This week, I had the great opportunity to meet with a world-renowned thought leader and executive coach. This man is a New York Times bestseller multiple times over; his name dances casually from the mouths of thousands of global business leaders whom he has personally coached and befriended. He is a consummate professional with an incredible gift to help people change. His most profound words to me in our three-hour meeting: “You’re a dick.” (And now you know why I haven’t shared his name).
Now, please forgive my brashness in sharing these words; I am merely the messenger of his thoughts and the attractor of the sentiment. Typically, when I’m on the receiving end of such a remark, I am furious, indignant, appalled. And, yet, since meeting him, I have simply laughed and laughed about our conversation. I can’t wait to share the story about it with others.
I was interviewing this leader—we’ll call him Coach—while I was serving as a video producer for an e-learning company that plans to offer an online training course based on Coach’s manifesto of the common behaviors and beliefs that lead to the tragic downfall of many great executives. His book details in some length how many people erroneously make statements that begin with “No”, “But” or “However”. These negative qualifiers, as he says, really say “I’m right and you’re wrong”.
During the interview, Coach told me a story on-camera and then asked me how that “take” was when he was done. The conversation went down like this:
Coach: “How was that? Did that sound okay?”
Me: “No, it was great! I think I’d like you to try that again but…”
Coach: (cutting me off abruptly) “Why did you just say ‘no’?”
Me: (confused) “I, um…no, what I meant to say was that…”
Coach: (moving in for the kill again) “There you go again. You just said ‘no’. Why do you keep doing that? Wait, I’ll tell you why. It’s because you don’t want to seem arrogant or full of ego, which you are. Oh you just want to share with me how much better your way of doing this is than mine. You’re saying: ‘Coach that was great. But MY way is just so much better.’ But you don’t want to come off looking full of yourself, so you patronize me first. And that’s exactly what makes you a dick.”
I was shocked. My camera man was stunned. I had walked into the dreaded “No, but…” trap and perilously fumbled my way into being likened to a member of the male anatomy. Oh sure, I was furious for a few moments. But then, as he proceeded with his feedback, laughing hysterically after completing his jab, I couldn’t help but laugh myself. I laughed and laughed and thought, “Why the hell did THIS land in my lap today?”
I believe everything happens for a reason. I could have wondered what I had done to deserve the jab, but, quite frankly, that would have implied blame and I’m no victim. I could have shot back at Coach with an equally offensive remark, but fire does not put out fire, nor would taking that action have resolved the burning question that was running through my head: “Am I really a dick?” The answer to that is, no, I’m not a dick. I’m really quite a fantastic person, actually. Knowing this – and I mean REALLY knowing this – allowed me to not take his remarks personally. I was reminded of a very important lesson: be mindful of your intent in every situation and use your words accordingly. I was so busy trying to impress this guy and get him to like me, that I lost sight of my real goal: to get the story.
I’ve shared this story with a handful of friends now and most have had a difficult time understanding how I could simply accept his comment and not take it personally. I believe that oftentimes others can see things about us that we don’t readily see in ourselves. We all have a blind spot. Few people like to think that there are aspects about themselves they don’t know; it’s self-endorsing to believe that we are impenetrable to outside evaluations. But we aren’t. Others will always have an opinion or an observation…and they will most likely offer it without invitation. The trick to managing this is to stay present, mindful and focused on who you really are – not who others tell you they think you are. Being called a dick was not an easy situation for me; but it was fun and I certainly learned a thing or two from it!