How to overcome personal biases and preconceived notions
Written by Austin Haynes, SVP – Eastern Region (Richmond, VA)
Years ago I had the opportunity to write a speech by this name in reference to overcoming personal biases. Today this title is as important to sales and marketing as it was at that time. All of us have prejudices that we carry with us in our day to day lives. The trick is to realize this and to face up to them. It could be the most noted such as race or religion, or it could be as simple as an avoidance of cigarette smokers or coffee drinkers. The first step is to identify attributes in people that disturb you.
These attributes can be physical, mental or sensory in nature. Maybe you are bothered by southern accents, coffee breath, amputees, long hair, or baggy pants…whatever! It does not matter, just realize that it bothers you and that if it bothers you, it may affect the way you treat or respond to certain people. For me, I have always had an aversion to the smell of garlic and curry. Thus if I smell it on someone, I have the tendency to take a step back and to use avoidance as a defensive tactic. Also don’t assume you know people by your first impression, because your first impression is tainted by your personal biases.
I worked for a major sporting goods retailer many years ago and I was a commission salesperson. Well, the holiday season is extremely busy and I had to work about 65 hours a week during this season. I was very successful and very tired, so when a young boy came in to buy a sweat suit, I took one look at him and thought, “if he buys one, it will be a $100 sale and I will make $5. I am beat so let me hand him off to my buddy to wait on and I will grab some lunch. No big deal!” I turned him over to the other salesperson and left for lunch, only to come back to find that the young man was the son of the current Middleweight Champion of the World and that he had bought 15 of these suits for a $1500 sale. I had assumed based on appearance and I had allowed my biases to get in the way of doing business. Fortunately, my company did not lose money over my mistake, but I sure had! It was also quite embarrassing as I was supposed to be the top salesperson.
Now the question arises, how do I fix this? Everybody has personal feelings of prejudice or bias whether you want to admit it or not. Well don’t fear the answer is here! When looking at a person, treat them as if they are GREEN! My motto now is that all people are green. Green is the color of money, so think of people as green. This means everyone! A famous person once said everything is sales and, if you think about it, he is right when it comes to most interactions with others. Boy meets girl and wants a date, he is selling his attributes. Politician wants to get elected, same thing. We often want to gain something during interactions, thus we are selling. If you look and treat everyone the same, then you will give the same level of service and attentiveness to everyone.
This equates well even here at Holladay. Throw out your preconceived notions and treat everyone as if they are green! Recently, I was told by someone that everyone of a certain nationality was alike; that they were always trying to lowball pricing and that a member of this group won’t buy anything unless it is a steal. As a result of this preconceived notice, that person had ignored a potential customer. While it is true that in some parts of the world people are taught to negotiate price for all transactions, isn’t that what all salespeople do? When we tell someone a price, we are saying that we are willing to sell you this product for this much money. In negotiating, the customer is doing the same thing in reverse. The customer is saying, “No I will not buy this product for that amount, but I will buy it for this much if you are willing to sell.” There is nothing wrong with that; it is call free trade. I decided to reach back out to the customer someone else has written off and we were able to strike a deal. I looked at that person as “green” and I believe I was looked at the same way.
Don’t let your personal feelings get in the way of a profit! Are there people with whom you may not want to do business? Absolutely! But let’s make that a sound rational business decision based on a person’s actions. No to an ax murderer, yes to someone of Asian descent. No to a convicted embezzler, yes to someone who is Catholic. Treat everyone as green and hopefully they will treat you the same way!
In the end, it comes down to a different color — golden. Treat others as you want to be treated. The Golden Rule.