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Op/Ed

How to sound smart when you feel dumb

Oh, the things we do to save face. In all kinds of situations, but especially at work, we often avoid asking for help or advice for fear of seeming stupid. But a new study gives us some surprising advice that makes you look smart.

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Oh, the things we do to save face. In all kinds of situations, but especially at work, we often avoid asking for help or advice for fear of seeming stupid. If you are new to a job, you may be very cautious about making a bad impression or seeming under-qualified. If you’re the boss, you may be attached to presenting yourself as all-knowing, and as someone who doesn’t need help.

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Your fear is a time waster

Fear of sounding dumb can cause us to waste time trying to figure something out when we don’t have enough information or knowledge. Or, we make mistakes because we try to complete a task that we don’t really know how to do.

In the long run, this is going to make us look even dumber, as well as costing us valuable time and money. All because we were afraid of looking dumb in the first place.

About the study

Luckily, our fears may be unfounded. New York Magazine’s Science of Us series just released a video (below) about what happens when we ask for advice. Scientists posed an experiment where 1000 participants were given a test of challenging brain teasers.

Participants were given the option to ask the advice of a partner who had already taken the test. Some participants were told that they could ask for advice without any repercussions, while others were told that their grade would be lowered if their partner thought they were stupid.

Only one third of the participants who had to worry that their partner might judge them poorly were willing to ask for advice. When the partner’s opinion was of no consequence, three-quarters of participants asked for advice.

“Cycle of circular ego-boosting”

This part of the study reveals what we already suspected – that fear of appearing stupid is a major obstacle to asking for advice.

In another part of the study, test-takers received a message from their partner before the test. Half of the time, the partner simply wished the participant good luck. The rest of the partners asked the test-taker for their advice.

Subjects were then asked to rate their partners.

Partners who had asked for advice were rated as more competent than those who didn’t.

Scientists believe that, when someone asks us for advice, it causes us to feel more intelligent, and that confidence boost makes us judge the person who asked for our advice more favorably, creating a “cycle of circular ego-boosting.”

Get respect (and help)

In other words, when you ask for advice, it doesn’t make you sound stupid. On the contrary, it makes it more likely that the person you are asking will find you to be even more intelligent.

So next time you feel clueless, ask for advice! Your coworkers will respect you all the more.

#SoundSmartWhenYouFeelDumb

Ellen Vessels is a Staff Writer at The Real Daily, and is respected for her wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when she’s not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

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Op/Ed

Should there be an age limit on the practice of real estate?

When a doctor’s hands get shaky, they can kill a patient. But when a Realtor’s mind gets shaky, a client can lose thousands of dollars. Should there be an age limit on the practice of real estate?

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I was on the phone yesterday with a lawyer who has aged considerably since we last hired him. I spent nearly 30 minutes explaining how a school calendar works, and that children have three day weekends nearly every month. It took three of us 30 seconds to understand, but nearly 30 minutes for a seasoned lawyer to grasp.

In another instance, I watched an elderly doctor with hands so shaky, he could barely take my family member’s blood pressure, yet they would be performing open heart surgery in under an hour on this same patient under these same circumstances.

In both of these cases, these intelligent professionals should find an exit plan – write a book and go on tour, begin consulting or educating, or retire. What they’re handling is so life-altering, that one slip can change so many lives.

In both cases, their own livelihood is at stake, as is their pride, and stepping down can be crushing not only financially, but emotionally.

Also in both cases, neither party was aware that they’re slipping, and as we all age, it is difficult to tell that we aren’t as sharp as we once were. I’m only 32, but I sure as hell can’t sprint up three flights of stairs like I could at 22, just a decade ago, but that’s so obvious – what is slipping that I can’t even grasp because I’m experiencing it first hand?

This brings me to the practice of real estate

In considering the plight of the lawyer and the doctor, I got to thinking – can’t an aging real estate practitioner slip and cause their client thousands of dollars, just as easily as the doctor can slip and knick an artery? Can’t a loss of faculties cause damage to a transaction, sometimes without the client ever even knowing? Can’t a slowdown cause frustration when communications break down over basic concepts like how to use a fax machine?

I wondered to myself, should there be an age limit on the practice of real estate? Perhaps it should be like drivers’ licenses where at a certain age, basic testing is required. Sure, continuing education is required to keep a license active, but anyone can have their assistant take the internet-based test for them.

Shouldn’t consumers be protected?

There is no real success metric in real estate that can be measured – with lawyers, cases are won or lost, and with doctors, patients survive, or they don’t. In real estate, a transaction can be damaged in immeasurable and typically unseen ways.

Then I thought about Cloris Leachman

Cloris Leachman is 87. If you’ve ever watched Raising Hope, you know that she plays Maw Maw, the senile old bat who is always up to some crazy antic. The show pokes fun at a topic that is painful and not at all funny – aging and senility.

Her character affirms all of our fears of the aging process, that at a certain point, we lose it. All of it.

But then, you must remember that Cloris Leachman is 87. She isn’t actually Maw Maw. She is a wildly successful actor who goes on press junkets, films the show, does sketch shows when invited, answers email interviews and fan mail, and tweets, on top of managing her personal life.

She remembers every line flawlessly, she delivers them perfectly, and she brings Maw Maw to life.

What would Cloris think?

Leachman brings up the dichotomy of the aging process – the elderly person who can barely dress themselves (Maw Maw) versus the same aged person who performs brilliantly year after year.

What would she think of my lawyer and that doctor? I’m guessing that because she has full control of her 87-year old faculties, she’d tell them to retire because they suck, not because they’re aging. She’d tell them to not put people at risk because they’re scared to step down.

Ability has nothing to do with age. This 87 year old can act circles around an aspiring 20 year old actress. Ability has everything to do with ability. Period. There are plenty of 25 and 45 year old coke-head Realtors that put clients’ transactions at risk, and there are many more lazy agents who can’t negotiate, take crap deals, make a mess of paperwork, and expect a paycheck.

Ability has nothing to do with age

Lou Holtz said, “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” Bingo.

So no, there should be no age limit on the practice of real estate, but there should be a stupidity limit. I’m pondering ways to impose such a limit, so stay tuned.

Originally published April 2014.

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Op/Ed

How to create an authentic and memorable brand

(EDITORIAL) Your marketing is only as strong as the brand you create. Make sure you’re creating something with gusto.

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Building a brand is one of the most important aspects of marketing. You’re creating an image or reputation for a product you will present to the public – that’s a pretty tall order.

One of the most significant things to keep in mind is that you are promoting something you believe in. This thought is echoed by author Cindee Bartholomew, who is an expert in self-publishing and branding.

“Be authentic. Be you. Be real. Be honest. Be bold!” Bartholomew says of creating a brand. “If you don’t believe in you, how can you expect anyone else to? Get the word out and keep your name where it is seen often. Contact bloggers. Develop a street team of loyal fans who will promote you. Advertise within your budget.”

According to Forbes, there are 13 key components to building a successful brand: leveraging the testimonial economy, creating emotive appeal, focusing on generating value for others, using the internal dialogue of your clients, being known for a specific niche, identifying and targeting your ideal client, consistency, understanding branding is not about positioning, finding the intersection, sharing your brand asset in a thought leadership campaign, authenticity, watching what makes your heart pound, and defining your brand’s DNA.

This sounds like a lot (and it is) but, by taking it one step at a time, you have the power to create a brand that sells itself. The best way to start this is by asking yourself questions: What is my brand all about? What do I want to convey to the public? What sets my brand apart from others that are similar?

Being able to determine the answers to these questions will help you find the voice of your brand and your target audience. This is where finding the intersection comes into play, as you want to develop a brand that is broad enough to appeal to a diverse number of people, while you don’t want it to be too broad that it gets lost in the shuffle.

While keeping all of this in mind, it is important to be communicative with your clientele should you make any changes to your brand that may affect their consumption. Mattone Restaurant and Bar, an Italian-American restaurant in Chicago, recently underwent some renovations and menu additions. Owner Franco Francese stated that communication with his customers was the most important part of executing these changes.

“The biggest challenges have to do with how you respond to customer questions about the changes,” said Francese. Being on the same page and communicating consistently across the organization can be difficult.”

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Op/Ed

Culling the lazy, bloodsucker real estate agents

Liar. Cheater. Loser. Choker. Incendiary rhetoric seems to be in vogue this year. If we’re going to talk about improving the reputation of real estate agents, let’s stay away from oversimplifications. The answer is more complex than volume or business model.

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Liar. Cheater. Loser. Choker. Incendiary rhetoric seems to be in vogue this year.

“The consultants are like bloodsuckers. They’re ten times worse than a real estate salesman or broker, ten times, which is saying pretty bad stuff.” This was the biting yet confusing commentary from Donald Trump, a real estate salesman himself, at a recent political rally.

Inside the industry

The shots at real estate agents are coming from within the industry as well. Keller Williams’ Chairman Gary Keller recently said that agents who buy leads from Zillow “are lazy and don’t want to do the work.” Surely many of his top agents and teams who effectively use the leads would disagree.

Zillow’s CEO Spencer Rascoff recently told CNBC that the company no longer wanted to work with agents who weren’t “great” (they don’t spend a lot of money on advertising). So they’ll be “culling” those agents who aren’t up to snuff. While a practical business move, avoiding a term associated with slaughtering inferior or surplus animals might be item #1 for the PR team’s next executive media coaching session.

Real estate classism

Before we get self-righteous about these leaders’ word choices, though, it’s worth noting that this kind of language pervades much of the industry’s conversations on the quality of real estate agents.

There’s no shortage of snobbery and classist speech among agents and brokers.

Just ask a high volume agent how we should raise the bar of professionalism in the industry:
“Raise Realtor dues by 1000% and we’ll lose 90% of the deadbeats who bring us down.”

Talk to boutique brokers about their counterparts:
“That head shop will hire anyone who can fog a mirror. Their agents are bottom feeders who don’t sell anything and make us all look bad.”

You hear it from speakers at industry conferences:
“Let’s use the 80/20 rule. We need to get rid of the 80% of crappy agents who are making us look bad, so that the good agents who do 80% of the volume are the only ones left.”

There are some really important conversations to be had about the quality of real estate agents in our industry. We want clear answers as to how we fix them problem. We want the answers to be simple.

Unfortunately, big answers are often necessarily complex. When we group real estate agents into simplistic silos to try to fix our issues, we do a disservice to ourselves.

Volume does not equal quality

We can all agree that there are real estate licensees without the experience, ethics, education, or conscience necessary to serve their clients well. There are bad apples in our midst. They’re a poison on our reputation and should not be allowed to sell real estate.

Let’s not overreach with our reaction, though. This rhetorical journey usually ends with lower producing agents or those with non-traditional business models being given the scarlet letter and pronounced as a scourge on the industry.

Volume does not equal professionalism or quality. We’ve seen sweatshop practitioners become real estate celebrities, only to later lose their businesses and licenses when their practices came under scrutiny.

On the other hand, some of the lowest-volume agents often have the most experience to with which to guide their clients. Agents who are nearing retirement will often shrink their active client base significantly. The buyers and sellers who work with them are afforded all of the benefits of an agent with decades of experience and insight, as well as a greater share of that agent’s attention.

The client who works with an agent who has only one client at the moment may be the client who is receiving the most comprehensive personal service possible.

Then there are those “lazy” agents who buy leads, or pay fees/splits to others who prospect for them.  Since when was specialization of skill and division of labor a sign of laziness?

Selling vs. lead generation

Admittedly, this comes from my position of personal bias. We’ve brought agents on to our team who were low volume producers before they joined. Most had experience, but didn’t want to prospect anymore. They just wanted to work with clients and sell.

Meet “Jane”. She sold for 30 years before joining us. She is one of the smartest, most dependable, respectful, and effective agents we’ve worked with.

By many counts, she should have been tossed from the industry the year before because she only sold two homes. She sold 15 homes last year, a healthy business in a market like Seattle. It still probably wasn’t enough for the sales police to label her volume sufficient. She’s “lazy” because she’s relying on others to generate leads and focusing on her core skills of selling. She might just be “culled” with the other low-rung agents who provide outstanding service and consistently receive raving reviews from their clients.

It’s more complex than that

To be fair, we’re in an industry that has an unhealthy obsession with sales numbers. I’ve stopped counting the number of times someone asked me, “What kind of volume do you do?” within the first two minutes of a conversation (It almost sounds like “How much do you bench, bro?”). So it’s not surprising that an agent’s volume is often the first metric many look to for a frame of reference. Volume makes a big difference in finding out whether or not an agent is good for your team, your office, and your business model.

Let’s just not let it creep so far into the conversation about who deserves to belong within the greater industry. There are a lot of different business models, and different roles that fit within them. Not everyone needs to be a solo, door-knocking, cold-calling top producer to provide great service to clients.

“Jane” isn’t. Her clients will scoff if you tell them that her volume and prospecting system make her a bad agent. If we’re going to talk about improving the reputation of real estate agents, let’s stay away from oversimplifications.

The answer is more complex than volume or business model.

It’s about education, experience, dedication, and professionalism. Those are difficult things to measure, but improving an industry isn’t supposed to be easy.

Let’s skip the simple labels. They’re part of the problem.

This editorial originally published on March 7, 2016.

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