Enter some old wise man.
Every day, at eleven A.M., a crotchety, old professor walked through our school’s cafeteria. He had a bag lunch, but he insisted on grabbing a tray to lay his lunch out on. I don’t know if the man was as wise as the typical old man is, or if he was any wiser. I do not know if the man had any allegiances, as his lectures did not favor a political party, a religion, a gender, race, persuasion, or class. He didn’t favor students either. I didn’t love too many classes through the years, but I loved his class. He didn’t care. He was a teacher who was at the tail end of his career, and much of the passion he had for teaching was gone. He was still a great teacher, however, and I wanted him to know that I was a willing and eager student. He didn’t care. It was frustrating.
When we tell people others those crucial, crisis moments of our lives, we expect them to side with us, regardless how they feel about it in private. This old man didn’t bother with such pleasantries. It was annoying. I reached a point where I wanted him to tell me that I was correct about one thing, and I wanted him to acknowledge it in an unequivocal manner. He did tell me I was correct in some circumstances, but he added so many qualifiers that I never achieved a sense of satisfaction. I never left his class, or his lunch table, feeling that I had the correct answer about anything. As a result, I sought his counsel on a number of issues that plagued me.
He never seemed pleased by my need to seek his counsel, but he never seemed annoyed by it either. He never greeted me in a pleasant fashion, but he was not rude. He was the type of guy that I’ve always tried to please. A dog acts this way, I realized before I approached him with one particular question. A dog finds that one person in the room that is ambivalent to its existence, and it attempts to befriend them. This could be a result of the dog’s identity being so wrapped up in its cuteness, that when that cuteness is not acknowledged by one person in the room, that identity is challenged, and the dog cannot move on until it has convinced that one person that it’s as cute as everybody else thinks it is.
Some have complimented me for my objectivity, and they’ve said that my observational skills exceed most of those they encounter, so why do I continue to seek the counsel of the one person that doesn’t acknowledge my attributes in any way? Am I as insecure as the attention craving dog with an identity crisis? Did I need him to tell me, “You’re the one living life the way it should be lived?” The answer was that I saw this man’s ambivalence as objectivity. I thought he might be the one to answer my questions about life in a manner that was neither complimentary nor insulting, and he did … in one short, ambivalent sentence.
“My friend and I have been having a debate,” I informed the crotchety, old professor. “I believe people are inherently good, until they prove otherwise.” I told him that I considered living with an optimistic mindset the only way to live. I told him that optimistic people should be prepared to be wrong about humanity on occasion, but that that anecdotal evidence should not dissuade them from the overriding belief that most people are decent.
“My friend thinks this is a naïve way of approaching humanity,” I continued. “He thinks it’s best to live by the idea that everyone you run across is corrupt, until they prove otherwise. You shouldn’t trust anyone outside your immediate family, he said. This mindset will prepare you for that slime ball you encounter that attempts to dupe you out of everything you hold sacred. Not everyone we run across will be evil, he concedes, but it’s best to be prepared for those that are.”
“I’ll give you a third possibility,” this professor said chewing on some awful smelling, squishy sandwich. “Have you ever considered the possibility that most people don’t give a crap about you?”
It may have been twenty years since that professor dropped that line on me, but it’s had such a profound impression on me that I still can’t shake it. It’s as if he said it to me yesterday. I stayed on topic with this professor. I didn’t consider that a quality answer, at the time, and I continued to belabor the point until I drove him down into what I considered his core answer. Long story short, I don’t remember anything he said after that short, quick response. I forgot that response too, until it started to pertain to more and more situations in life, and I had to admit that it was a relatively profound assessment.
Most of us know, on a certain level, that the people around us don’t give a crap about us. We know we don’t give a crap about them either, but how many things do we do in one day to convince the others around us that we’re wonderful people? How many times do we stop all laughter at the bar to say something important, so someone might think we’re more intelligent, more politically astute, and savvy, and crafty, and how many posts do we put on Facebook to convince those on the other side of the political aisle that they are, in fact, wrong? How many times do we read and write sentences, such as those, with the belief that we’re discussing others, as if we’re above it all? We’re right, they’re wrong, and they’re fools for believing that anyone gives a crap what they think.
Depending on the nature of our interactions, most people don’t care if we have an optimistic outlook on them that offers them a chance to be wonderful. Most people won’t approach us based on whether our perspective is positive or negative. Most people don’t give a crap about us, or our perspective on life. The slime balls and shysters of the world don’t give a crap either. They aren’t more wary of us based on how prepared we are more prepared for them, and the very idea that we believe that we’re more prepared for them may, in fact, be our undoing when they flip the page on us and become the guy that we want them to be. They’re bad guys, and this is what they do, but that doesn’t mean they give a crap about what we may think of them when our interaction is complete.
Enter the salesman.
Anyone who has had a stressful sales job, with commission-based compensation, knows that a majority of the population prepare for slime ball, sales people. Most people employed in sales aren’t slime balls, but they prepare for those of us who think they are.
On day one, those training for sales positions receive a massive binder that could kill a thirty-pound dog if dropped from a decent height. This binder contains a training manual that contains a reactions chapter, given to us by the sales training team. As with everything else in life, the language in sales’ training manuals is not as overt as the illustration I will provide here, but anyone that has been on a sales training team knows that the reactions chapter is the chapter that the training team spends the most time on in training sessions.
The “No thank you” chapter of this massive training manual teaches the incoming salesperson how to deal with polite refusals. To find this information, the salesperson learns to turn to page twenty-three of the “reactions” section of this sales training manual. If the salesperson receives a “hell no!” they’re instructed to turn to page forty-six of the reactions section, and if they receive that witty retort –that their potential client thought up that morning in the mirror– in preparation for a slime ball like them, “If it’s so great why don’t you buy it?” they turn to page sixty-nine. If the reaction they receive is a rehearsed one that calls a sales person out for being the slime ball that they know salespeople are, “Because I know slime balls,” salespeople learn that all they have do is to turn to page ninety-two for a suitable response.
The best defense, for those potential clients that do not want to become one, is to take a step back and realize that they’re in the majority of those people who don’t trust salespeople, and that they’re in a majority of people who believe they have the perfect witty response to put a salesperson in their place. This defense also requires an acknowledgement from the potential client that they cannot play this game better than salespeople can. This is our home turf, and we know how to play this game better than those we call. The responses they give trainees are focus group tested and approved, as they are determined to be the best, most polite way of saying we don’t give a crap about you.
Salespeople, don’t give a crap that their potential clients might be the smartest man who ever walked the earth. The corporation, the training team, and their manual, teach us to avoid wondering if we might have a good guy on the line. They train us to make the sale, regardless what the call recipient might think of us, or our abilities. If a potential client wants to know the super-secret way of defeating a salesperson at their game and a method that will separate them from the pack who will have their psychology twisted and turned into a sale, all salespeople know the solution. It involves the psychological complexities inherent in hanging up the phone in the midst of the salesperson’s sales pitch.
In about every cold call, sales job I’ve had in telemarketing firms, there is one constant: the salesperson cannot to hang up the phone. No matter what “the smartest man that ever walked the earth” on the other end of the phone says, the salesperson cannot hang up. A sales rep has sales quotas, and time allotments for each call, and the smart people “who know slime balls when they happen upon them” are wasting everybody’s time by trying to outdo us. By hanging up the phone, the potential client is saving themselves, and the slime ball, salesperson on the other end of the line, a lot of time and frustration.
After spending so much time in training, strategy meetings, and coaching sessions, I thought I found the perfect solution, and the ideal rationale to back up that solution, that could help so many of my friends avoid the frustration of a sales call. I told them that the only action the reactions portion of the training manual doesn’t cover, because it can’t, is the hang up. It is fool proof, I told my friends. I received blank, “of course” stares. No one refuted my findings, but no one followed them either.
This is the point where the line ‘psychological complexities inherent in hanging up the phone’ comes into play, for most people cannot simply hang up a phone. Nice people think that hanging up phone violates everything their mother taught them about etiquette. The nice people think that the salespeople might be nice people too, and they feel bad that the salespeople who are working so hard to make this sale. Hanging up, in the middle of someone else’s sentence is rude and mean, and they can’t violate the standards no matter who the other person on the line is. There are others, however, and they are the focal point of this piece. They are the ones who have too much invested in the idea that they are one of the very few people on the planet who can spot a slime ball and beat them at their game, and hanging up the phone just seems too easy and too anti-climactic.
Most salespeople are no smarter, or craftier, than anyone else is, but we have huge advantage: years, sometimes decades, of focus tested material at our disposal. Our training teams have learned from the trial and error experiences of the salespeople in their company, and other companies trading trade secrets, regarding the best ways to flip a potential client. They have alternatives available for just about every type of personality who chooses to work in sales for them. Most of these companies have hundreds of salespeople on the floor making calls, and they know that most people are not aggressive self-starters. They have fashioned responses for these people to help them sound smart, crafty, and pleasing to the average potential client. Therefore, the next time a potential client receives a phone call from a potential slime ball. My advice is to hang up the phone. The potential client may consider this a battle at the O.K. Corral, and they are prepared to do battle with nothing but their wits. If this is the case, they may want to consider the idea that their adversary has a focus-tested, rapid-fire machine gun.
If a potential client is fortunate enough to run across a salesperson who cannot match the potential client’s perspicacity and insurmountable wit, and the salesperson cannot respond to the witty retorts that they thought up that day in the mirror, that salesperson might land themselves in a boardroom for coaching tips. These coaching tips will revolve around the concept that the salesperson should stop caring so about what potential clients say. If that salesperson cannot overcome their sense of empathy and compassion, a salesperson who can will replace them.
For those “slime balls” who strive to excel in sales, a sales call can be like an inescapable penitentiary to a convict. Inmates don’t give a crap that good men have spent their lives designing and fortifying a fortress to make it impossible to escape. Most inmates aren’t the type to appreciate craftsmanship, until they begin searching for that one weakness in the structure. The very idea that they consider this fortress inescapable is what intrigues them. They spend their days and nights focused on finding that crack in the walls good men have built to keep them in. Few inmates believe they are bad guys who need to do time for the crime they committed. They want freedom. They want to escape.
Quality salespeople approach sales in the same manner, in that they don’t give a crap if anyone considers them a wonderful person. They spend countless hours in training seminars and strategy sessions, trying to find the perfect way to flip someone like you. They discuss you on their lunch hour, and they take you to the after work bar to discuss the minutiae of your phone call with their peers. As hard as they try to separate their work life from their home, they will take your wit and intellect home with them, they will discuss you with their spouse, they will eat you with their tuna salad sandwich, and they will spend hours of insomnia staring at the ceiling with you in mind. It’s not about being nice or mean to a quality salesperson, and it’s not even about the product they’re selling. As many top-tier salespeople will tell anyone interested, sales is not about selling a product as much as it is about a salesperson selling themselves.
If you’ve ever been in sales, in an office of hundreds of people, you’ve witnessed a salesperson lose it:
“How dare you say that to me?” one man said into the microphone attachment of his headset. “Sir, that’s uncalled for,” he said at another point in his phone call with an irate customer. “I understand sir, but I don’t think that personal insults are necessary.”
This particular salesman was a tenured agent on the floor, and my interactions with him led me to believe he was a levelheaded feller who was in full control of his emotions. This phone call appeared to have him on the verge of tears. I wondered, for a moment, if he was ill suited for the job. I flirted with the notion that he may have been doing this for so long that he suffered from burn out. I also wondered if I was suited for the job, for if this otherwise this levelheaded guy could fall prey to hysterics, anyone could. When his call ended, I asked him if he was okay. My concern was more self-serving than an actual concern I had for his well-being.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“What?” he asked. He laughed and made a clicking noise with his mouth, followed by a wave of his hand, to suggest that the phone call hadn’t affected him in any way. “Just making the sale,” he said filling out a ticket that we all had to complete after completing a sale.
My “Are you all right?” question became an ongoing joke for a little while, any time an agent engaged in theatrics to complete a sale. “I’m fine,” the responding jokester would say fluttering a completed ticket in the concerned, fellow jokester’s face. “Just fine.”
My time spent as a phone sales agent taught me as much about human psychology, as it did sales. It taught me that when the prospective client enters the salesperson’s domain with all of their witty responses and refusals, that if these salespeople are any good at what they do, they will understand more about the potential client’s psychology than they do. Coupled with the strategy sessions, and peer review, is the eight hours a day, forty hours a week, hands on application and trial and error of dealing with the best response the client has ever heard regarding a sales call from an annoying telemarketer.
The most shocking aspect for those who receive non-stop, telemarketing sales calls might be that to a tenured salesperson exploiting a client’s weaknesses no longer provides much of a thrill. Most experienced salespeople, schooled in the art of understanding a potential client’s psychology, learn so many ways of flipping potential clients into the sale that doing so becomes nothing more than something they do in the course of a day.
Enter the Panhandler.
A panhandler also doesn’t give a crap about the person who hands them money. They may manipulate the psychology of the generous person for the period of time it takes to complete the transaction, but the minute that transaction is complete, they will turn to the next pedestrian on the street. They won’t remember anything about that initial transaction. They may remember that that person handed them a twenty-dollar bill, as opposed to the fives they’ve received from everyone else, but that will only change the calculations of how much money they’ve received to that point. They may be fond of the charitable giver during the time it takes to complete the transaction. They may even give that person some of the obligatory responses that are sought, but that’s to feed into the ego of their giver, and the general sense of altruism that may encourage the giver to believe their altruistic enough to give out another twenty in the future. When a panhandler proceeds to purchase their goods, however, they won’t smile when they think of the overwhelming generosity they’ve encountered that day. They won’t think of the person that gave them a twenty, as opposed to a five, because they don’t give a crap about them.
They also won’t give a crap that a hard working person with a couple extra bucks trusts them to do something fruitful with the money they’ve given them. As far as the panhandler is concerned, it’s their money now, and they’ll do whatever the hell they want with it.
“That guy must’ve been feeling real guilty about something,” they may say when they are gathered with their snickering peers in regards to the twenty dollar bill fella, but that generous person doesn’t care that they may say that. That’s not why they gave them some of their hard-earned money. They had no agenda. They did it because they’re a generous person with a wonderful sense of altruism about them. Bottom line. If that’s the case, they should continue to give panhandlers money. They should not do it with the belief that the recipient of their largesse will think that they are a better person for doing it. They won’t. They will not consider that person bad for giving them the money, of course, and they may not even consider them were a chump for doing it, but my guess is that they accept that person’s money with all of the consideration, and emotion, of a courteous ticket taker at a movie theater completing a similar transaction.
Enter the Fashion Aficionado.
Nobody gives a crap what we wear either. This part may be the hardest part for us to believe, for we’ve all received compliments for the clothes we’ve worn, and we’ve all adjusted our wardrobe based on compliments and mockery. Clothes make the man, is something we’ve all said for generations. ‘People pay attention,’ some say. ‘I’ve heard it. I’ve witnessed it firsthand.’
Unless we’re the type who wears the finest clothes known to man, and we constantly remind our peers that we will wear nothing but, a greater percentage of the people we run across will not remember anything about another what we wore the other day. Some will, of course, and they are the people we consider when we dress. We dress to impress, but how many notice? How many people, in a room full of let’s say twenty, will notice anything about our clothing choices for the day? Our conceit leads us to believe that it’s more than we may think, for most people don’t vocalize their impressions, but the reality suggests otherwise.
In a psychological study, cited in David McRaney’s book You are Not so Smart, subjects of a psychological experiment wore a flamboyant Barry Manilow T-shirt, as instructed. Others couldn’t bring themselves to do it. They didn’t think their pride could take the hit. They believed that people would forever label them the guy who wore the Manilow T-shirt that one day. The subjects who agreed to wear the shirt received instructions to interrupt a class full of students to ask the professor a question. They were to avoid drawing any attention to themselves or their shirt. The result: 25% of the students in the class remembered details about the shirt the class interrupter wore. In a separate part of the same experiment McRaney cites, a subject received instructions to wear the finest duds available to man and interrupt a professor’s class in the exact same manner. The result: 10% of the students in the class remembered any details about the finest duds available to man. Very few people give a crap about what we’re wearing, and even fewer remember what we wore yesterday, because most people aren’t paying attention and even fewer give a crap about us.
Nobody gives a crap that we just messed up in our speech. They don’t even care when we apologize for our mess up. As David McRaney suggests, “Most people don’t pay enough attention to a speech to know that an error was made, until the speaker apologizes for their error.” Most people just want us to get on with it, so they can go home to watch their shows.
How many of us have committed a show stopping error that we assumed everyone in the auditorium noticed? We stopped in our speech, under the assumption that it would be pointless to continue. We believe that we have just lost all credibility with our audience. We look out onto our audience with an overwhelming sense of shame. Yet, how many times have we witnessed an individual commit an error? How many times have we wanted that speaker to go back and correct the error? It’s been my experience, as an audience member, that we just want the speaker to get on with it. Most people in an audience don’t care that we just mispronounced “Nucular”, or “Eckspecially”, or that we may have mixed up our tenses, or lost our place. They just want us to get to the reason they decided to attend our seminar in the first place.
How many errors do professional speakers committed in one hour? How many of those errors did we consider egregious? Yet, we watched the professional speaker move on, as if nothing happened? ‘How can they do that?’ we wonder with amazement. ‘That was an egregious error that would’ve crippled us.’ The professional speaker knows that most people aren’t paying near as much attention as we are, and the fact that they are able to move on is what has separated them from the rest of us. That hutzpah is what has made them a speaker that people are willing to pay to hear.
The very idea that the speech we are delivering should’ve been perfect was our dream scenario. If we can find a route around our self-indulgent desires that this speech may have been the greatest speech delivered since they laid Winston Churchill to rest, we might find that most people care far more about how a speech is delivered than they do what was delivered in that speech. They may want a nugget of information that they didn’t have before entering the ballroom, and if that speaker can deliver that, everything else will fade in their memory.
Nobody gives a crap that another person may have mustard on their collar, that they have mismatched socks, or that they haven’t talked all day because they’re upset about the fact that their husband has become lactose intolerant. We may listen to their complaints, but how many times do we hear them? If they say, “I’ll bet you’re wondering why I’m so quiet today?” how many times did we notice that they weren’t speaking? How many times did we fail to notice that, because we were focusing on our own problems? Some of the times, we tell people our problems, because it feels better to talk about them. Are they listening, or are they thinking that their problems are so much worse. In the end, neither party gives a crap, because most people aren’t paying enough attention to one another. We just want our workday to end, so we can get on with the lives that most people don’t give a crap about.