My ‘ah-ha!’ moment from someone being rude to me

A lightbulbLAST Friday, something happened to me that resulted in an ‘ah-ha!’ moment that has led to a complete change in my attitude, but not quite in the way you would expect. Someone was rude to me and I am still shaking my head. But it has brought me to a startling realisation about myself and people in general, and a promise to myself.

For 20 years, as a career journalist, I’ve become accustomed to meeting people and immediately enjoying a level of respect. In my time at The Courier-Mail, I found my colleagues to be, without exception, professional and courteous, along with all the people I’ve ever written about over the years. People would often approach journalists in a professional capacity and ask for something – usually favourable editorial coverage for a pet project, product, service or some other worthy and important thing.

Hubby and I are launching a new business venture that, for the first time ever, puts us on the other side of the human equation. Rather than having people coming to us, we’re the ones going to people and asking them for something.

We’ve been going for six weeks and have had only positive responses so far. People have welcomed us, and our idea, with heart-warming enthusiasm. We’ve got off to a flying start and we’ve become even more confident in our idea (more on that in a later blog).

But on Friday I was met with such inexplicable contempt that I was quite shocked.

My ‘chump’ moment

I had been making an approach to a manager, and she was one of about 20 people I’ve been in touch with in the past fortnight. Our relationship began, as almost all of mine do in my new business development role, with a personal visit from me. The manager – let’s call her Belinda – wasn’t available. I left some information for Belinda outlining my FREE idea and also I explained it all in just a few moments (it’s a simple idea that doesn’t take long to explain!) to the receptionist (who said it was a great idea!). The following week I left a couple of phone messages, that weren’t returned (that happens, people get busy and forgetful) and so I thought I’ll drop in and have a quick, two-minute chat. I rang the receptionist first thing in the morning and, while the manager was busy at that moment and couldn’t come to the phone, the receptionist assured me she’d have a few minutes spare if I popped in later that day.

When I arrived, the receptionist went to fetch the manager and came back a moment later carrying the package of material I’d left a week prior.

“(She) doesn’t want to see you. We’re not interested.” And she handed me the promotional material, still with the Post-it notes another receptionist stuck to the front asking the manager to return my call. So I knew she got the message but had chosen not to respond.

“Oh, I see,” I replied. “Could I have a quick chat just to ask her what her objections might be? I could use the feedback,” I asked with a bright smile. The receptionist turned and went back to the manager’s office. And promptly returned.

“No. She doesn’t want to see you.”

It was the first rejection I had received and it felt quite brutal. I was left standing in the outer office feeling like a chump. I’d taken time out of my day, put a few other jobs on hold (that included getting soccer boots for my sons who were both starting their soccer season the very next day) to come and visit her personally. I’d opted to see her in person rather than simply call her. I’m building a new business and I like to give people a face to look at, and the personal experience of meeting face to face and shaking hands.

My Carnegie moment

Of course, my first inclination was to take this rejection personally. After all, I wasn’t asking her for money; I was only offering her a product and a service – FOR FREE – that would benefit her business and her clients, and by extension, her. There was no downside! And to not even come out and show your face, to make your receptionist do it, I found stunning.

Fortunately for my fragile ego I’d had six weeks of positive responses so I was able to put this one into a broader context.

At the same time, I had just begun reading Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people“. Someone who had read it recommended it to me when they learned I was moving into a business development role, which relies on a lot of personal contact and winning people over.

It has been quite enlightening. I’m surprised, because the book has become a bit of a cliche, and representative of the obsequious sales person insincerely complimenting a potential buyer on their dress/hair/personality to secure a sale. But there’s much more to the book than popular culture references suggest.

A few interesting points that I’ve picked up, combined with my growing understanding of human nature, have been:

  • Having the power to say no is useless to some people unless they actually exercise it.
  • Some people don’t want to think about a new idea and how it might apply to them. They’d just rather say no and keep plodding down the same path they’re on.
  • With doing something different comes the risk of being wrong or losing something and they don’t want to take that risk.
  • Random stuff happens. This manager may have just been having a bad day. Her boyfriend might have broken up with her, her credit card bill may have come or she just might not be very good at her job. No matter how good my idea is, how good I am at winning people over, there is always going to be someone you can’t win over.

My ‘ah-ha!’ moment

This brings me to the promise I have made to myself, and my ah-ha moment. Well, there have been a couple actually.

The first consequence of Belinda’s rudeness, (aside from damaging her business’s brand with me and the (many) people I talk to when I relate this story), is that it forced me to reevaluate my own conduct and how I have treated others when I’ve been the one in a position to say no. ‘Ah!’

I have, at times, hung up on people. I’ve ranted at sales people when product or a service has failed – even when it wasn’t this particular person’s fault! And I recognise now, that those people on the end of the phone, on the other side of the counter, or on the other end of my email, are people who are subject to the same human frailties as me. Rather than make their day better, I’ve made it worse. And that’s not a good feeling to have.

As an ‘ah-ha!’ moment, I think it’s pretty profound, because it has many applications. From the big things, like my parents’ currently divorcing – I’ve now gained a perspective that has otherwise eluded me; to the small things, like the letter of complaint I’m writing to Reckitt Benckiser brand Veet about their home waxing kit (more on this later, too!).

The second consequence of Belinda’s behaviour is that I have looked at it from her point of view to try to understand her behaviour. Did she fundamentally misunderstand my idea? If so, how could I have communicated it better? Did my initial approach get her off-side somehow? If so, how can I improve and ensure I don’t do that to someone else? All these questions and more are a direct result of Belinda’s rudeness, so in a way, she has helped me. I’ve improved because of her – thanks Belinda!

I also realise that it’s unreasonable to expect that we will only ever get ‘Yes’ responses and accolades. Every business has a failure or two under its belt and we will surely be no exception. A quotation by the very successful Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi appeals to me: “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up”.

What ‘ah-ha!’ moments have you encountered that have helped change your thinking? Any other positives I can take away from Belinda’s actions?