Brooklyn is a great place to be from. People tell it like it is and wear their hearts on their sleeves. What you see is what you get. And your so-called friends have no problem ripping you apart one second, then giving you a bear hug and saying, “You know I love you, man” the next … and really mean it.
Since I grew up there, I’m very thick-skinned. It’s nearly impossible to surprise me, rattle me or insult me. On the contrary, I tend to take abuse as a sign of affection. The theory is, if you didn’t care, you wouldn’t bother to give me a hard time.
Even if you do somehow manage to rub me the wrong way, I have no problem letting you know and giving you a chance to explain.
Unfortunately – and I say this with deep humility – most people are not like me. You can insult them and never even know it. And whatever relationship you had or were hoping to achieve will simply evaporate like it never even happened. I know that because, like those I grew up with, I tend to speak my mind and let the chips fall as they may.
To make matters worse, the cultural trend is definitely moving in the thin-skinned direction. Political correctness is rampant. You can offend people without even realizing it. And all too often, they’re not man or woman enough to let you know.
That’s why I despise political correctness and don’t appreciate being around thin-skinned people.
That said, if you’re trying to impress or cultivate a relationship with a potential mentor, a senior executive, an important client, a venture capitalist – those who are accomplished or think they are and perhaps take themselves a little too seriously – here are seven things you probably shouldn’t do if you want the relationship to continue.
Ask for their help and don’t follow through. People are always thanking me profusely for taking the time and sticking my neck out to help them. I think that’s nice, but the truth is, the only appreciation I really need is to see you get something out of it. That’s why I do it. But if someone goes to bat for you and you don’t follow through, that’s likely to be the last time they lift a finger to help you.
Invite them to your daughter’s wedding. Yes, this does happen occasionally. Some people are so warm and appreciative they feel sort of an intimate connection. Sadly, if the feelings aren’t reciprocal – which they usually aren’t – it puts them in an awkward position and nobody likes having to feel awkward. In all likelihood, they’ll make up some excuse to decline the invitation and then suddenly become very scarce.
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Offer to buy them lunch. I once helped an associate get a CEO job right before the company’s IPO. The guy made millions. What did he do? Offered to buy me lunch. That says that what I did for him was worth about $10. It also assumes I would want to go to lunch with him, which I didn’t. A nice bottle of wine or a simple heart-felt “Thanks, I owe you one” voicemail would have been far more appropriate.
Overstay your welcome. I mean this in a broad sense. Just make sure you have a reasonable understanding of the value they’re providing you. That way you won’t abuse the privilege. If you’re not sure, just ask them.
Try to BS or sell them. On the one hand, I’m virtually unoffendable, if that’s even a word. On the other hand, I have a built-in BS detector and you can’t sell me, either. I don’t care how charming you think you are; don’t even try. Those who’ve been around the block a few times will see right through it and they won’t appreciate it one bit.
Waste their precious time. When I was in the corporate world, I didn’t have time to breathe. Then I started my own company and now, I’m happy to say, I have time to enjoy life, give advice and mentor folks. It’s truly gratifying. But there are a lot of self-important people out there who think their time is way more precious than yours. Just be aware.
Put them on some dumb email list. What goes through people’s minds that makes them do something so annoying, I can’t even begin to imagine. But it happens way more often than you’d think. I know they mean well, but it’s so not cool, it isn’t funny. And all it does is ensure that, from then on, your emails go straight to the spam folder.
Sure, it would be great if everyone in the world was open and genuine, nobody offended anyone, and we all just got along. Funny, but in my experience, it always seems to be the thin-skinned PC people who say that sort of thing. They’re also the first ones to feel offended or outraged at the drop of a hat and cut you off without a word of warning.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, executive coach, columnist, and former senior executive. He runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting where he advises executives and business leaders on anything and everything. Contact Tobak.