My family and other animals

My family read together each night throughout my childhood. We’d sit on our faded blue living room couch and listen to my father read aloud.

One of the books we discovered together was My Family and Other Animals by famed naturalist Gerald Durrell. Gerald relates stories from living on the Green island of Corfu with his fractious siblings and widowed mother between 1935 and 1939 and the beginning of his naturalist adventures.

One story stands out in my memory. Gerald, a precocious 10 year old, asks for birthday presents. Very carefully, from family member he requests a gift which that family member is well suited to gifting.

From his brother Larry (who became noted author Lawrence Durrell), Gerald requests a pair of binoculars because he knows his intellectual brother appreciates the importance of observation and detail. Gerald’s brother Leslie is the most practical member of the family, so Gerald requests a sensible Ersatz alpine hat. The list also includes exotic items like an airgun and a scorpion encased in amber.

I’ve always been impressed with the poise and forethought Gerald showed in assessing the personality of each person and requesting the appropriate gifts.

As I’m traveling in Mexico this week with my own family, that forethought seems even more useful. It is hard to play to the strengths of another person, but worth the effort.

Help people do things they already want to do

Years ago, my old professor BJ Fogg advised me that the best way to help people was to enable them do things that they already wanted to do.

You are going to be more successful if the idea you are selling is one the other person is already inclined to believe.

Develop the empathy to know what they want

Gerald Durrell accurately assessed the strengths of each member of his family. To do so required a lot of empathy, an understanding of each person.

Practice this kind of empathy through curiosity. As I discussed in Everything is Sales selling is rooted in discovery and a deep curiosity about your customer.

In order to sell, you must first develop the curiosity to understand who the other person is and what they need.

Spend time with people doing their thing

My good friend David and I live 30 minutes apart and would enjoy seeing each other more than we do. But we only get together only a few times a year.

We share a love of weight lifting and recently went to the gym together for the first time. Now we’re scheduled to spend time weight lifting together once a month.

Identify the person or group that you want to spend time with. Adopt their activity or find something that you both enjoy that you can do together.

I only go on dates that I’d be happy to do solo

First dates have a low probability of success, whether due to cancelation or a lack of chemistry. Years ago, back at the dawn of online dating, I decided to only go on first dates that I would be equally happy to do solo.

Prioritize things that you’ll enjoy, even if the company or outcome is uncertain.

Maintain flexible goals

In my early 20s, I built a company helping kids with autism and their families.

With children with autism, progress is often so gradual that most people wouldn’t notice any change. And because progress can be so unpredictable, it helps to maintain flexible goals.

The more you cling to a specific outcome, the less likely it is to happen!

In selling, too, not getting attached to a specific outcome results in better learning and more growth.

Gerald Durrell took enormous delight in carefully requesting the exact thing of each family member that they would be most inclined to gift him.

Even if the rest of us aren’t quite so meticulously, there are some lessons to be learned about selling and persuasion from his example.

Until next time,

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