Take me, for example. I may look like an outgoing extrovert on-stage and afterward while staying for questions or workshops, but once I get home, I turn my phone off and TV on, sit by myself for a few hours—no other lights or noise—and zone out to recharge my batteries. While I love helping people, the act of interaction depletes my energy. Contrast this to some of my extroverted colleagues who get a rush from being on-stage and then look forward to spending a night out on the town.
Speaking directly to Alex's situation, those who've studied introversion point out that we often hate chitchat and small talk, preferring to talk about things that matter, or "meaningful conversations," as many put it. Who cares about who won the game last night when you're there to get a job done?
One telltale trait of introverts is what some experts call "reflecting internally." It means that introverts do a lot more thinking before they speak. I have one coaching client who often takes so long to answer a question that we had to switch to Skype so I could tell the difference between him thinking and the call dropping. Extroverts, on the other hand, more commonly just "think out loud." For us, though, our aversion to small talk comes across as being awkward, shy, uncaring, antisocial, or downright rude. We're not. That's just how it looks.
Alex, however, didn't see himself as any of those things. In his mind, he was just getting down to business. That's why he was there, after all. He didn't quite know what to do with clients talking about their child's recital or their plans for the weekend. Those things were ultimately inconsequential in a meeting about videography. It was almost as if Alex was trying to have one conversation while the person on the other side of the desk was having another. Getting through the sales meeting often became an
awkward dance for both parties.
Once Alex had gathered all the information he needed and left the potential clients, he'd go back to his office and spend hours creating a proposal, sometimes as long as thirty pages. As soon as he was done, he'd excitedly email it to them. Then he'd wait for days, weeks, or even months to hear back—only to find out they had gone with someone else.
He watched as his dream circled around the drain. The few clients he did land never quite covered the bills. His start-up funds were rapidly dwindling. He had borrowed from his father and maxed out his wife's credit cards—both of whom also worked for him. If his business failed, it would not only wreck their finances but also cause them to lose their livelihood. If something didn't change fast, he was looking at the same hard realities facing nearly every failing business: unpaid bills, layoffs, and ultimately closing the doors for good. His wife, Sarah, later shared with me that because of the overwork and lack of results, she was shutting down emotionally. In her own words, "It was just an awful, awful place to work."
To say Alex was desperate would be an understatement.
Of course, that desperation only fed back into the downward spiral. The harder things were, the more anxious he got about each potential project. If you've been on the other side of the table, you know what it's like to interact with a salesperson who reeks of desperation. When prospects smell it, they sometimes try to take advantage of it by negotiating for a lower price or more deliverables (or both). Most of the time, though, it makes them uncertain, leaving them wondering if the salesperson will be able to deliver.
Does the service provider lack confidence because they are desperate or because they're out of their comfort zone? If they're desperate, then they must not be very good, right? Nobody wants to do business with someone who's failing. Nobody likes dealing with a salesperson who's practically begging for the sale. If they're out of their comfort zone, it must mean that they don't have much experience, right? We want to place our bet on those who have proven themselves (and who will still be there come tomorrow).
Alex was referred to me by a mutual friend who'd just met him. I saw his work and was impressed by his talent, but not his salesmanship. I have a soft spot for small businesses like his. While I like working with corporate clients, I know that all I'm doing is helping a successful enterprise become even more successful. It's just not as soul-enriching as working with a small-business owner, where I know that my work could potentially change a life. There's something heroic about people with enough skill, passion, talent, and belief in themselves to launch a business. It kills me to see those entrepreneurs fail at their dreams. I've watched mom-and-pop stores open, only to see the seats and aisles in these businesses go empty for a long time before they eventually shutter their stores. I've seen tradesmen with their equipment sitting idle in the garage, or home-based professionals with their calendars sitting empty, before
having to go back to their old employer. I think of how stressful it is on a family: life savings lost, loans due, dreams crushed, divorce. In fact, I saw this happen to a friend's family when I was young. His parents saved every nickel to pursue their dream of opening a restaurant. I remember the excitement of the grand opening and how bright the future seemed. About a year in, I noticed that his parents didn't get along as well. A few months later, they closed the restaurant and eventually got a divorce. His dad moved to another city, and I was able to see my friend only half as much. A small business has the potential to completely change your life—for better or for worse.