Put Yourself in the Other Guy’s Shoes

When I tell you this story, you may think it makes me look like a jerk. But it conveys an important lesson – a lesson that will serve you well in both your business and personal life.

Okay. So here’s what happened …

A person I don’t know called me at work out of the blue the other day – while I was frantically writing to meet a deadline. “I am reading your book,” he said, naming one of my titles. “There is a typo on page 383,” he said triumphantly, as if dropping the biggest bombshell since Hiroshima.

“Thanks, but you don’t need to tell me about it,” I said politely.

He stammered, absolutely stunned.

I knew it was not the response he was looking for. He expected me to write down the information he was about to give me … and possibly engage him in a dialogue (which a lot of book readers want to have with authors). Instead, I simply thanked him for phoning, and ended the call.

I didn’t lecture him – but if I had, here’s what I would have said:

“Sir, I don’t know you. I am not sure why you feel compelled to take time out of your day to call me up and report that there is a typo in one of my books. And I am not sure what kind of satisfaction it gives you. But I’ve written 60 books, totaling more than 12,000 pages. I would be surprised if there were not a number of typos within those 12,000 pages.

“The book you are referring to is one I wrote more than 20 years ago – and it is not going to be reprinted again. So there’s nothing I can do about the typo you found.

“Also, I have a dozen projects on my desk right now, all with deadlines. To finish this work and run my business, I have about a hundred tasks on my priority list. Taking a look at my books that will be reprinted – and fixing typos in them – doesn’t even come close to making that list. In fact, it’s not even on my radar as far as ‘important things to do’ is concerned.”

As I suggested at the beginning of this article, you may feel that my response to my anonymous proofreader was offensive. After all, wasn’t he just trying to do me a kindness?

That’s possible. But in my experience – and after two and a half decades of getting such calls – I have found that kindness is often not the primary motivation. Often, the caller revels in showing the published writer that he made a mistake. More frequently, he hopes that the author will become a friend or (unpaid) advisor – and that pointing out the typo will somehow open up a relationship.

And that’s where my caller went wrong.

Because if you’re the one who is trying to establish the relationship, it’s incumbent upon YOU to really understand the other person – what he thinks, what he wants, and what’s important to him.

This is true not only when you want to sell an idea – but also when you want to sell a product or service. So for those of us who are in the business of marketing a product or service, this means understanding your CUSTOMER … what he thinks, wants, needs, fears, and desires. What’s important to him – NOT what’s important to you.

In the example of my anonymous proofreader, a better way to establish contact with me might have been as follows:

“Bob, this is Joe. I’m reading your book and there’s one thing in it that I’d like to briefly discuss with you. It will take less than a minute. Do you have time now?”

This same approach works beautifully in selling – either when cold calling or following up on inquiries. People are busy, and they cannot abide it when others don’t respect their time or understand just how pressured they are. I ALWAYS ask when calling someone I don’t know: “Is this a bad time for you?” If they say “yes,” I ask when would be a better time to talk.

My caller could have continued: “I found a typo in the book. Do you want to know about it?”

This is also a good strategy in selling: Before launching into your “pitch,” ask the prospect for permission to proceed.

The point is this: If you want to open up a relationship with someone – a potential “friend” or a potential customer – you need to know how to communicate effectively with him. In other words, you have to, as the cliche goes, “Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes.”

“Whatever you cannot understand, you cannot possess.”– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

[Ed. Note: Bob Bly is a popular Early to Rise columnist, self-made multi-millionaire, and the author of more than 60 books, including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing and The Copywriter’s Handbook.

He is also the editor of ETR’s Direct Marketing University: The Masters Edition – a program to help you start your own successful direct-mail business.]