Paying $1200 For A ComplimentPosted: July 2, 2014
I was on a live television show when I learned that I have a bald spot.
The show wasn’t about me or my hair. I was on a panel, being interviewed about a serious topic. I remember looking at the monitor at one point and thinking “that shot from behind the panel isn’t helping that guy in the blue jacket.” Then I looked down at my sleeve and remembered I had on a blue jacket.
After the show, I asked several friends why they didn’t tell me I was getting a bald spot on the back of my head. They were all surprised that I didn’t know and wondered how I missed something so obvious.
I learn a lot from unexpected sources, but not everything.
I’m Like A Kindergarten Teacher, But Not
For twenty-four years of my career, my specialty was crisis negotiation.
As you might guess, a critical part of talking to hostage takers and suicidal people is using a very calm voice, no matter what is happening around you. I got good at sounding calm. I can’t say that I was always placid inside, but you’d have been hard pressed to hear it in my voice when I was working.
And the people I negotiated with often said things like “you’re nice to talk to”, “you’re kind of soothing” or, the best compliment I ever got – “if I didn’t want to kill you, I’d want to have a beer with you.” I became very confident about how my voice fit the job I loved.
Most of us have fond memories of our kindergarten teachers. But unless you’ve known a kindergarten teacher socially, you probably don’t know that many of them can’t stop talking like they’re in their classrooms.
I’m not saying that the way kindergarten teachers talk is a bad thing; it actually sounds pleasant outside the classroom. It is such a part of the way they do things that they aren’t even conscious of doing it away from school. I’m a bit like a kindergarten teacher in that way. I don’t purposely speak like I’m doing a hostage negotiation, but I suppose I do it anyhow.
When I dialed the painter’s number, the only thing I planned to learn from him was how much a house painting job was going to cost. I got his voice mail and left a routine message – “Hi, this is Omawarisan. I saw you listed on the Better Business Bureau site and wanted to have you swing by and give me a price on some work.” I gave my phone number and address and said “I’d appreciate it if you’d call me back.”
The painter called back a few minutes later. He wasn’t at all close to my home at that moment, but we set an appointment for him to come over and give me an estimate on the job.
We spoke for a few minutes as he looked over what needed painting. He described his workmanship and a few extra steps he’d take to ensure a job well done. Then he sat down and calculated how much he wanted me to pay him for his efforts.
Before he gave me his written estimate, the painter said “I don’t usually work in this town” and then reinforced his point by listing five towns where he did usually work. “I don’t even bother doing estimates if I get a call from here. But there was something about your voice on the phone that made me want to drive over here.”
And then he gave me his price.
My reaction to the figure he presented was “whoa, that’s a lot of money”, but I didn’t say that. It was the only time in our conversation that I had to think about keeping calm. We spoke a few minutes more, then as he was leaving he said “really, there’s something about the way you talk. I think we can do business.”
No Soup For You
I’m fairly certain we can’t do business.
While it is true that I learned I was starting to lose my hair on live television, the painter didn’t bring me to some revelation on the way I speak. Like the kindergarten teacher, I’ll probably always sound a little like my profession. Like professional me, I’ll probably always have a pretty clear sense of when someone is feeding me a load of crap.
I learn a lot about myself from unexpected sources, but I didn’t need a painter to teach me that $1200 is a lot to pay for a load of crap, or a compliment.