Keep quiet! For the next seven days, please.
Every teacher you ever had in school bellowed that remark – some of them every day. The teacher was trying to get you to be silent for a moment or two. And it was a monumental effort – in fact, it usually failed.
Well, at the moment I’m on what is known as “voice rest.” After my throat surgery the doctor told me I’m not allowed to speak. For seven days. SEVEN DAYS, Yikes! Try this – try not speaking for the next seven minutes. I’ll bet you can’t.
And, there’s a bigger challenge to this silent thing from my perspective – I’m from New Jersey (talking is for survival), I’m Jewish (talking is a tradition), and I’m a salesman (talking is a living).
NOTE: When you can’t speak in a conversation – all other senses heighten – especially the sense of frustration. The good news is, I somehow managed to follow the doctors orders. The real news was – I had no choice . The best news is I’ve had to concentrate (by force) on listening.
It hasn’t been easy. I have learned a lot about and by being silent. Actually I’m kind of got used to it. And not being able to talk freaks people out. You have to carry a pad of paper everywhere, you have to print – clearly so others can read (remember that old Woody Allen movie wher he printed a bank robbery note and the teller couldn’t read it). And EVERYONE wants to know why I’m doing this, or “what’s wrong with you?” So there were surgery explanations on every page.
I also noticed right away is that people think you’re rude by not verbalizing a returned greeting. So, more explaining, “You see, I want to talk, but I had throat surgery and blah, blah, blah…”
Not speaking changes everything. WARNING: Do NOT try to watch the TV show Jeopardy when you can’t talk. You know the answer before the contestant, but you can’t say it. It will drive you nuts.
But so much for me – what’s in this for you? Here are a few silent observations you can take to the bank – the knowledge bank:
1. I got to the point FAST. Because I was unable to talk, I wanted to “get to the point” right away. Often, the other person still insisted in giving me some song-and-dance, or some excuse rather than cutting to the chase. Some people “got it” and were incredibly helpful — and at the end smiled at their victory and wished me well. Shorter is sweeter.
2. You don’t have to mirror them – they will mirror YOU. I got in a cab at the Philly airport and handed the guy a piece of paper with written instructions to the hotel – I lip-synched that I couldn’t talk — he took my pen and wrote on my piece of paper, “I know how to get there.” That happened about a dozen times — I could hear fine, but people tend to want to mimic communication methods. It’s quite amusing.
3. Speaking is not essential to communicate. Sure I was dying to talk, but at no time during the entire ordeal did I fail to get my point across – and in most cases, people were more empathetic (OK, maybe sympathetic) to my situation, and I made my point, got my way – yes even made the sale without “saying” a word.
4. You can speak without saying a word. I was able to “say” things with my hands and eyes. And with much more feeling than with words.
5. Listening is intensified when speaking is not possible. You really “hear” because interruption isn’t an option, AND writing is the best method of responding. I took a lotta notes – and it helped make the thoughts clear.
5.5 Manners and gratitude are the rule AND still rule. My first spoken words were to my doctor — the great Robert Thayer Sataloff. “Thank you,” I said weakly. He smiled. There was a gratitude and a relief to know I was able to speak again. The main thing I learned about silence is how precious “voice” is — and how challenging communication is without it.
And as “important things of life” take a pecking order, HEALTH is at the top of the list, especially when one is wounded. Through all the pain and discomfort and recovery, the good news is my return to focus on the basic values of living — which lead to fulfillment and joy, rather than the monetary values of life, which merely lead to success.
So to you, my customer, I lift my glass and say: “A votre sante!” and “L’Chayim” — to your health and to life! Be grateful for and take advantage of both.
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Jeffrey Gitomer, author of The Sales Bible, and Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless. President of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer, he gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings, and conducts training programs on selling and customer service. He can be reached at 704/333-1112 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org