No matter who you’re dealing with in the business world, everyone you come in contact with is constantly giving off signals that, if you are conscious, will help you connect. That’s why you need to “size ’em up.”
In October of 1961 I was formally expelled from St. Clement’s Catholic School after being summarily beaten to a pulp by two very celibate and violent nuns for dropping the “f bomb” when told I had to stay after. My infraction had been putting a garden snake on the shoulder of the girl who sat in front of me in class. Her name was Eleanor Spinosa. She was a big girl. She stood at least a head over me and probably had 30 pounds on me. When she saw the snake crawling down the front of her school uniform she froze.
I was a bit disappointed until I heard the water dripping on the floor all around her. She was in a catatonic state and lost control of her bladder. Then… the scream, which almost shattered the windows. Sister Anscilla came running down the aisle and quickly put two and two together. The snake, the pee, the hysterical Eleanor and me.
O’Hearn! Again! She smashed me until her arms got tired, rolled me onto the floor and stomped me until her legs wore out. She went back to the head of the class and dismissed everyone but me. She said I would have to stay until 6:00 pm and clean up the pee as well as the whole class room. I muttered “fuck that” and she heard me. That was the last straw. Down to sister superior’s office where they double teamed me. One of them even kidney punched me. I’m thinking, these nuns get some heavy duty tactical training.
Anyway, they’d had enough of my shenanigans and disruptive behavior over the last six years and I was out. While walking through the parking lot everything that was in my desk came flying out the third floor window. Bless me father…
Now, I’m still fourteen at that point and by law I have to attend school. Getting expelled from the eighth grade was the least of my problems. My only option at that point, was the Western Junior High School right behind my house. So close, you could hear teachers yelling in the classrooms.
What I had never anticipated was when I was home, I shot all the windows out with my BB gun and all the kids were forced to hide under their desks, was that I would have to meet the principal, Dr. Horn, the military styled dictator with a crew cut so flat you could land a chopper on his head, to gain entrance to WJHS.
He knew who I was, what I had done, (he had once sent 20 patrol boys over to surround my house) and was looking for $250.00 for those shattered windows before I could enter his domain.
When my father got the news from my blabby brother as soon as he stuck his head in the back door, what I got from the nuns was merely foreplay. This was at around 9:30 pm, bowling night. Bad timing. Very bad. I lay on the top bunk pretending to be asleep when the BB gun came crashing down across my knees. He grabbed me by the collar and the crotch, pulled me towards him and let go. Nice little five foot drop. I’m awake now.
This little session went on well past midnight. His favorite technique was to keep asking you questions you couldn’t possibly answer. Like “why are you so stupid?” (How the fuck should I know?) And “the fake.” He would keep faking a punch until you would beg him to hit you, lest you flinch yourself to death. I needn’t have worried, he granted my wish dozens of times.
I stayed home the rest of the year and healed. I took a test at the Western that fall and they advanced me to the 9th grade. Skipped the eighth entirely and was still ahead the class. Thank you, sisters. But alas, high school was never to be. I was working for my neighbor who had a pizza truck complete with oven and propane tank.
I was driving it all over the place, ball parks, carnivals and universities every night. I was fifteen years old and no license. I learned a lot in those years, about people, liars, hustlers, pimps and gangsters. What’s called emotional intelligence today, was called “street smarts” back in the day.
Even in the crowds I ran with, there was always some conspiracy going down. Sometimes you were the target, sometimes not. Someone always had an issue and you had better be in the loop. Sucker punches, cuffing, (putting lit cigarettes in your pant cuffs) and having to all of a sudden fight someone who wanted your spot in the pecking order. Talk about mean streets.
The truant officer was making frequent visits to the house to make matters worse. My father was working so hard for so many hours, six days a week, to support 12 people, he could hardly find the strength to beat me up anymore. Whew!
At fifteen and nine months my mother wrote a hardship letter to the school system saying that she needed me to work and help support the family. They accepted and I was on my own. The school of hard knocks was accepting applications though, and I was going to get my MBA. I studied street fighting, alcohol, drug abuse, incarceration, war zones and mastered in hypochondria. There was no graduation ceremony.
Sizing ’em up!
I said all that to say this:
If you don’t have “people instincts” or what I call “situational gut” your business career or personal life will be much more difficult. I read a few really great books years ago entitled “Reading People“ and “Emotional Intelligence,” that reinforced and confirmed what I already knew but could never verbalize: that you need to take special care when dealing with other human beings. Dale Carnegie goes without saying.
Seven things you need to take into account when meeting someone for the first time and having to make a lasting impression or even conducting a sales call are:
1. Personal appearance
2. Body language
4. Communication style
5. Content of communication
By failing to take into account and listening very closely, (really close) you will not be able to make the connection so needed in this digital world where in-person communication really counts but is vanishing.
We’ve all heard nightmare stories about e-mail miscommunications or misunderstandings that have trashed a deal or relationship. And folks, the knothole is getting smaller by the minute. As noted above, I got my particular brand of emotional intelligence or street sense by ducking punches.
When I was in sales, calling on docs, I looked for overall composure, expression on their face when they see you, neatness, patience, eye contact, listening, (watch checking is a slight hint,) shined or scuffed up shoes, stains on their lab coat, the way they treat their staff, their staff, (direct reflection) and if they leave me in their office alone for any amount of time I will scan that place like I’ve just arrived on a murder scene. Shame on you if you use that time to check your iPhone.
A sales call or meeting has a certain rhythm to it. Failure to feel this rhythm can make your next meeting harder to book. I have mentored many a budding rep that couldn’t pick up on little clues like exhales and “anyyywaays” to know when it’s over. Like in stand up comedy, you want to leave them wanting for more.
On that note…
If you have any questions or need advice, please feel free to reach out to me here.
113 Wintergreen Lane
Groton Ma. 01450