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… or “The Best Way to Make The Worst First Impression”

Earl R. Smith II, PhD

(Read More From My Blog)

This is a retelling of a post-modernist nightmare – a journey into the void of virtual relationships that never become real. It is a story about lost possibilities sacrificed upon the shrines of inattention, self-absorption and indifference. The interspersed poem is by Antonio Machado – The Wind, One Brilliant Day.

Here’s a scenario that all of us who live in this age of virtual reality have, at one time or another, experienced. You make contact – maybe through one of the virtual networking groups or at a networking event – with somebody who is in a space that compliments yours. The first contact seems to go well and results in a scheduled meeting. (BTW: Have you ever noticed how many people are good at managing a first contact and little else? But that’s another nightmare for another time!)

You organize a meeting with the mutual objective of ‘identifying and exploring common interests’. If you are like me, you look forward to the session and do quite a bit of diligence in preparation. I focus on the background and interests of the person that I am going to meet with. I want to understand beforehand where that person is coming from – what is going to be of value to them. If they don’t offer, I ask for files and spend time reviewing them and thinking about possibilities. I do a Google search. I operate under the assumption that they will want to understand the same things about me. My habit is to provide information on my own background and interests. The stage has been set. So here is what sometimes happens!

The wind one brilliant day, called to my soul with an odor of Jasmine.

The day arrives. I make sure that I am there a few minutes early to get settled in and organize my thoughts. I go through the files once more – to make sure that I am fresh on the areas that we might explore and mentally sharp – on the lookout for opportunities that may arise. In my nightmare scenario, this is the high point of the meeting – as good as it is going to get.

The first negative shows up as the minute hand moves past the scheduled time and I have neither heard from nor seen the person. I am amazed at how casually some people adopt this behavior. I always consider it an indication of things to come. I make a mental note when people make their first impression by dismissively insulting me – by openly indicating that, to them, my time is not valuable nor worth conserving! I recognize that, if they will do that to me, they will do it to anybody that I would be foolish enough to introduce them to.

Then the person arrives – generally with some shallow-water BS about traffic or the fact that they don’t have control of their schedule – they sometimes blame it on their assistant. How this can be taken as anything but 1) a clear admission of incompetence in the face of the most ordinary challenges, 2) reflexively inconsiderate treatment of the person who has been waiting and 3) an open admission that they are unreliable and will resort to the shallowest excuses to cover poor performance is beyond me. But most people who adopt this tactic apparently want me to ratify their BS by responding understandingly. It should not surprise you that I don’t.

There are two variations on this theme that I should mention. Neither happens very often, but should be highlighted. The first one occurs when you show up at a meeting arranged at a person’s office and they are not there. In this situation the assistant finally reaches the person by phone and is told that “his schedule has changed and he will not be available for the meeting today.” My response (as something like this recently occurred) was “What makes him think that he has the right to act so abusively and waste my time so casually?” The assistant was clearly surprised that I didn’t reflexively assume the position – doormat style – that their boss clearly forces them to adopt on a daily basis. The meeting was at his request and at the request of one of his clients (who I was both willing and able to help). Neither he nor his assistant had made any effort to keep me from uselessly traveling to his office. Needless to say, I immediately withdrew my offer to help and informed his client that I wanted nothing at all to do with any of them. Such complete lack of professionalism and over abundance of hubris are warning signs – avoid at all costs.

The second variation comes about when the individual, who has kept you waiting, discovers that their insulting and dismissive behavior has had a negative effect on the prospects for the meeting – and that you are upset and offended. On one occasion the individual was so surprised that I held him accountable for his behavior that he muttered something about ‘catching me later” and simply walked away. Of course, I don’t plan to have any future contact with this individual and will not recommend his company in any way to people who I value.

If you are guilty of these kinds of behavior, here is a question that you should ask yourself: “On what fantasy planet am I living where possibilities will be enhanced if I start out by dismissively insulting the person that I have just met?”

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