I conduct a monthly seminar, Marketing 101, for the Northern California Small Business Development Center, known as the “SBDC.” I am fortunate to have piloted this session for the better part of a decade. One of the relevant factoids I’ve uncovered over that time is that a satisfied customer will tell five of his friends that he had great service, while his unhappy counterpart will spread forcefully the message of his discontent to 13.
The exact numbers might be debated but that would miss the broader point:
When someone wrongs us with dreadful service, our first thought is, “You don’t know who you just messed with!”
Come on, be honest, isn’t that the truth? Bad service has happened to you, right? And your reaction is to launch forth — sometimes with quixotic zeal — on a “mission” to bring down the offending business and correct the travesty of this injustice, while informing all you meet to steer clear of that worthless enterprise. I know I’ve done it. I’m sure you have too.
That caused me to ponder why in situations like that, we consider ourselves powerful and important; while in other circumstances, we give away that same influence.
It’s because of adjectives.
We’re comfortable with nouns, just not so much with those darned adjectives. They’re messy and hard to define, especially when applied to ourselves.
For example, I can clearly mark in time the moment I became a “father” (noun), yet when am I allowed to refer to myself as a “good” (adjective) dad? If I am a good dad, and I lose my patience, must I relinquish that descriptor? What about if other dads spend more time with their sons than do I? Are they “better” dads than am I? If so, then don’t I become a “lesser” dad? See, I’m still the same father, with the same relationship to my sons, the same skills, the same amount of love, but oh how quickly the description changes when I compare myself to others.
The implications here go far beyond linguistic and philosophical.
Should I consider myself a “bad” dad, I will do whatever is possible to avoid being subjected to the emotions attached to that description. The result is I will further withdraw, becoming some shadowy male-like figure who lurks, Quasimodo-like in the outlying areas of my sons’ lives. If I opt instead to focus on my strengths as a father, I find enjoyment in raising my children, which leads to more time and energy expended, and happier, healthier children — and eventually adults — as a result.
Unfortunately, our resistance to honor our positives while holding up our shortcomings is derived from our own childhood, being instructed not to be conceited or boastful (more adjectives). If you’re like me, and I think we’re more alike than different, you’ve misconstrued that well-meaning life-lesson to mean “hide your light under a barrel.”
Each of us — no exception — is respectable, strong, proficient, and talented in many areas.
That is not to deny that there are skills, both professional and personal, we have yet to master. However, they are not mutually exclusive; we can accept what must change while still honoring our strengths. Actually, we must do that, for when we focus on what we do well, there is a lighter spring in our step, a fuller laugh, and a stronger desire to extend a hand, further improving the lives of those we touch. After all, only the strong can pull others along.
Look in the mirror and remind the person who returns your gaze, “Sometimes you forget whom you are messing with.”