By Guest Blogger Gloria Thomas
Gazing up at my business idol, I tremble. If I can’t mutter my question to her, I’ll quit my new sales job, defeated by my inability to withstand rejection, complaints and conflict.
Three reasons led me – a painfully shy, personalizing people-pleaser – to a job in sales: Flexible hours meant more time with my toddler; I hoped the challenges would build my communication confidence, and I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my gregarious grandfather.
DaDa was a lifelong salesman. Even as a boy he sold “Alspaugh’s King of Pain” for his father’s business, based in Burkeville, Virginia. The alcohol base of this snake oil (patent medicine) made it popular during prohibition.
DaDa encouraged me to speak up, connect with people, laugh and take risks. Yet, as the oldest of four siblings, I was a serious, sensitive bookworm. I believed that if I was smart, good and kind I could make everything okay, keep everyone happy and avoid conflict. Then no one would yell or bruise my tender feelings.
It didn’t work that way. Dealing with people baffled me, and sales encounters at my new job weren’t providing easy answers. One day, my call to a prospect who yelled at me before slamming down the phone, left me undone. After sobbing in agony, I went to my manager. “I just can’t do this.”
My manager knew I admired our executive vice president, though I’d never met her. She was coming to Richmond to speak to our regional sales team. I reluctantly promised to hang on for a couple more weeks, until I could ask our trailblazing leader how to prevent angry prospects and hurt feelings. She could help me!
I don’t recall a word of her speech – probably because I was totally focused on asking my question. She sat at my round table in the hotel banquet hall. Yet, shy and intimidated, I didn’t utter a word during lunch.
When she stood to leave, I scurried to the group surrounding her near the door and was the last to approach. “May I ask you a question?” “Sure!”
With a shaky voice I manage to tell the story of what happened with the prospect and asked her, “What did I do wrong?”
She looked puzzled for a moment. Having grown up in Queens, New York she’d NEVER been a personalizing people-pleaser. “You didn’t do ANYTHING wrong. She was just RUDE.”
With that declaration, something shifted in me. My relief brought courage, and a few days later, I called the prospect again. I learned that she couldn’t talk with anyone when I first called because her husband had just walked out on their family.
That experience resulted in a life-changing lesson: When I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and someone behaves badly, it’s NOT about me. It’s about whatever they’re dealing with. I can empathize through understanding that intellectually – without attaching emotionally.
My communication confidence continued to blossom, and two years later at our annual conference, I gave a speech after my business hero presented me with the award for “Sales Manager of the Year.”
Who knew communication challenges could provoke personal growth?
© 2017 Gloria Thomas, all rights reserved
Gloria Thomas is known as The Communication Wizard. She is the founder and chief communication strategist of Wizard Workforce Development (www.wizardinc.com), a communication consulting, coaching and training company. Her most popular training programs include Communication Lab: Increase Your Interpersonal Effectiveness, Speak on Your Feet Presentation Skills and Diversity & Workplace Communication.