Special delivery

special_deliverySometimes it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. I always have a good laugh remembering one time I drank a healthy dose of that particular truth.

You see, my ex is a quality guy. That’s not a character judgment, but rather a statement of his commitment to the best–the best tools, the best playthings, the best electronics, the best everything. And usually the best comes with an equally superlative price tag. Whenever he set out to make a purchase, I braced myself. It’s no wonder I became such an easy target…

Shortly after we moved into our first house, Mr. Quality worked on setting up his stereo for surround sound. Something wasn’t quite right, so he diagnosed the problem and headed for the electronics store. When he got back, he gave me a sheepish grin and said he had something to tell me.

What is it? I asked cautiously.

Well, he said, remember I told you the tweeters in the big speakers weren’t working? 

Yeah… I trembled.

Well, when I went to get new ones, I realized we could use some other things, too. Don’t worry, though; these new speakers will really sound great when we watch movies!

How much? I demanded, unamused.

Two thousand dollars, he replied.

WHAT?! I shrieked.

All hell was about to break loose in my kitchen. Only a couple of years out of college (me) and the military (him), we weren’t exactly making a ton of money. Then things took an unexpected turn.

Nah, said Mr. Quality. I’m just teasing. It was only $600.

I exhaled forcefully. Oh, thank goodness! I said, practically crying with relief. That’s not so bad!

Yeah, he said chuckling, I wasn’t sure how you’d take the news about $600 if I just told you outright.

Wait–what? I had totally been played. He was right; I wouldn’t have taken a $600 announcement well. We didn’t have much room in our budget for it, but $600 seemed to be a pittance after I thought we had shelled out $2000.

Thankfully, I’ve always been able to laugh about that little trick. Every time I think of it, I am reminded of how much presentation counts. It really is, as they say, all in the delivery.

And it doesn’t hurt to know your audience, either.

Eye candy

EyesWhen I started cooking as a kid, I loved to try new recipes and even make up some of my own. I lived for the praise I hoped to get at the moment of truth, when I served my dish. I knew something wasn’t right when my stepmother would say, It has good flavor.

Now, those words may look innocent enough, but my first reaction was always to retort, But it looks like crap?

***

Years ago, I sometimes helped my former mother-in-law serve food when she catered large events. Although the food always tasted good, what really set it apart was its presentation. Sometimes I thought we spent as much time arranging each platter as my MIL had spent preparing it. (Did you know that a cheese tray looks terrific on a bed of red, curly lettuce? Or that there’s even such a thing as red, curly lettuce?)

I never minded helping her because her customers were always so profuse with their compliments.

***

When I lived in Germany, I tried hard to make sure I spoke using good grammar, but as a non-native speaker, I regularly made mistakes. What I did master was the accent. To this day, I have friends who tell me I speak perfectly, even as I stumble over an adjective ending. They just don’t hear it because the sound is right.

***

One of the toughest things to get used to in my job was formatting my work a certain way–even the drafts and the internal stuff. At first the requirement seemed like overkill, but eventually it sank in and became a habit. Now it comes almost naturally.

One day it all came together.

After reviewing some documents I had presented to a client, he remarked about how pleased he was with them–especially the format. I never get anything this well put together, he said. I expected to work on this, but I can share this with my colleagues just as you’ve given it to me. I am so impressed.

Time after time I am reminded that presentation is half the battle. If you make it look right, sound right, act right–whatever it is–people are more receptive to the content. The package is part of the experience, and people eat with their eyes first.

Say what?

Several years ago, I participated in some company focus groups that were designed to test a new insurance concept. The premise we worked from was that people who exhibited certain behaviors would have to pay more for health insurance. As an average sized, non-smoking employee, I didn’t readily fall into the group of “The Punished”, but the concept nonetheless felt uncomfortable to me. Apparently others shared that opinion, because the idea never matured into reality.

Fast forward a dozen or so years.

In a conversation earlier this week, a colleague told me about a program in which his daughter-in-law participated at work. Clearly intrigued with the idea, this colleague told me that his DIL’s employer had issued her a precision pedometer to measure her daily step activity. Periodically, she would plug it in to her computer and upload the data to the company system. As long as she maintained a certain average, she qualified for a discount on her health insurance rate. Best of all, he said, it was completely voluntary.

I found myself nodding along, liking the idea of a discount. That could work, I thought to myself. I’d certainly do what I could for a discount.

As I thought about this scenario later, I realized that it was exactly the same idea I had shunned years before. The only difference was the language.

When presented as a premium or a punishment for bad behavior, I found myself thinking terms like unfair and judgmental. When presented as a discount or a reward for good behavior, I reacted much more positively, mentally sifting through all the ways I might earn it. Sign me up! I thought.

In case you’ve forgotten, words can be powerful change agents. Words matter.