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Keepin' It Real

When I was young, sometimes in my head I always thought to myself, “if I were an animal, it would be pretty good chameleon.” After all, it would be so cool. They can change colors in different environment, shape shift, adapt, how awesome would that be! And if someone cuts off your tail, you can grow it back just like that. But, that little high school voice in my head would say “No Calvin. That is not right. Chameleons are fake animals. You need to keep it real.”


Also in high school, I realized that if I acted a certain way to different types of people, I could more easily get what I wanted, whether it’s an acceptance of lateness from the teacher, or a doctor’s note proclaiming my sickness. So, I think to myself “Calvin, you’re good, you can play this game well. You can manipulate others if you wanted to.” But again, there was that little voice of guilt in my head telling me that “Calvin it’s not okay. This sounds really fake. You need to keep it real.”


But I had a hard time controlling my ego in high school. I was good in school, and very talented outside of school as well. As a result, I got into unnecessary ego battles with other groups of kids, forming cliques and talking about each other behind each other’s backs.


And I learned that one of their formal complaints about me is that “Calvin is fake”. And I hated that label. Again, that voice in my head started telling me that this is not right. You need to keep it real. I can’t let others tell me I’m fake.


In society, people are taught to be real, genuine, and truthful. But quite frankly, I was super confused. What exactly is real? After all, I don’t act the same way when I’m with my mom, my dad, my girlfriend, my friends, my enemies, and in different group contexts. Don’t we all act differently depending on the situation and the environment?


So, what exactly is real and what exactly is fake? Where is this theoretical line of distinction? Thankfully, the perfect environment to test this line is in the wild world of business.


I work in the small family business, and thankfully I can be as truthful and straightforward working with my mom and dad, without the need for politicking and strategizing in the way that it is prevalent in larger companies with larger bureaucracies. But even in small family businesses, you need to negotiate with your suppliers and customers. And initially it was rough.


This need to be nice and genuine stuck with me for a couple of years, and I often find myself coming out of price negotiations feeling drained and uncomfortable. I would go into the meeting with clients or suppliers super happy, excited, and warm - ready to tell them the benefits of our company’s service. We’d exchange pleasantries, feeling warm and fuzzy inside, sit down but once we get into the nitty gritty, the expressions often change. And then staring back at me was often someone with no facial expression, super cold, super uncomfortable, and yes somewhat fake.


And it just didn’t feel right. So, I started reading some books on negotiation, and one that caught my attention was called The Secrets of Power Negotiating. I learned that some traits that society deem to be advantages, were actually not so much. And vice versa. There were a lot of eye-opening strategies, so I’d just like to share three simple ones.


For one, I learned that it was okay to not know something. Being dumb is smart and being smart is dumb (so keep your ego in check). Particularly in the wild world of business negotiations, it’s ok to play dumb. Don’t know what viscosity means? Ask them to clarify! Don’t know what a halogen is on the periodic table of elements? “Let me just double check my notes for a second”. Playing dumb could lessen the other party’s view of you being a perceived threat.


Secondly, when the other side is demanding that you come up with a decision, it’s okay to dump that pressure onto a vague higher authority figure. “Yeah, I’m not sure what the payment terms are. We’re a small business so cash flow is very important for us. I’ll need to follow-up with my board of directors on that.” The vaguer the authority, the better. Assigning ultimate responsibility to a higher figure can relieve pressure on yourself, and gives you more flexibility to make a decision.


Lastly, while negotiating, it’s okay to not be happy. Sometimes, it’s okay to physically flinch or use filler words! Even when you’re ecstatic and giggling inside from the offer. “Oh, I need to pay $2000 per ton for this product? I don’t know. It’s $500 more expensive than what we initially offered. Uh, hmm, uh, you know, so, well uh, okay okay I’ll take it.” It makes the other party feel more at ease and happy with the results that they are getting.


Don’t get me wrong, I am not condoning lack of knowledge, lack of happiness, nor throwing others under the bus. Nor do those tactics work in every single form of negotiation. From my experience, it has worked well sometimes. And other times, not so well.


All I’m trying to say, is that sometimes in life what’s real could be fake. And what’s fake could be real. And yes sometimes the environment forces us to change our nature, to fluctuate between fake and real, and to be a chameleon so to speak. And that’s okay. Many times, the line between fake and real is all relative and blurred significantly.


All I’m trying to do, is to keep it real with you all.

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