"If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you'd best teach it to dance." - - George Bernard Shaw
In 1912, the printer was all set to run three million copies of Teddy Roosevelt's nomination speech, complete with photographs of Roosevelt and his VP candidate, the immortal Hiram Johnson. Then the chairman of the campaign committee discovered that no one had obtained permission from the photographer who had taken the pictures. Legal penalties for the copyright violation could be as much as $3 million. The printing plates were made. Changing the photos would be extremely expensive. But no one knew what the photographer might demand for the rights. It was even possible that, heaven forbid, the man was a Democrat.
There were a number of them afoot in those days, you know, and they were an unpredictable lot. The photographer might even deny the committee the pictures altogether. The chairman sent off a quick telegram: "Planning to issue three million copies of Roosevelt speech with pictures of Roosevelt and Johnson on the cover. Great publicity opportunity for photographers. What will you pay us to use your photographs?"
"Appreciate the opportunity," the photographer replied, "but can only pay $250."
The chairman accepted without dickering. He probably could have held out for $350 or $400.
We all want to be positive and enthusiastic about what we have to offer: about our companies, our products, our careers, our selves, our various proposals and visions. But far too often we try to accomplish that by ignoring or burying potential negatives. Everything is wonderful, let's all think happy thoughts, the glass is half full not half empty.
Unfortunately, as we all know, reality has a nasty way of refusing to stay ignored. "So you're saying you shopped around and my prices are really that much higher than those of baby shop down the street? Well . . . ah . . . I mean . . . Hey, look! There's Elvis!"
In his book, "Filling the Glass: the Skeptic's Guide to Positive Thinking in Business" (Dearborn 2001), Barry Maher focuses on strategies for handling these types of potential negatives. The idea is to deal with reality rather than to simply putting the best face on it: to fill the glass rather than worrying about whether to call it half empty or half full. One of the most effective strategies—and one of the most counter-intuitive—is the one exemplified by that Roosevelt story. That strategy is called, Making the Skeleton Dance, after a quote by George Bernard Shaw...
"If you can not get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance."
People keep telling me that in Chinese the word for problem is the same as the word for opportunity. (They also keep telling me that Coca Cola means bite the wax tadpole.) I have no idea if that's actually true. But I do know that the Making the Skeleton Dance strategy has turned more than a few problems into opportunities.
For example, how often in your business career have you stumbled over that issue of price? Too many of us act like charging what we are worth is something to be ashamed of. Here's how I brag about that particular negative.
"Are my hourly consultation rates expensive? Absolutely. And why do I charge so much? Because my clients are not just willing but happy to pay those kind of rates - because of the results I generate for them. Because they know I'm worth it.
Can you hire somebody else to do the job for less? Absolutely. I'll be glad to supply you with phone numbers.
But why do you think these companies charge less? Do you really think they would charge less if they could charge more? They're not running humanitarian services, I assure you. They charge less because that's what they can get—that's what their clients are willing to pay for the results they generate. Now let me tell you why my clients are so willing to pay more."
Often the secret to making peace with a negative, is to find a way you can honestly brag about it. Save the Reality Checklist below for the next time you're confronted with a negative you're tempted to bury or to try to ignore. You just might find that instead of a negative you've got a selling point—even a bragging point.
What are the negatives you need to present—or wish you could avoid presenting—to others?
- Understand the potential downside of those negatives to everyone involved.
- Understand the potential positives that surround those negatives: for you, your company, and most especially to those you'll be presenting the negatives to.
- Isolate the What's in It for Them for each of the Thems you need to reach.
- Take care of the What's In it for Them, and the what's in it for you—and the company—will take care of itself.
- Marshall your best possible case, then imagine yourself presenting that case to the biggest Doubting Thomas you're likely to encounter.
- Are you, yourself, really sold? If not, don't expect that you'll be able to sell anyone else.
• If you're not sold, what would it take—what can you do—to make the case more saleable? If it can reasonably be done, do it. If it can't be done, deal with the reality, explaining why it is the reality, frankly and honestly.
• Never forget that truth is the ultimate sales trick.
Adapted from Filling the Glass: The Skeptic's Guide to Positive Thinking in Business by Barry Maher (Dearborn 2001).