (Medication has its place, of course, but medical-grade marijuana is just the latest non-solution).

At wits’ end, it’s tempting to think, “ah, chuck it all. I’ll just withdraw from the game, there’s no point, I’ll make friends with hopelessness. Maybe happiness lies in just giving up.”

Don’t Let It Ruin Your Day

The answer, it seems to me, is to marry the instinct for thought and action with the detachment from outcome. You should still talk to your kids (and your parents); you should still stay engaged with your clients; you should still strive to make your friendships rich and mutual.

Just don’t let it ruin your day.

The problem is not striving, and the answer is not withdrawal.  The trick is to take the best of both: keep engaging – just detach from the outcome.


Note: this is not just happy talk for your spiritual side. It also has to do – profoundly – with sales. The answer to sales disappointment is not to “toughen up” and dial more sales calls; and obviously it’s not to stop selling.

The answer, in business development as in life, is to keep striving, for the betterment of your clients and customers. Just don’t let it ruin your day.

Take pride and pleasure in the process, keep putting out good effort for your clients. Just don’t be attached to the outcome. Don’t Always Be Closing: instead, Always Be Helping.

Keep on selling: and when it doesn’t work out, just don’t let it ruin your day.

I Should Have Said…


ContemplationEver leave a conversation and think: “I should have said…”?

A coaching client of mine who is a lawyer related to me how he realized that he had missed an opportunity for new business during a meeting with his client. Here is how the conversation went:

Lawyer: My client and I talked about the business and his family.
Me: What were you thinking about when he mentioned the opportunity you think you missed?
Lawyer: Actually, I was thinking about a deposition I had to take later that day.

Charlie Green’s recent blog “Does Multitasking Ruin Your Ability to Multitask?” addresses how multitasking – while on the phone, watching TV, taking in scenery – affects our ability to get things done effectively. Isn’t it also multitasking when one is ‘just’ thinking about something else?

And wouldn’t it be interesting if our minds and our bodies were in the same place at the same time? Perhaps we would process and act on information in real time, and not have to say "I should have said…" Then again, that’s where we sometimes find ourselves.  Then what?

I suggested a simple fix for the lawyer’s lack of mindfulness. He could address the issue head-on by applying the skill of Name it and Claim It.  Say to the client: “When I left your office, I realized that you had a concern you might have wanted to discuss, and I missed it at the time.   Is that something you’d still like to talk about?”

What about you?  Do you have something you’d like to talk about – an "I should have said" story, and how you fixed it?

They’re Just Not That Into You

I remember an old, old Peanuts cartoon. Charlie Brown is watching Lucy and another girl from afar. He approaches them: “You girls were talking about me, weren’t you!” he says accusingly.

“No we weren’t,” the girls say with a smug expression. Charlie Brown reverts to his earlier distant position, and waits a bit. Only to return once again, and ask: “How come you girls never talk about me?

We All Act Like We’re the Center of the Universe

A basic human presumption seems to be that we are, each of us, the Center of the Universe (COTU).

I recall reading about a Brazilian native tribe largely insulated from the rest of the world. Some westerners took two tribesmen on a trip to Sao Paulo, and then New York.

At their first stop, a large village of several hundred, they were a little nervous, but not intimidated. Then they made it to Manaus, Sao Paulo, and so on. At each stop, they became more shut down. When they finally returned to their part of the Amazon, they were permanently shocked out of their beliefs, and were not much the better for their education.

The Chinese call their land The Middle Kingdom. World maps in the US have, guess which country at the center? Not the same country as with maps sold in, say, France.

Years ago I read a study of students and professors. The study asked students how much time they spent thinking about the professors (not much), and how much time they thought the professors spent thinking about them (a lot,the students figured).

The professors, asked the same questions, said they didn’t in fact spend much time thinking about the students, but they were sure that the students, of course, spent lots of time thinking about them. Wrong again. Center of the Universe.  COTU all over the place.

On a more cosmic scale, it was only recently in history that we could as a species countenance the idea that the universe might not revolve around planet earth. And as ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, each child grows up thinking his family, her bedroom, is probably the center of the universe.

Some of us—some a bit more than others—escape from the tyranny of self, but only just a little bit. We get angry, resentful and afraid—basically because people don’t behave the way we would like them to. After all, aren’t we the center of the universe?

We’re Not the Center of the Universe–Fortunately

Of course, we are most assuredly not. All those would-be subjects of ours aren’t paying us homage—basically they’re just not that into us.  They pay us about as much attention as we pay them (embarrassingly little, and please don’t tell anyone).

But there are two great causes for optimism in this observation. First, since most of humanity doesn’t really concern itself with us (or give a damn?), we are quite free of the bondage of others’ opinions. Our slavery is of our own creation.  We hold our own keys to freedom.

Second, once we see that others have the same uni-centric disease that we do, we can lighten up a bit and reach out over the 50-50 line for a touch of human contact.

Yul Bryner once said, “We come into this world alone, and we leave it alone; and if someone offers you kindness along the way, you don’t spit on it.” And, by and large, we don’t.

Bryner’s is the minimalist version. The maximalist version is that if you touch someone, you help to free them from their own self-obsessed bondage. By reaching outside yourself, you initially delight them; but quickly that turns to teaching by example. You show that it can be done, and you role-model the benefits of doing so.

If you live in the space that says you’re the center of the universe, people’s orbits tend to fly away from you. But if you reject that belief, then people become attracted to you; oddly, you become (directionally) the center of much more.  They trust you.

If  you think this blogpost isn’t about business, please think again. Think of what it means for sales, customer service, negotiation, contracts writing, supply chain management, marketing, advising, accounting, and customer engineering.

You are not the center of the universe. What a blessing.  Go pay attention to someone else.

Are You a Competent Jerk or a Lovable Fool?

Tiziana Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo wrote in “Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks” in the Harvard Business Review (June 2005) about how people choose who they work with.

“In most cases, people choose their work partners according to two criteria. One is competence at the job … the other is likability.”

Arrayed on a two-by-two competency vs. likeability matrix, everyone prefers to affiliate with the lovable star–no one with the incompetent jerk. No surprise there.

But what happens when we are forced to choose from the last two quadrants–lovable fool and competent jerk? Place your bets, now.

Based on data from four diverse organizations and over 10,000 work relationships, Casciaro and Lobo discovered (drum roll….) —

Yep, you guessed it. We prefer the lovable fool – even though we may not readily admit it.

We say out loud that we prefer skills and expertise (it sounds unprofessional and illogical not to) and that being “nice” is a nice “bonus.” But in practice, their study showed that your personal feelings about your colleague play a more important role in forming work relationships than do your evaluations of their competence.

“In fact, feelings worked as a gating factor: If someone is strongly disliked, it’s almost irrelevant whether or not she is competent; people don’t want to work with her anyway. By contrast, if someone is liked, his colleagues will seek out every little bit of competence he has to offer.”

Feelings trump rational thought. Again.

Implication: our clients would rather we be lovable fools than competent jerks. Which means we’d be better off if we spent more time boosting our likability than our competence, despite what our clients say out loud.

There may be a better business case for charm school than for business school.

Mitigating Emotional Risk

Most service professionals share a distinguishing characteristic: they over-rate content mastery and under-rate personal connection. Professionals are less comfortable operating in the purely personal realm than they are in data-based, content-driven interactions. I have observed these patterns consistently throughout my career in professional services.

Nothing is more likely to cause an accountant, lawyer, actuary or consultant to break out sweating than the need to interact improvisationally one on one with a client without a clear agenda, in an area outside their zone of competence, with a potential sale on the line.

It feels, above all else, risky. Personally risky.

If you were to infer that professionals underrate personal skills because they are uncomfortable practicing them, I wouldn’t dissuade you. Here’s more evidence.

My online Trust Quotient self-assessment quiz has over 2500 entries so far. The quiz rates your own assessment of your credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation—the key components of the Trust Equation.

For professionals so far, the highest scores are for reliability; the lowest are for intimacy.

In other words: an under-rated and critical skill in professional services—the ability to form deep personal relationships—is, by participants’ own self-ratings, their area of greatest weakness.

In the seminar work I do with professionals, this is always evident. “Oh we couldn’t say that, that would be too direct. That might offend them. The client would be embarrassed if I did that. They might feel that’s unprofessional. I wouldn’t want them to think I was too emotional. That just isn’t done. That’s too risky.”

These people are professionals at mitigating risk—financial risk, professional risk, business process risk, sales risk, legal risk. Yet when it comes to mitigating emotional risk, they are often clueless.

There is no trust without risk. But pointing that out just makes professionals burrow even further into the hole of denial, claiming that their clients are robots who don’t really want their professionals to appear human.

What they need is a simple, formulaic tool for dealing with the perceived risk of increasing intimacy with other human beings. Hey, we could all use a little of that, right?

There is precisely such a tool, and I’m going to write about it in the next blog post. It’s called Name It and Claim It. It is a simple grammatical technique. It is a meta-tool, meaning it can be applied to whatever is causing you fear. It is easy to remember, and pretty easy to use.

There is no trust without risk. This tool mitigates emotional risk. Which means you can stop shutting down trust by no longer being excessively risk-averse.

Best of all, it works. Very well. Stay tuned for details, next post.