“I teach people how to use mindfulness practices, like meditation and yoga, to focus while they work. I help them bring these practices into their in-the-moment experience of working — to go beyond just using them on the yoga mat or the meditation cushion.”
This is a correct description of what I do. Unfortunately, it also tends to make people’s eyes roll and/or glaze over.
I know this all too well, because I delivered this “elevator pitch” many times. What’s more, for many months, I kept describing what I do in this way, even though I knew it was boring and confusing people.
Why did I keep saying this to people, despite its obvious soporific effect? The answer is that lots of resistance came up inside when I thought about changing it. Because I found the resistance uncomfortable, I left my pitch unchanged so I wouldn’t have to feel it.
Welcoming My Resistance
I finally started getting traction around this issue when I decided to re-read my book and take my own medicine. Rather than fleeing from the resistance, I chose to sit with it. I got intimately familiar with its contours — where I felt it in my body, whether it manifested as a tingling, pulsing, tension, or something else, and so on.
As I’ve experienced so many times, putting my full attention on the tightness in my body actually dissolved it. My solar plexus, where the most tension was, relaxed, and I sighed with relief. And, as usual, with that relaxation came helpful insight. What I saw was that I was clinging to this dull description of my services because, in my mind, it made me sound intelligent and unique.
After all, even if people didn’t buy my book or take my workshop, at least they wouldn’t see me as just another rah-rah jump-up-and-down-to-”Simply-The-Best” motivational speaker. At least they’d know I don’t spout self-help cliches like “take action! Think happy thoughts! Like attracts like!” You see, I use sophisticated words like “mindfulness,” and that makes me different!
In other words, I recognized through self-exploration that I was afraid of looking average — and, most importantly, that I was allowing that fear to control my business decisions. I was letting concerns about my image get in the way of actually delivering value to people.
Allowing My Averageness
Getting conscious of this fear also helped to liberate me from it. After all, I realized, what’s really going to happen if someone sees me as average? Will I disintegrate or spontaneously combust or something? Probably not.
What’s more, I recognized that, no matter what I accomplish, there are many ways in which I’m forever doomed to be average. Studies have shown, for example, that I share approximately 99.999999% of my DNA not only with you, Dear Readers, but also with orangutans and mandrills. Why go to such lengths to conceal my built-in averageness?
Armed with this new awareness, I came up with a much more clear and concise summary of what I do. It goes a little something like this:
“I help people get focused and motivated at work.”
I’ve noticed that this produces a lot less nodding off, and a lot more purchasing of my stuff, among potential customers.
What about you, Dear Reader? How are you letting image-consciousness get in the way of giving your gifts to the world?
In an earlier post, I suggested that we can actually enjoy marketing when we’re able to tap into our natural compassion and concern for others. As I said, I think this often requires us to let go of the ways we protect ourselves from getting hurt when we interact with another person.
For example, if we’re at a networking event, and we’re worried that others won’t take seriously what we have to offer, maybe we’ll loudly brag about our products and services, not letting anyone get a word in edgewise. However, this tends to get us exactly what we don’t want — people we interact with feel annoyed and don’t want to buy from us.
It would be nice if we could simply drop all these self-protection strategies and “get real.” Unfortunately, it isn’t usually that easy. Many of us developed these strategies a long time ago, and have been relying on them for a long time to get through life. Thus, they’ve become unconscious and habitual — we no longer even notice we’re using them.
How do we get conscious of the ways we’re sabotaging ourselves? In this post, I want to offer an exercise I’ve found very helpful in creating this kind of awareness. It’s simple, but it can be surprisingly intense and revealing.
You’ll need a partner to do this exercise. Stand across from each other and make eye contact, remaining silent for a few minutes. As you face the other person, silently ask yourself a few questions:
1. Where am I tense? Bring your awareness into your body, and notice any tight places. For example, maybe your shoulders are tensing up, as if you’re about to be attacked and you’re preparing to defend yourself. Perhaps you find your lips curling into a strained grin, as if you need to please the other person or convince them everything’s okay.
2. What am I afraid they’ll do? Are you worried that the other person will do something hurtful? Maybe, for instance, they’ll turn their back and ignore you? Yell at you and accuse you of screwing up? Deceive you and take advantage of you in some way?
3. How do I want them to see me? What do you want the other person to think about you? For example, perhaps you want them to think you’re totally calm about doing this exercise? That you’re “nice” and not dangerous to them? That you’re tough and you can protect yourself if need be?
4. What do I want them to do? Is there something you want (or maybe even need) from them right now? Do you want them to smile at you? Or maybe you just want them to go away and leave you alone?
Now, consider the possibility that you’re bringing exactly the same attitudes and desires into every interaction. If you’re feeling afraid of the other person, for example, you’re probably feeling afraid of a lot of people you deal with in your daily life.
As you might imagine, this exercise is often uncomfortable. If you don’t like “awkward silences” in conversations, you sure won’t enjoy this! However, the awareness it can create is invaluable. Often, just realizing the ways you’re tensing up, protecting yourself from the other person, trying to convince them of something, and so on is enough to help you let go of those strategies.
As Fritz Perls, the creator of Gestalt therapy, put it, awareness by itself is transformative.
It’s not just a line from the Alan Parsons Project — it’s the truth.
I know how you’re feeling and what your intentions are. What’s more, everyone else does too. Human beings are extremely empathic creatures.
I’m exaggerating a little — sometimes you can trick people into buying your facade. But much of the time, when you think you’ve got us all fooled, you’re only fooling yourself.
People See The Concern, Not Just The Technique
I think this is the single most neglected fact in marketing literature. The techniques in marketing books are usually about what you say and do: the content of your “elevator pitch,” the right questions to ask sales prospects, how you should smile and use “confident body language,” and so on.
The assumption behind these techniques is that, when we’re with another person, the only thing we see is what they’re saying and doing. But that’s simply not true. We don’t just see their words and movements — we see the concerns that motivate what they say and do.
Networking events, which I’ve been attending a lot recently, are a great example. I’ve had the experience many times of hearing someone give me an impressive-sounding speech about their business — but also being intensely aware of fear or sadness they’re feeling, and of any hidden agenda they have.
In other words, although I see their well-rehearsed words and actions, I also see the beliefs and emotions beneath those words and actions. If they’re thinking “I’ve got to make this guy do what I want, or I’m not good enough,” or “I just want to get this conversation over with and leave this crappy event,” I can hear that just as clearly as I would if they said it out loud.
Let’s Just Admit We’re Mind-Readers
Why don’t “marketing gurus,” and personal development writers in general, acknowledge how empathic humans are? Part of it, I think, is that many people are after a quick fix. It’s easier to copy someone else’s words and body language than it is to take a deep look at what you really want and what you’re afraid of. Thus, books and programs that teach us “the five sales tactics of successful people,” and so on, are an easier sell.
At a deeper level, I think it’s also unnerving to contemplate the possibility that others are aware of what we’re thinking and feeling. I think we all find it comforting, at times, to believe that others don’t know our true intentions, and that they’re seeing only what we want them to see.
What we don’t often realize, I think, is that it can also be liberating to admit how attuned we are to each others’ emotions and thoughts. If you know my true intentions and how I’m really feeling, there’s no need for me to try so hard to have you see me a certain way — because it’s not going to work anyway.
In other words, if there’s no point in trying to convince each other we’re charismatic, dominant, secure, or whatever else, we can all just relax and let go of the strategies we rely on to deceive each other, and maybe even start having little fun in our relating. I know this sounds wonderful to me — I felt some tension drain out of my shoulders as I wrote it.
So, I invite you to consider, if just for a moment, the possibility that people in your life can “read your mind,” and notice whether that offers you a new sense of freedom.
It’s become common in business literature to say that entrepreneurs who care about others tend to be more successful. Thus, say business authors, it will profit you to act like a caring person. Say “thank you,” smile, look into people’s left eye, let them do most of the talking, and so on.
I think it’s true that people who are genuinely concerned for others’ wellbeing make better entrepreneurs. But that doesn’t mean we can develop real concern for others simply by imitating caring people — by aping their body language and the words they use.
We can easily see this, I think, when we recall moments when someone flashed a fake smile at us. The corners of their mouth turned up, but their eyes were hard, and fearful or angry. All this did was create unease for us — it certainly didn’t make us want to do business with them.
I’ll bet you can also remember a time when you went into a social event with preconceived notions about how you “should” act — perhaps you thought you needed to look charming, aloof, successful, or something else. Was that enjoyable or miserable? I think the answer is clear — making all that effort to look a certain way is no fun at all.
Ask Yourself Why You Don’t Care
If caring for others isn’t about imitating kind people, how do we do it? In my experience, the first step is to take a close look at what’s going on in moments when we don’t find ourselves caring about people — when our hearts are closed.
My sense is that, when we aren’t feeling concerned for others’ wellbeing, it’s because we’re occupied with protecting ourselves. Consciously or not, we think there’s a threat to our survival. Naturally, we’re focused on avoiding that threat, and others become just a means to that end. We start ignoring people who don’t look like they can give us money or prestige, and manipulating those who do.
So, I think it’s useful to ask ourselves, whenever our hearts are closed, “what’s the threat I’m trying to deal with right now? What danger am I protecting myself from?” The answer you arrive at, if you sincerely ask this question, might be something like this:
“I need to look tough to make sure people don’t hurt me.”
“I must look successful, or no one will work with me.”
“I must be seen talking to the right people, or my social status will be destroyed.”
“I need to get clients at this event or my business is shot.”
Facing The Danger
It makes perfect sense that, when we’re thinking this way, caring about others is impossible. But I think you’ll notice that the question I described helps put the perceived threat into perspective. The closer you look at the supposed danger, the less serious it starts to seem.
Is it really true, for instance, that your business will collapse if you don’t get clients at this event? And even if your business did collapse, what would that really mean for you? Would you disintegrate and never be seen again? Or is it more likely that you’d get up and try something else? Notice how just probing the fear a bit with questions like these can have it start melting away.
My sense is that human beings are naturally compassionate toward one another. Tapping into that compassion, I think, is more a matter of letting go of the ways we protect ourselves against getting hurt than memorizing the right “tips and tricks.”
(You can read Part One of this series here.)