Were you a Mad Men fan? I was.
I'm bringing up Don Draper because this character was brilliant. Yes, a total fictional character, created by a team of writers, but he has one outstanding, consistent trait that I want to share with you.
As you might (or might not) know I have been in deep research over here at my desk. I'm researching what I believe to be the one of the most crucial elements, if not the most important tool, most important aspect of our lives, of relationships, of our our businesses. Drumroll please… Communication. Yes, that single word is what I am excavating; and it's more than words and more than what you have to say. Communication is everything.
Didn't Don Draper always have a way with his words? And he was just as effective without saying words at all, did you ever notice? He brought the best and worst out in every person he came into contact with, and beyond charismatic. He was famous for saying the right thing at the right time, he saved clients with a smirk, and he had this uncanny ability to bring ease to a dreadful situation that most would cry over. Yes, Don Draper had a communication style that people dream of having.
A crucial ingredient to Don Draper’s communication, is that he was persistent with communicating exactly what he wanted! Think about that for a minute. He wanted to have sex, he told her (any of the dozen plus ladies he has slept with over the years) that’s why she was in his house, in his bed, his arms... He wanted to win a client, he told them his campaign was the best, period. He wanted to be recognized for not being in control he shared his grief with others (usually Peggy). He was constantly sharing himself and for the most part, with utter clarity. There was another vital aspect of Don Draper that I loved even more, and this was his straightforward ability to redirect the conversation to what he wanted to hear.
Years ago I use to attend a particular networking meeting. Every week the same people would talk, the same ideas would go around the room, boring, big snooze fest. Then one day, John walked in the room, an older, skinny looking guy who wore pants that were too big, he wore a brown leather belt that cinched the pants so they would stay on his waist. Old round wire framed glasses sat on his nose above a small grayish mustache that usually had a crumb or two lingering from his morning sugar dusted donut. He lived in Hollywood and was somebody way back when, now just a guy sharing his thoughts on business and life. One day after another boring meeting and wearing frustration on my face, John pulled me aside and said, “Lane, simply change the conversation. If you’re not hearing what you want to hear, start talking about it, change the conversation.” That was a mind blowing moment I had with John.
In my life I was taught to add to conversations, speak only when asked, and nod when he says something funny, right, or smart (regardless if I agree or not). John just opened up a whole new way of communicating. He cracked open my natural born instincts, he gave me permission to voice my opinion, speak my mind, and carry a different tune that others never considered. I will never forget that day, it was June 13 1997, my life changed. This tool of changing the conversation and stating what I want has placed me ahead of the game. I see the world differently. If I have nothing to say, or am clearly not interested in a subject, people know it, I don’t hide it anymore. I simply change the conversation.
Perhaps why I appreciated Don Draper so much is that he flawlessly executed this one trick in communication effortlessly over and over, again and again. Now yes, there can be temporary setbacks, hurt feelings and fierce resentments that can be instilled upon others by using this tool, but the ability to communicate effectively and articulate what’s on your mind, as Don Draper did changes the way the world sees and hears you. In today’s world, communication is everything. If you are not stating what you think, how you feel, or telling people what you believe in then forget about it, the fast-paced tech-talk-tide will wash you away without making an impact.
Changing the conversation is an important skill to learn, it’s definitely something to ease into, and use wisely. Think about what you want to hear, what’s not being talked about, what do you believe in, then start talking about it.
In order to change a conversation, there are three things that you need to do before you open your mouth, those three things are:
1 - Gain clarity on what you truly believe in (or think). Sit for 20-30 minutes, creating space for introspection.
2- Set an intention on what you want others to know about (what you believe in). “I want everyone to know… xyz.. so that… abc… can…”
3- Write it out on paper. This way you can see the words visually -- setting in motion the visual aspect of communication.
Over his years Don Draper changed many conversations.
One of the other aspects of Don, was watching his non verbal communication. He neglected his ability to be monogamous. He struggled with alcohol, shook his head in dismay on how to be playful, and fully available father, he dismissed the idea of ever being a loving husband. He moved swiftly in with his body, pulling his shirt sleeves, and tugging on cufflinks when in a given uncomfortable situation. He revealed so much without words. As the final episodes came to an end I felt a small tinge of sadness, the show closing was really no different then the ending of Jerry Seinfeld, or Sons of Anarchy. All epic characters who revealed a slice of our ever changing cultural musings which have helped me and so many of us relate to our human condition.