Failing Even When You Are Sure You’re Right

People often believe they are right, even when they’re not.  Believing something does not make it true any more than disbelieving it makes it false.  But the more strongly one is convinced of their own correctness, the less likely they will be open to criticism to the contrary.  We’ve all experienced having to deal with dogmatic opinions of others in situations where we felt the other person might be misinformed, and in some cases where we feel they are just flat-out wrong.  And even in lesser matters, the differences about the ways people think and feel often give rise to tensions, if not outright conflict, controversy, and confrontation.

When people are working together in an office or job site, they interact with each other.  Each brings to the table certain services as well as currencies used to exchange for the services of others.  So in effect, they’re buying and selling all the time, aren’t they?  We forget that sometimes, and when we do, the “give and take” seems to diminish to just “take”.  And, it can have a negative effect on morale.  As I’m sure you know, when attitude diminishes, so does positive activity, thus reducing the potential for positive results.  The quality of performance can suffer for it.  Ineffective or poor performance is a fairly clear sign that failure has occurred, or is going to, isn’t it?

But don’t we all already know that?  Isn’t it something we would believe to be common sense?  So why is it then, if we know quality performance comes from positive interactions and efforts, do people experience failures so often?  For a few, it might be said that they do not play well with others, but for the most part, people do try to get along with each other, don’t they?  Perhaps it isn’t from a lack of wanting to do a good job, or even to get along with others as much as it is from something they don’t know.  Consider this:

What if your team believes the “what’s in it for them” is right up there with the “what’s in it for you”?  What if they don’t believe it?  What is it that you do that might cause them to buy into what you want, or be cautious or even resentful of it?  Is it from what they think might be a disparity or unfairness in compensation, or is it something else?  In other words, what is their motivation?  And what are they thinking is yours?

In the theater, one of the critical moments necessary to bring things to the level of good performance is when both the director and the actor know the motivation: to understand what’s behind why they are doing what they do.  Each incidental activity on the stage by a performer is called “business”.  It has to make sense to the audience that the character would be motivated to do that piece of business when perhaps other characters would not.  If the actors and the director fail to understand what motivates characters to conduct a piece of “busy-ness”, then you can expect the performance quality to be low, and the “business” could become meaningless.  So, motivation is the business of theater.

The actions and interactions between people in business intertwined with the comedies, tragedies, and melodramas of everyday life also produce a kind of theater.  And in that world, motivation would also be behind the theater of business.  Oh, it is.  I has to be, whether people recognize it, or not.

Business needs to understand what motivates people to create, design, build, and sell their products and other services.  It is also critical that they understand what motivates people to buy them.  And that motivation, what people want as well as what they specifically don’t want, will vary from person to person according to their temperament and style, and often due to information about their culture that can be noticed in their behavior.

It is certainly critical in sales.  Buyers will tell you a lot about what they want by how they act. Pay attention to it, and honor what the customer is showing you by their actions and behavior that points out to what they want to have happen.  And with the same tools of observation, you can also determine what the buyer fears might happen.  What motivates them may not be the same thing that motivates you. When they buy, no matter how rational you think you’ve been, their decision will have been an emotional one.  Learn to read their emotional signals.

While you’re observing them, be mindful of how you are behaving accordingly.  Don’t pull too tightly back into your egocentric self.  If you do, the signal you broadcast will be that what you want is more important than what they want.  People, even when doing so subconsciously, will get a “feeling” about you not only from the words you use, but how you deliver them.

Not just in sales, but whenever we’re talking, we’re making a speech, even if it’s only a sentence. There are three kinds of speeches: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain. In sales, you may at times use all three. But there’s another kind frequently attempted called: “The speech to impress.” It never works. Better still, learn to get beyond simple rhetoric which may present your position argumentatively, by moving to dialogue.  Talk with them, and not at them.  That’s where resolution takes place. Without it, the attempt to close is an attempt to bully.

What about your business?  What about the characters in your production?  In your community of clients?  Are they all supposed to be motivated to want all the same things, and for all the same reasons?  If  you want them to be, you may find it quite difficult to put together such a team as that.  If fact, it is much more likely that your cast of players is made up of all kinds of people who might see things differently than you do more than you might think.  Of course it’s good to stay focused on your objectives, but that may require more of an open mind than some realize.  Without it, you run the risk of overlooking their objectives.

There is a strength to be found in diversity.  That strength becomes effective when you recognize the individuals for what they are, and take the time to know what they want.  If it’s your customer, you’d better find out what benefit they really want, and don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s just price.  I hope you understand that something besides “cheap” will be needed if you intend to keep them happy.

If your employees and you think it’s just the paycheck, or just to not get fired, you can look forward to the kind of low quality performance levels that require supervised compliance instead of enthusiastic commitment.  And do not make the mistake of thinking you can enforce commitment.  That is a myth.  Unfortunately, the mythology of an enforced commitment drives almost every institution – corporate, government or otherwise, on the planet.

Everybody that goes to school learns one thing in common.  And it doesn’t matter how far you go.  If you drop out in the eighth grade, finish high school, college, get a masters or even a PhD, there is one thing you’re all pretty sure about.  And that is:

If you’re standing in line and the person with the authority, the ability, and the will to punish you is looking, you have to behave yourself.  

But if it’s that substitute teacher that never does anything other than say: “Now you boys behave,” you can jump in and out of line and say: “Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah!”

Don’t believe me?  Go to the nearest interstate highway.  Watch people driving.  When you are coming around a curve and see brake lights coming on, there’s either a wreck, or a highway patrol.  And not just that theres a patrol present; he’s parked, has his door open and is pointing his radar gun.  What he’s doing, ladies and gentlemen, is taking names, and sending people to the principal’s office!

“All the world’s a stage,  and all the men and women merely players…” – Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was talking about the parts we play as being the ages of our lives.  But who you are right now at your current age is the character you need to be aware of.  And not just what you think of yourself, but what other people see in your behavior, and react to.  There are tools available to get that information.  As you learn to use them, and begin to see yourself through the eyes of others, you’re on your way to being able to understand the same kinds of things about your team members.

If Shakespeare is right; if all the world’s a stage, who is your character, and what performance level do you expect out of the role you are playing on that stage – this theater?  Are you being yourself?  It’s certainly okay for you to be you, but it’s not okay to expect everybody else to do it.  People who relentlessly demand that their way of doing things is the only right way, tend to alienate more people than they win over.  Keep an open mind when dealing with others.  There is a difference between judging people and understanding them.

And as with all learning outside of trauma, it is a process.  Be mindful that all along the way, you will be forming opinions.  A caution to be aware of is, that just as soon as you’re sure you know what must be absolute, whatever you may need to question will become increasingly harder to see.


9 responses to this post.

  1. Van, this is a brilliant post and one that should be hanging on every wall where people have any kind of dealings with each other,


  2. This was a wonderful read Van thank you so much! I found it just by chance. Will FB it etc ..
    all best, Susan


  3. Posted by Mickey Foster on March 12, 2013 at 11:26 am

    Well written and most assuredly true…as for me I like to act as if I have reached that stage in my life where I can be me…no false behaviors…no silly make up, other than deodorant and toothpaste, maybe an occasional spritz of cologne…not really concerned if other folks aren’t in agreement with my political or religious beliefs…I try to be more tolerant of other folks, whether I agree with them or not…don’t have the desire to exert any authority. been there and done that and have a jacket with my name and office embroidered on the left breast….as I have aged I have tried to become a good listener…listening to folks can open lots of doors that are jammed or stuck closed…no where is it written that I have to agree with another person, nor is it written that another person must agree with me…so, each day is a different scene in my play…I hope that my character can change as the situation demands…maybe today I’ll change my underwear……..


  4. Posted by Jane Leonard on March 12, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    I agree with Mickey and I will change my underwear. Thanks Van!


  5. Posted by betty on March 12, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    How’d u get so smart?
    luv u


  6. Once again a well written, informative article Van!


  7. Posted by little d on March 14, 2013 at 11:51 pm

    ” A caution to be aware of is, that just as soon as you’re sure you know what must be absolute, whatever you may need to question will become increasingly harder to see. ”

    Yep, that quote sure rings a bell. Is it just me, or does everyone recognize a truth wrapped so securely in logic that it cannot be competently contested. I can think of many examples, the funniest being how something in plain sight can hide from you when your initial glance fails to identify it.

    On a more revealing example, a Magician can stand directly in view of your trained
    eye ( but not trained in magic ) and show you how ill prepared you are for his expertise in racing your eyes with his trained hands.

    Van offers in his writings a lesson for me which I look for, others may not see it not because it isn’t there, but because of a preconceived confidence in the assumption
    that you’d see it if it was there………Honey, have you seen my car keys ? there on the kitchen counter Baby, no they ain’t thats where I’m looking, Ok, I found them, thanks.

    thanks again for your time interest VT

    little d


  8. Van, As always another amazing post. It is true that in business, the arts or as a writer, people buy into you as a person before they decide to buy your product, artwork or book. Often presentation and perception are everything. Also at our jobs it still behooves us to be our best and do our best even when nobody is looking. This post should be required reading at every workplace.


  9. Posted by Tyler on March 21, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    I linked my boss to this article. It’s good to have reminders.


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