Slot machine relationships

My dad said that his early success was due to his ability to ‘get people talking’ in the first few seconds, thereby immediately creating a connection. His comment rang true when I was qualifying a gentleman about being a part of my next book. 

About a second after the call started, he asked me how I liked living in San Francisco back in the day. Roughly five minutes in, he politely interrupted and said very formally: “I’ve decided to let you interview me.” I laughed, teasing that I thought he was the one being qualified.

“Actually, I got you talking by asking you one question. Only one,” he emphasized with the wisdom of the seventy-year-old, self-made man that he was. “You answered directly, honestly and made no pretenses to what I thought about the subject matter.” Intrigued, I momentarily forgot his net worth (nearly a billion dollars) and my list of questions. I was impressed he’d gotten me talking and said so.

“I was determining if you were worthy of my time,” he said without guile. This was the beginning of a long, rewarding, and fulfilling correspondence with an individual I’ve never met in person, but who has since imparted tremendous wisdom over the years.

Genuine caring negates the fear

Early in my career, I was the voice for my employer, the direct line of defense to investors and press, making the case for the company, product(s) or both. Having seen my father in action and armed with words of wisdom, I worked to master the art of pitching to complete strangers. Selling – influencing – means you have to embrace fear:  fear of failure. As I detail in a semi-autobiographical book, had I not been a single mother, my fear of rejection would have been enough for me to quit. 

Yet I was inhibited until I realized I had to learn to love the process of pitching. Perhaps “love” is too strong a word.  I had to learn to be vulnerable. Being personable, sharing glimpses of my life requires a certain level of courage. Risking people judging you on very little information.  But, as with pitching, sharing snippets of oneself is also a process. Once I let myself be, asking and talking about the meaningful parts of life; family, pets and failures, all without prejudice or judgment, and always within the bounds of propriety and professionalism, whatever inhibitors that remained disappeared. 

We are humans, born with the innate need to love and be loved. Often, just caring is enough. You’d be surprised—as I was—the impact one can have on another’s life just by caring.

The slot-machine relationship 

For one project, I was tasked with working with the local media for a non-profit organization who in twenty years had made zero effort in terms of public relations. Donation drives for money and food yes; caring, focus and efforts to engage the press or developing strategic relationships, no. As a consequence, other similarly tasked groups were the firs to receive media calls, resulting in favorable coverage and ultimately, more donations.

I knew this was going to be a multi-year hurdle, because the first prejudice against a new media contact is that the interaction is only going to be a transaction; a classic slot-machine relationship. To counteract this, I started with sharing the basics, such as my goal of changing public perception but also that I was in it for the long-haul. Anticipating skepticism, I gradually began sending short pitches about other subjects or organizations that would be relevant for the publication.

In other words: I made each editor’s life easier by feeding them stories that had nothing to do with me. (For all you new PR/media folks, keep in mind an entire page/website/section of content needs to be filled every day. That’s a tough job! But remember, editors need you as much as you need them). I then went the extra mile and wrote articles that they could place, generally human-interest based upon a particular section.

Over time, this approach led to a foundational appreciation of my work, and their respect that it “wasn’t just all about me or the organization I represented.” My unsolicited shares demonstrated that I genuinely cared about their [the editor’s] success. At the core, the song from High School Musical is true: We are all in this together. Whether or not you wretch on the example, if we—the contributing members of society don’t care and help one another—we are left without a strong, invested and caring community.

It came down to the dog

Fast forward a few years. The six major media outlets, covering four cities in print and then two for the overall region, eventually came around and every two or three weeks, we had a major profile. This translated to over 600,000 ‘eyeballs’ looking at the positive press. Before and after polls showed that the awareness of, and positive perception of the entity went from single digits to over seventy percent (75%?  some people you’ll never win over).

Despite my near two-year efforts, one particularly tough editor simply wouldn’t cover the organization. I was never sure why this was the case, and I assumed that over time the good of the group be covered. Seven years later, she announced she would eventually relocate to the east coast to care for her ailing mother. I was really bummed. Although my work with the non-profit had ended, we’d continued to have the occasional sushi lunches and I brought her German Shepard dogs homemade treats.

The last day, we had lunch, eating spicy tuna hand rolls, talking about how our relationship had overcome the initial bumps and hurdles. She confessed she hated the former policies of the non-profit, and thought they were hypocritical and prejudiced to other non-profits.  

“Do you know why I finally covered your organization? You asked about me after my dog died. No one else did, not even my family members.”

What I’d done was natural to me and would be to every animal lover. They are our everything.  Ultimately, when she hurt, I hurt, and she knew it.

Our relationship with deity is not transactional

In a talk by D. Todd Christofferson, he used this slot-machine mentality in the context of our relationship to God, wherein a person has this “if-this-then-that,” approach. Ergo, if I am a ‘good person,’ my marriage won’t end in divorce. Or, if I give to charity then my business will be a success. If that were the case, as I’m paraphrasing here, then the decrements of our life should also hold true. The reason my car was sideswiped was because of my dishonesty at work.

Not all actions are going to cause a reaction that we desire. Not all books are bestsellers, not all articles are positive and not all relationships work, despite the amount of effort, devotion and love given. Even so, the forward momentum, pushed along by the engine of desire while being directionally correct continues, regardless of the immediate outcome. That’s the long-term approach, with man or with God. Evolving from the immediate impact, such as making the media page, selling the car or dropping off the cake to the neighbor transitions to caring, giving or and loving, the emotion which inspired the act, rather than the act itself. As the phrase goes, it’s not about what was said, but how you made the person feel. 

Returning to the successful executive and the editor, both individuals have been in my life for nearly fifteen years now. I’ve never physically met the businessman and haven’t seen the editor for six years now (and running), but it’s irrelevant. What’s in the heart has transcended proximity and time.