We have probably all been called various nicknames throughout our lives. I’ve certainly had plenty myself. At five years old my hair was extremely short, and my Dad nicknamed me “bur head.” If it came from my Dad, I was okay with it. In high school I was called “Broadway.” In college I was known as “Peppy.” And in business I have been known as “The Rocket.”
But at a San Antonio financial conference I was given a nickname that really threw me–but only for a moment or two.
The event was an exciting one. An impressive group of professional speakers were huddled together in the green room. It would have been normal for that kind of conference for one or two speakers to be hired. At this one, though, eight speakers were hired, each given a one-hour slot to wow the audience, which would get anyone’s heart racing.
I was in that green room watching the speaker before me on the monitor, when I heard my new nickname.
“You’re going to hear from many great speakers today, but there’s one you’ll hear from that I’m not particularly fond of. It is his belief that you don’t simply need to uncover an issue that a client might be protecting. He thinks that you should get that client to continue talking about that issue, which he sometimes calls a wound. I call such a person a scab picker.”
A hush fell over the green room where the remaining speakers and I were sipping on water, making idle chatter, and watching the monitor. There was some rather humorous and quizzical looks as if each was saying, “That’s not me – is it you?” I smiled and said, “I think that’s me” and began to get mic’d up for my rebuttal… I mean presentation.
So many thoughts raced through my head as I stood off stage waiting for my real name to be called. But within seconds, I knew what I wanted to say. When my name was called and I walked towards the microphone, I was ready…
“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Rob Jolles, and I am a scab picker. I know that might sound like a terrible name, but I am not ashamed of it. I’m proud of it. You see, I know that people do not instinctively fix small problems; they fix big problems. What’s more, I know that the fear of the unknown often outweighs the pain of the present.
So what can we do about it? We have two choices: The first is to ignore it, and hope it goes away. Ignore it? I’ve spent most of my professional career observing the tragedy that falls on those we care about because no one has the courage to step forward and ask difficult questions. It can be as simple as poor study habits, or as complicated as a dysfunctional scar stemming from a troubled childhood. The players change, and certain elements of the plot change, but the results are the same. In the end, there’s the feeling that there’s nothing we can do about it. We can’t ignore it.
My other option is to try and do something about it. Doing something about it begins by creating trust, and then earning the right to actually have someone tell you about a particular problem. That can be uncomfortable, and that’s not even half the job. If you believe in the change you are trying to create, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty. Getting your hands dirty means asking more questions about the pain someone might be trying to avoid. It means opening the wound a bit more. For the lack of a better word, it means being a scab picker. That’s what I believe, that’s what I teach, and that’s who I am.”
It was a rather shocking opening to a presentation, and not a nickname I’d like to put on my luggage tag, but I stand by those words. The next time you are nose-to-nose with another individual who desperately needs to change their ways, I hope you remember these words as well.
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