My mother had philosophical sayings she hoarded, using them like a fire extinguisher, squelching arguments with arrogance she bolstered by claiming intellectual property as her own.
"Keep your own corner of the world clean."
"What does that mean? Why do you keep saying that? We shouldn't give a damn about the rest of the world?"
Smack, whack...on any given day that adage could be trotted out to mean 'clean your room' or 'stay out of other peoples' business.'
In later years, I confess, I weaseled into conversations the questions that were never answered in my youth. "Really, explain to me why you keep repeating the same thing? What do you mean, by my clean corner of the world?"
The answers changed, shifting from self-interest--and my obvious teenage sloth--to a broader philosophy. "If everyone just cleaned up everything within reach, the whole world would be beautiful. People should plant flowers," my mother said.
By the time she confessed a deeper meaning to her wordy weapons, I no longer cared about the words. I wanted to know why those words were meaningful. It had either become a habit to mouth off or she simply forgot the origins of a saying, an adage that stuck with her for life.
"Why?" I asked and she simply shook her head.
For all the philosophies I have debated, for every quote I've endured, the single most important lesson I've learned is to stop asking WHY. It really is a question that can't be answered to the satisfaction of the listener. If he had to ask, then he doesn't understand and will never respect the answer or point of view.
Now my mother's little sayings were delivered in another language and I'll concede that sometimes a nuance is lost in translation. Her roots and life experiences were light years from my own. That difference prevented me from understanding WHY she said and did many things that completely baffled me. I learned to ask a different question. "What were you thinking when you said that?" This single change to the question has opened many doors and revealed far more than I ever expected to learn about other people.
The WHY question automatically puts a person on the defensive. They feel they must justify themselves and it creates hostility. When I asked WHAT was going on in their mind, it is a request for more information, not a threat or challenge. The conversation remains calm and productive, allowing me to filter the information so that my own response is relevant to the other person's needs, even if that need is simply to be understood.
I spent more than forty years in sales. Some people think a good salesperson is a smooth talker. Not true. The best salespeople are good listeners. Learning to make people feel at ease and comfortable in my presence was a key factor in my success.
I needed to understand what motivated my buyers. With each, the needs were different. Some wanted to be entertained and were impressed by fancy lunches. Others loved animals and would gush if I asked about their pets. I brought flowers often--weird ones, that instantly started a conversation. I looked for entry into the mindset that would allow my customer to pay attention when I presented my products and explained in detail how the purchase would benefit THEIR business.
I needed to be likeable, but my ego did not require me to be liked. I always knew what I wanted when I made an appointment. I didn't confuse my purpose with being popular, or being smart, and the only person allowed to be right was the buyer--when she signed the purchase order.
Although my mother didn't realize it, she was actually my first sales mentor, forcing me to learn communication skills that would help achieve my personal goals.
I've come to believe there are two kinds of people--buyers and sellers. Those labels are not defined by which side of the desk a person occupies, but rather their attitude. Some people expect things--people and opportunities--to come to them. They're the buyers, waiting to be seduced by the likes of me. The sellers are out there chasing down their dreams and creating opportunities.
A buyer is neither stronger nor weaker than a seller; they simply have a different perspective on life. I have friends who are buyers and one who I love dearly, but she doesn't make spontaneous decisions and prefers to gather opinions before she makes any changes. I, on the other hand, find it difficult to agree to long-term plans. Unless it's a command performance--a wedding or theatre tickets--don't ask me to commit for lunch next month. I have no idea whether I'll be in the mood for red meat or pasta.
Sellers are risk takers, and make more mistakes than a buyer. We make decisions on gut instinct rather than waiting for all the facts to be presented. My sister is a buyer and the voice of reason in my world. She's also a very clever communicator, never telling me what I should do, but asking me if I'd ever considered...
I remember, prior to moving from my last house, I was bemoaning the time and trouble, not to mention the cost of moving all the books I'd accumulated in a lifetime--hundreds. "Have you ever considered getting rid of them, perhaps donating them to the library?"
"No, they're my books." The word 'books' was delivered by me during our long-distance conversation in an awed whisper, as if I was lost in prayer. She didn't pursue the conversation and she didn't need to be right--what did she care? But she listened to me complain and planted the seed. She knew I'd stew. All my books are now gone, just in time for new technology to allow me to read anytime without ever needing to walk into a bookstore.
Once I met a man who also claimed there were two types of people in the world--pink ones and grey ones. His theory, which really just identified extroverts and introverts, was to change his manner and expectations based on some aura that only he could see.
"You're an Aries, well that explains it." An astrology theorist--not an expert, by any means, shifts his demeanour depending on a person's zodiac sign.
Paying attention to different communication forms is a compliment, not a rigid labelling system. My buyer/seller tag helps me understand how to talk and approach people to get the most out of the exchange. I'm paying attention. My methods may be flawed, but I do not present myself with arrogance, with a 'this is me--take it or leave it' attitude. I strive to connect. And the ultimate goal in all human relationships is a win-win situation, where each person feels satisfaction from the meeting or conversation.
My favourite, and very well understood 'Mama adage,' talks about an archer with a quiver full of arrows.
"Be careful when you let the arrow fly. You will never know how high, how far or where your words will strike."
♦ After a thirty year career as a sales and marketing executive, Ingrid Thomson is a top-ranked author in a website writing community and a published short story author who is working on the final draft of her first novel.
♦ This author's generous contributions help make P&S possible.