Now that I am running a business, I love jerks, and so should you. While a mean person can still ruin my evening, I have a much heightened understanding of the precious value that such a person can unintentionally offer me. I will share two simple examples of many that demonstrate how jerks have positively affected my business more than many polite people who nod their heads and smile.
About a year ago I went to a networking event. A group of four of us were introducing ourselves along with what we do professionally. When it was my turn, I explained that I had started a consultancy expanding businesses into emerging markets through hands-on consulting services. I further detailed two of the major types of projects I worked on- finding companies financing and helping them establish emerging markets distribution channels.
He looked me up and down, and with a condescending sneer spit out the words, "And are you qualified to do that?"
His harsh tone inspired me to summarize my key qualifications pretty quickly, "Yes, I am. I used to work for the World Bank Group, and covered investments across Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia. They had me covering so many different regions because I speak six languages- Spanish, French, Turkish, Arabic, Hindi/Urdu, and English of course. Also, I studied Business and Finance at the Wharton School."
Someone said "Us Americans, we only speak one language..." to which I replied, keeping my eyes on this man, "Well I am American - born and raised in Delaware - and I speak six."
I was upset about his condescending tone for the rest of the evening. But in the back of my mind I had processed a critical lesson. He told me what many others must have been thinking but were too polite to mention. He had clued me into a key barrier to my success and to the success of my business. I needed to more clearly articulate to potential clients what my qualifications are to assist them, and not simply prove myself by providing relevant insights. His question provoked a pretty decent summary of qualifications that I have since used, with a little more elaboration, in marketing materials. While learning to self-promote has been a struggle for me, I am much more diligent now to mention to prospective clients my specific qualifications and experiences that put me in a position to bring value to emerging markets business expansion projects.
Thank you, Mr. Jerk. I owe you some of of my current and future success.
Here's another example of how I have benefited from unkind behavior as an entrepreneur: I had given lower pricing to someone who clearly did not have the budget to pay more, and was desperate for help on a project that was really interesting. He was a friend of a very close childhood friend, so I even spoke to him a couple of times in the beginning without charging him a penny. When I made it clear that he would have to pay the lower pricing to engage my services further, he became quite nasty. I will spare the internet the full details, and just share the key words that helped me. Despite the fact that I had already talked to him a couple of times, he said, "There is a man whose billing rate is $1000 an hour, and even he is willing to give me an hour of his time." I realized through the nuances of his language that instead of appreciating the lower pricing and complimentary initial counseling that I had given him as the present that it was, he had seen it as a signal of my personal and company worth.
When I told him that I would be unable to work with him further, I felt uncomfortable. Did I just need a thicker skin, and was I going to be able to build a business without simply learning to deal with jerks? More importantly, I did not want to upset my childhood friend. Well, in the end, this very same jerk, in dealings unrelated to me, ended up giving death threats to my friend and swindling him out of money (I would not make that up!). So following my intuition had ended up saving me from more than just some hurt feelings. Lesson Learned: Make explicit your value, otherwise you will be undervalued. Since then, I have had a stronger backbone about charging proper prices. I still enjoy cutting special deals for those in my personal friendship network, but I limit my business generosity to reasonable levels, and am more explicit about value that is gifted.
Reader, please do not misunderstand me. It is better to be kind. As much as I have learned to appreciate jerks, I do not ascribe value to building long-term relationships with them. Additionally, frequent extended exposure to jerks in the workplace is unhealthy and counterproductive, and measures should be taken to decrease uncharitable behavior in the office environment. Criticism can and should be offered constructively and kindly. Sometimes, however, a little bit of rudeness can open your eyes to serious under-addressed issues.
Have you profited from an unpleasant or unsavory conversation or incident? Please share!