In this series on building sales character, we have been following a proverb that I believe comes from ancient Jewish tradition (Mishnah):
Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become your character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
In this post, we’ll take up the next to the last line: Watch your habits, for they become your character.
Character, in my opinion, can be a complicated issue. When you’re talking about character, you’re describing a whole person.
Describing character can be very subjective, based on what you think about someone. The question then becomes, how can you describe character objectively—less based on subjective opinion, and more based on what can actually be observed in the real world?
Outside Versus Inside
People often display a different character on the outside than they actually have on the inside. They behave very differently to colleagues and friends than they do to their own family. Or the reverse can also be true—they can be kind to their family and friends, and turn out to be a mass murderer. A drastic example is Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda and one of Adolf Hitler’s closest associates who, as a top Nazi official, was responsible for millions of deaths. Despite his evil deeds, history tells us that Goebbels was a very good father and husband (very good, that is, until the Russians were closing in on Berlin, and he decided to poison his children with cyanide and he and his wife committed suicide, but you get the idea). Similarly, Adolf Hitler himself was known to be extremely kind—to his dog.
So how can a character be realistically described? Nobody would ever describe Goebbels or Hitler as nice characters. And without going to such extremes, we’ve known people who were very nice outside of home, but less than so to their own families, and vice versa.
The truth is that people describing someone are often doing so based on one or two single experiences. Sometimes people can get angry, or react differently than normal. We’re all human beings, and nobody is perfect. For example, when Brett Kavanaugh was before his televised confirmation hearings, he didn’t display much emotion, and people assumed he didn’t show them. But he then had an emotional reaction to an accusation, and everyone was then talking about how emotional he was!
A person could have had a bad day, lost a deal, had a family member that was getting on their nerves, or had an argument with someone. Then they happen to run into someone who ends up saying, “Gee, that’s not a very nice person.”
So to really describe someone’s character, a more holistic view is required.
Here’s an interesting experiment you yourself could conduct. As a child growing up, you would have had a very definite opinion of your parents. But talk to siblings or even parents of your mother and father, and ask them two question:
1. How would they describe that person (your mother or father) in just a few words?
2. What were their strengths and weaknesses?
When you’ve gathered 4 or 5 accounts of a person, you can overlap them and get a more realistic view. Then it could be said with some accuracy that they were friendly, or kind, or rude, or polite, or charming, or funny.
That doesn’t mean you’ve now isolated the total character, because I think it’s probably difficult to make a total judgment.
If you conduct this exercise, you may be quite astonished at how others perceive the character of people you consider you know intimately.
As you can see from this experiment, character cannot be evaluated from isolated experiences, but from the display of character over time.
What About You?
When you look in the mirror, are you perceiving the character that everyone around you perceives? What would people say who are regularly living and working around you? How would they describe you?
You could then ask another question: Is that who you would like to be?
When you pass away, if you have a tombstone, what short statement would you like people to inscribe on it?
Now, are you on your way to becoming this person who you really want to be? Or are you just fantasizing, and what is happening in the real world is completely different to what you’re perceiving in your mind?
Learned Over Time
Becoming a character doesn’t instantaneously occur. It doesn’t just suddenly happen that you’re a “nice person.” It’s like a profession—it must be learned over time, and worked on. You might have a few great traits, but these must be filled in and colored out.
This is how you become the character you want to become.
Of course, you might also want to make sure that it’s the character that you should become.
Many have said, and I’ve said myself, that you should always be growing.
It’s interesting that whenever we see a child we haven’t seen in awhile, we tend to say, “My, how you’ve grown! And you’ve become so smart, and nice!” But when we run into an adult we haven’t seen for a time, the opposite often happens. “Wow! You haven’t changed at all!” For whatever reason, we expect that a person over 20 has stopped growing. Why isn’t it considered a natural part of life that we continue to grow spiritually and holistically as human beings?
The character that you become follows your thoughts, your words, your habits and actions. It is ongoing. Therefore I would recommend that once a day or so you reflect on that. Just like you take a shower every day, take a “mental shower” by going out at the end of the day, taking a walk, and thinking about your actions.
Coming Back to Sales
All of this, of course, greatly applies to sales. In sales, it is extremely difficult to fake great character. You can be friendly on perhaps a few calls during the day, but anyone that hangs around you for very long will be able to observe who you really are. Think about it: conducting business is frankly easier with someone you like, someone you consider “cool.” What does “cool” mean? It means someone with whom you can be yourself—you don’t have to pretend.
That doesn’t mean you have to be someone others would put on a pedestal, like a hero. More than heroes, the world (and sales!) today needs just more ordinary great people, the kind that, when we meet them, we instantly know are great individuals.
In sales, it’s someone who, at the outset, shows empathy—and that’s something that cannot be faked. You can’t just say, “Today, I’ll show empathy to my prospects.” Or, “Today I’ll create a win-win situation.” You cannot even perceive a win-win situation if you have the hidden intention to “screw the other person.”
Another vital component of character is respect. Respect of course begins with the respect of oneself, because great character is founded upon self-respect. We don’t necessarily have to love everyone (and I don’t know if that’s even possible) but at the least, we do have to respect everyone.
Character is tested—that happens to all of us. Such a test comes when you least expect it, and it’s usually a “trial by fire.” If you’re gold, you don’t burn. But if you’re paper, you burn up and the ashes blow away. It’s a test to your honesty, your integrity, and the perception by others when they see that you’re being a great person despite something bad happening in your life.
In sales, character is how you’re working, talking, writing, communicating and living. It’s what is visible to everyone else. Your actions will underscore what you say or it will negate it it…it’s as simple as that.
Can You Change?
What happens to the person who feels they have bad character? Are they stuck with it for life, or can they change? Is change possible, or is everything unchangeable “fate”?
I personally believe (and many agree with me) that human beings are definitely capable of change. We’ve even seen that remarkable change can happen in prison, as in the legendary case of Malcolm X.
So watch your habits…for they become character.