Ben Zoldan in Stories | January 12, 2016 | No Comments

I Don’t Do Personal

My friend, Robin, called me yesterday to tell me about a conversation she just had with a client of hers, a VP of HR at Disney, and they’re talking about an old colleague of theirs. Robin’s client stops her and says,

Yeah, I’ve never trusted her because she never lets me in.

And I know Robin is calling to tell me this because it’s a big part of what Storyleaders is about.

I’ll never forget this workshop I did a couple years ago in San Diego. We had about twenty-five people in there, which included a group of five sales reps from Paychex. There was no disguising them; they all looked the part, nice suits, slick, manicured, good looking, they looked like they were straight up out of a JCrew catalogue. Here’s the thing, everyone else in the room was so turned off by them.

And I’ll never forget this other attendee, John who was from Long Island. He was a lot more experienced, older, worked in the Aviation industry, not as cleaned up, and pretty loud throughout the workshop. On the first day, he was like, “Who are these guys from Paychex?”

So, on the morning of the 2nd day of the workshop, John got stuck with a couple of the Paychex guys for a break out where each person had to share some personal experiences that have shaped who they are. And this is typically one of the pivotal parts of the workshop.

We all come back together after the break out, and I ask if anyone had any Aha moments.

John looks over to David from Paychex, and launches into what practically sounds like a reprimand, “I‘ve hated you from the minute we walked in. Look at you, all perfect, your slicked back hair, silver spoon, Ivy league…” It’s a total indictment on all the stereotypes that John created in his mind about David.

He goes on to say, “But after listening to your story, brother, I couldn’t be more wrong. I’M BUYING WHATEVER IT IS YOU’RE SELLING!

Everyone in the room was floored. It was what everyone was thinking, but nobody wanted to bring up publicly. And it was so beautiful to witness all the barriers between these two people, whom on the surface couldn’t be more different, somehow get torn down.

So we left for a lunch break immediately following that, and I pulled David aside and asked what went down at their break out. And now David shares his story with me; how he grew up in a trailer in Minnesota, with a single mother who worked 2 jobs, didn’t go to his local school because he was too embarrassed, so he rode his bike to and from school everyday in the adjacent town. He never would allow others to know who he was. He couldn’t afford to go to college, did odd jobs after high school for a few years, and always tried to hide who he was.

Ultimately, all of his personal experiences tied back to his career at Paychex. In his early twenties, an old high school buddy got a sales job at Paychex and invited him to interview with his Manager, and although he had no college education, no experience selling (didn’t even have a suit for his interview), this manager gave David a shot. And what he shared next was even more incredible. He talked about how nice it feels simply to wear a suit, a pressed shirt and tie, and what that means to him personally. It was an excruciating story to hear. And I remember as I was listening to him, a shift was occurring in me; all my stereotypes about him were going away, I was in awe of this person who was so willing to trust me with his deal because he totally let me in. And I began to feel nothing but love for him. I also felt I wanted to reciprocate and let him into my world. It was incredible.

After David shares all of this with me, he says, “Thanks man, I never would have thought to share that.” And then this dude grabs me and gives me this huge hug.

And now, when I hear people say, “I don’t bring personal into business.” Or, “I would never share ‘so-and-so’ in a business setting or on a sales call”, I think about John and David, and me and David, and everyone else in that room and David. I’m also thinking about Robin’s friend’s observation, “I don’t trust the people that don’t let me in.

Part of me wants to deconstruct what went down with David and I know I have a tendency to get all “sciencey” in order to offer a concrete explanation. I do want to understand how empathy is created in another person; how when we let ourselves go and we’re vulnerable, why it is that others reciprocate; how we decide to trust people and take leaps of faiths with them, etc. I want to draw on the neurobiology and scientific evidence behind all these hidden forces like trust, reciprocity, mirroring, empathy.

But here’s what I’ve learned: when we allow ourselves to be seen for who we truly are, in a wholehearted way, life is better – Period. Maybe we sell more. Maybe those who work for us get inspired to want to follow us. Maybe others trust us more…

Ever notice how tough it is to feel connected to someone when they are one person at work, and another in their personal life?

I remember asking one of my sales mentors what it was that made him tick; I wanted to get all his secrets. His answer was simple and almost self evident, “It took me a long time to figure this out, but I finally took off the mask.

It’s simple, but not easy.


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