Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 190, June 2015)
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Why do we talk to ourselves so negatively? I have the good fortune of working daily with bright, innovative, assertive entrepreneurs from around the world. Yet I find myself spending too much time buoying their spirits, serving as a life jacket in the stormy seas of their careers.
"I could never envisions myself..."
"Why would they listen to me..."
"There's no way I could..."
This negative self-talk—often expressed aloud—creates the wrong inertia. The object that's not in motion tends to remain immobile. I hear this from people who, on the surface, one would never consider to be uncertain or insecure.
I think a great deal of this comes from a false sense of modesty, a healthy dose of guilt, and an aversion to perceived hubris. We don't seem to feel we deserve immediate respect, or esteem for our expertise, or high regard for our accomplishments. We've been inculcated not to "show off" and to be considerate of others' feelings. Yet if we restrict ourselves to the lowest common denominator, we create a mediocre society and a very average life.
There are major trade and professional associations which seem to exist with the goal of making every member as successful as their least successful member. No one is allowed to shine, everyone is given a "chance" (despite merits), and we create low thresholds for recognition (award to attendance or just showing up, very popular in grade school).
No one really benefits by our denying our own worth, our own achievements, our own talents. We actually deny those around us (family, clients, etc.) the benefit of our full range of contributions because we hide them instead of promote them, downplay them instead of proclaim them.
Litotes describes the phenomenon of making a positive by denying the negative, e.g., "You won't have a bad time there" instead of "You'll really enjoy it." We need to stop saying, "You could do worse than hiring me" and "I'm not the best but far from the worst."
You heard this from me, and I'm the expert in personal growth.
The human condition: Cordiality
Most sommeliers are entirely happy to help a customer choose a wine. It is their calling. Yet I encountered one in Rancho Santa Fe whose sniffing response to my question about an expensive wine I had always wanted to try was, "Well, you can have it if you want to drink 30-year-old wine." If I hadn't had a table of six clients, I would have walked out, and I've never returned, despite being back in town several times.
A hostess at a resort on Kiawah Island made guests sit in the hall like grammar school miscreants if they arrive several minutes before their reservation, despite clearly empty tables behind her. I called the manager and told him he could seat us now or never. He promptly seated everyone.
Some bus drivers don't look at you, some say cheerily, "Good morning!" In outstanding hotels, every employee smiles and says "Hello." What does it cost to smile and exchange a pleasant greeting?
Yet I encounter people in the coffee shop (including one coffee shop owner) who are in gloomy moods at 7 am. If that's the case, what will the rest of that day look like, because it's all downhill from there?! You can tell immediately when you contact a call center to place an order or make a complaint whether you're going to be treated well or not. (Companies try to co-opt surly treatment by scripting phrases such as, "Oh, I see you're one of our most important customers," or "This call may be recorded for quality purposes." That's all subterfuge.
People who aren't cordial as part of their job (or even normal social interactions) are basically unhappy with themselves. They are angry or frustrated or confused or unhappy. Why would a clerk take my money, hand me my newspapers, give me change, and never say a word, sullenly occupying her own world? Because she hates the job, or had a problem getting to work, or hates her life.
I'd like to think that cordiality is the default position, and something throws us out of it. I never assume someone is "damaged" unless they prove to me otherwise. Sometimes I catch myself being less than cordial, and I ask myself why. Invariably, it's because I'm preoccupied with something else that's annoying me. But that shouldn't be your problem.
In fact, it shouldn't be my problem. We need to solve our own issues and help make others comfortable. Otherwise, your 30-year-old wine is going to be 60 years old and well past its prime.
My masseuse works in a high-end salon with a dozen or so hairdressers, manicurists, and women's clothing salespeople. Her room is in the rear of the store, and the area outside it is sometimes used to try on clothes. There is usually someone stationed at the entrance when a customer is trying on clothing.
On this day, however, the "guard" had gone to fetch another frock and I walked in to find a woman standing in front of a mirror in her underwear. She looked at me terrified for a second and I yelled, "Close your eyes!" She did, and I walked into the masseuse's room.
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