Once upon a time my marketing coach Dan Kennedy challenged me to write a “sex” ad for the industry that I served.
Let me describe the risk. I was the founding CEO of a well regarded high-tech manufacturing firm in biotechnology – an extremely conservative industry. We had a hard-earned reputation to protect.
So it was a definite challenge. I created the ad and after several go-rounds with my marketing people, this was what we issued. It was placed in the directory of the most important trade show in our industry.
We took a full page.
I had to argue with the trade show people to get the ad printed, even though the copy was fairly innocent.
First the marketing results — We drew a larger crowd and got more leads than ever before. It made us famous. Or maybe a little infamous. And we only got 4 complaints.
Second, we proved that “sex” can be used successfully in an ad, but ONLY if the word is justified appropriately in the copy.
Otherwise people will either think you are sleazy or manipulative. And that’s not a good impression to create.
Here’s the ad:
Here’s a tip you can learn from a client of mine without going through his pain.
Let’s call him “Mike”.
Mike had a deal go sour and it ended up in arbitration. They came up with a settlement that they both signed but the other guy wasn’t keeping up his side.
Mike and the other guy had been old friends.
Their kids went to school together and their wives were on the same charities.
So they saw each other regularly at charity events and school functions. Mike was pretty ticked off, and wanted to blast his former friend at one of these gatherings.
And that reminded me of an experience I had back when I was running a manufacturing plant. Well, actually it was a hassle but now that I look back on it I can see it as a useful lesson.
And maybe it’ll be useful to you also.
It can show you a way to deal with difficult people, and a way not to.
Back to the time when I ran a small high tech company.
A man contacted us and said he had a new idea for a product that we might be interested in making. He wanted to meet me to discuss it.
I agreed to the meeting.
Since we would be discussing his idea and perhaps some of our trade secrets in manufacturing, I sent him our standard non-disclosure agreement.
This agreement allows two people to share secrets, but prevents either side from using them apart from the other party. It’s to stop one side from “going around” the other.
He refused our form and sent us his form instead.
Our attorneys took a look at his form and wouldn’t let me sign it.
They warned me that it contained so many “bear traps” and setups for penalty that it would be dangerous to even talk with this guy if I signed his form.
I wrote to him explaining this. I said that I would be happy to meet with him under reasonable protections, but that his form would penalize me even for using information after the meeting that was common knowledge.
So we didn’t have the meeting. I wished him well and forgot about him.
Later at a trade show, while I was discussing our products with a customer, this guy showed up and made a nuisance of himself. He claimed — loudly — that we tried to rip him off for his idea.
I got hot under the collar, told him in front of my customer that he was “full of it,” and sent him away.
Although I was in the right, my hot reaction chilled my customer. It probably cost me much of the business I might have done with this guy.
I warned my client Mike about my experience.
I told Mike that even though the guy told lies about me at that trade show, my hot-tempered response when I blasted him back had turned off the customer who witnessed my outburst and it had probably damaged a profitable relationship.
What I wished I had said at that trade show was this:
“Hey, I’m sorry you’re disappointed that we didn’t do business – so am I. My lawyers wouldn’t let me sign the agreement that you sent me, and you didn’t want to sign the more conventional agreement that we sent you. So we didn’t meet and no one got hurt. I know that you and I had a disagreement and I apologize for my part in it. I respect you, and would like it if we can part as friends so maybe we’ll get a chance to work together in the future.”
That would have worked out a lot better than my blast did.
And the customer that I had been talking to might have thought, “Wow, Tom’s a reasonable guy even when there’s a disagreement. Sounds like I could work with him.”
In any event, I’ve learned that a sincere “I’m sorry things didn’t work out” isn’t the same as taking the blame for something. It shows respect for the other person’s discomfort and it’s not focused on conflict or making someone wrong.
So I told Mike this story from my own past and he did what I wished I had done.
The next time Mike saw his old friend he took this attitude. He told him that he was sorry they were in disagreement. He said he would like to work things out to both of their satisfaction, since they had been friends and were in the same community.
Mike concluded with, “Just because we can’t do business together doesn’t mean we can’t be good friends and neighbors, does it?”
A friend of mine who was at the charity lunch where this took place told me what happened next.
“The other guy’s face got red,” he told me. “He shook Mike’s hand and thanked him for his courtesy, and said that his wife and Mike’s wife had wanted them to get together before this, and that now he would do so gladly.”
“It’s funny,” my friend said to me. “Mike was the one who apologized, but he seemed to come out of it as the winner to those of us who saw it.”
So consider expressing your regrets sometimes, NOT because you were at fault, but just to recognize that the other party may have some regrets also.
By being honest about your regrets you may open up space for another relationship, if not with that person then perhaps with someone else who sees how generous you can be.
Here’s the big lesson. There are three phrases that only confident people will use freely.
“I’m sorry it didn’t work out”
Consider where these expressions of respect for others would be appropriate for you. They soften relationships.
When I was a teenager I wanted to be a cowboy instead of finishing high school. I was sent to work for a friend of my father who owned a ranch up in the mountains. I had no idea that the work I was about to begin would be so close to the job of CEO I had forty years later.
In the early summer we rounded up cattle who had foraged in the high meadows throughout the spring, fattening up and having their calves.
Every day we’d go out and gather the cattle in small groups, collecting them in corrals a couple of hours’ ride from the ranch.
When we’d gathered around a hundred cows and calves, several of us would be detailed to drive the herd back to the central pens at ranch headquarters for branding.
Because I was the youngest, I had to ride “drag”, which meant that I rode behind the herd, making sure that we didn’t lose any of the valuable livestock.
Now you might want to picture this — a hundred head of cattle means that four hundred hooves were trampling the ground directly in front of me.
It was summer. It was dry. And very dusty.
I had to tie my bandana around my mouth and nose so I could breathe.
And visibility was about ten feet. And if we got back to the ranch and the count showed that we were missing any animals, guess who got sent back with a flashlight to find them, instead of having dinner?
So it was VERY important to me that I not let any stragglers get past me .My job was reduced to staring into a dust cloud, watching for a twitching tail to appear.
When I spotted one, I would spur my horse towards the straggler and drive it back into the rear of the herd.
I’ve found much of life (and particularly management) is like that job of riding drag at the rear of a herd of cattle, not being able to see or breathe very well, but focused on seeing my target (goal) as soon as it becomes visible, and pursuing it in the right direction.
I found this to be true of my work as a CEO. In fact, there seem to be many situations in life like this. If you keep your attention focused on the blank future in front, you will be the first to notice your target when it comes into view.
This has proved true whether the blank wall was a sales objective, a lab experiment during product development, as a parent trying to figure out what my teenaged son was up to next, and even when I’m shopping for my wife.
Keeping your vision focused on a target that’s not visible, even when you can’t see clearly means that – when it becomes visible – you’re prepared to go after it.
Sometimes, that’s all the edge you need.
Okay, I’m thinking “What can I possibly say about a New Year? Something that hasn’t already been done by some professional columnist or talented blogger or — Shakespeare?”
Then I remind myself that I’ve seen a LOT of New Years, and have messed up at least as many resolutions as the next guy, have made many “new starts” that chugged to a halt by March or so.
So I’m an expert on what doesn’t work.
As I looked back, I started filtering through all those New Years to find what resolutions stuck out as good ideas with some durability to them.
I have a confession to make. There weren’t many.
What Didn’t Work
A lot of that probably has to do with me. I’m a well-seasoned romantic, which means that I’ve had more than my share of quick enthusiasms followed by embarrassing disillusionment.
So as I enter the “mid-summer” of my life I look back and see that I am sorta lazy and inclined to slip back into old comfortable patterns of behavior.
There are loads of people that I’ve met and admire who are much more disciplined than me. I’ve met people who’re able to get up at six and go running, or write in their journals before dawn, or drink a magic blender shake with seaweed and amino acids before they have their coffee, etc. You get my point.
Not me. The only things that worked with me long-term had to be so easy and slippery that they could make a place in my life without any stretch marks.
What Did Work
And the only way I’ve ever gotten better is to either find a comfortable way to change, or find a way to make something that’s a little uncomfortable so habitual that it eventually becomes easy and comfortable and second nature. Remember, I’m talking about me, a person who is very difficult to change. Your mileage may vary.
I found that little changes just before my day officially began carried the biggest payoffs — followed by little changes in my routine just before going to sleep.
I think it’s because what you do first thing in the morning has the potential to affect your whole day, and what you do just before going to sleep has some impact on your subconscious during the night.
Here are some of the things that have become part of my life, and I believe that they nourish me in ways I can’t even begin to calculate. These patterns just seem to make things better over the long run, over the years.
In The Morning
I’ve found that first thing in the morning I can remember to do a few extra things that I didn’t do before I made a resolution. These are the patterns that have stayed with me for years because they were easy to do and they gave me an all-day payoff:
1. Drink a full glass of water immediately upon rising, and another glass soon after that. You’ve just spent 7 to 9 hours with no water. There’s a big reason to do this simple thing. First, your brain uses a disproportionate percentage of your oxygen and energy. And, while you were asleep your brain was still working and using up energy. This first drink of water re-hydrates your brain after a night’s activity, and the second drink hydrates your body. It helps to remove toxins and aids in digestion. You will find your energy and spirits stay more “up” during the day, your skin improving, and many experience some weight loss.
2. Stretch. You’ve just spent hours with no activity. After you’ve hydrated yourself, a gentle stretch from head to toes will wake your body and your internal organs. You don’t have to do an hour of yoga to get the main benefits — just a few minutes gently stretching your body to it’s limits will do wonders.
3. Be grateful. While you’re brushing your teeth or stretching or in the shower or even making breakfast, think with gratitude about 3 things in your life that give you pleasure or make you proud. That’s it. Just 3 things that you’re glad about in your life. If you do this, it will give you more joy and energy throughout the day.
Many of my coaching clients used to have old patterns of waking to the same old worries. This is a bad habit without any redeeming qualities, and they’ve reported that this simple “do three things differently” process has changed that pattern. The proper time to address worries is after you’ve taken care of yourself.
You’ll bring a lot more to the party when you’ve started the day well. You’ll have more energy, resilience and you will actually enter your day with more intelligence. If you do just these three things every morning you’ll be astonished at the results within a week. Give it a try — I think you’ll like it.
There are a couple more things that make the day start right, but if you’re anything like me, doing these three new things will be a handful. And if you stick with it, you’ll be having better days than you had before, and that’s the purpose of New Year’s resolutions, isn’t it?
Happy New Year,