K+BB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Mar 11 2010

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Dealing with egos and obstacles

We pass up or block many opportunities because they involve dealing with people whose oversized egos make us feel small… if we allow them to. And some of these people—the ones who act as if they are above us—aren’t worth the trouble. In those cases, we’re better off simply walking away. But sometimes we need their support—whether for a job, promotion, sale or other opportunity. Then our relationship with them is key to our own success. How do we handle these egomaniacs and still get the results we want? Don’t get me wrong; there are times when a healthy ego—combined with grounded confidence—can help us accomplish many things. But I’m talking about people who are grandiose and whose outsized egos can stand in the way of our goals. There’s a smart way of dealing with these people—and it starts with listening to them.

Let me show you what I mean through an example. I was on the phone with the daredevil Evel Knievel a few months before he passed away, trying to negotiate a deal to build a $7 million roller coaster in his name. “Barry,” he asked, “what makes you qualified to represent me? What experience do you have in this arena?” “Evel,” I replied, “I represented Jackie Mason for his live TV show. I sold the autobiography of Andy MacDonald, an eight-time skateboarding World Cup winner who has also won 19 X-Games medals.” To which Evel replied: “Jackie Mason? He isn’t even a has-been! And the only skateboarder I know is Tony Hawk, who’s a pimple on my left toe!”

At that point, I knew that the worst thing I could do was to get defensive—something I learned from martial arts. In karate when someone strikes you, if you block his strike, you risk breaking or injuring your arm. Instead, you step to the side and let the attacker’s energy pass alongside you, giving you the option of redirecting or letting it go. Something else to keep in mind is that people don’t care about how much you know until they see how much you care… about them. You always get more flies with honey than with vinegar.

So I let Evel’s comments go by. Instead of snapping back with something like, “Do you realize how many video games Tony Hawk sold?” I took a different approach. “When I was 13, you were my idol,” I told Evel. “I was sitting on my Schwinn Stingray bicycle, wearing my football helmet and ready to pedal down my street and jump over five garbage cans using a wooden ramp my father helped me build. It was the fall of 1973 and you were on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, about to jump the Grand Canyon. I thought I was you when I was jumping those garbage cans.” Without pausing, I concluded, “Today, it would be an honor to represent you.” Evel responded by going on and on about his past jumps and deals. “Barry,” he said, “when I made those jumps, I owned all that footage. Nobody was doing that…” I just listened. Then we made the deal—and the Evel Knievel roller coaster was launched at Six Flags St. Louis in 2008. It doesn’t matter what the challenge is: Understanding how to handle people with large egos can make all the difference in business—and in life.—Barry Farber

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