A Former Corporate Chicken’s Guide to Being Tough
By Michael Masterson
The first rule of success – in any endeavor – is to get the important work done. The important work in business is the tough work: cold calling, generating leads, negotiating deals, and closing sales.
If you are not inclined to be pushy, those kinds of tasks are tough to do. Also tough is to push your plan forward in the face of criticism. Other tough-but-important tasks:
- asking for money
- asking for more money
- criticizing others
- pushing people to work harder than they want
- telling a BS artist that his stuff won’t fly with you
- correcting your boss
- refusing to provide help when it’s not really needed
- confronting a business bully
- asking for more money againand yet again
You need to be tough to get the important work done. So what do you do if you don’t feel tough?
“Do you feel the avoidance of confrontation to be the primary hurdle of your career at the moment? Are you too polite to get things done as efficiently as I should?”
Let’s start by saying this: There is hope.
Right now, I want to make an important point – anyone who wonders whether he or she will ever have the guts to get to the top:
You have to be tough to succeed, but you don’t have to start out tough. And doing the tough work doesn’t mean acting tough – and it certainly doesn’t mean acting mean or ruthless.
I know several very successful businesspeople who are mild-mannered and don’t like confrontation. They can be tough, but they don’t act that way. In fact, their mildness gives them some advantages. They make fewer contacts but tend to focus more on those they have. They speak carefully and thus get themselves into fewer jams. They avoid squabbles and lawsuits, which results in fewer enemies. And – most important, perhaps – they spend less time fighting and more time building their businesses.
Consider this as well: There is a danger in getting good at confrontation. You may get so good at fighting that you fight too much. Instead of giving in when it really doesn’t matter, you may find yourself battling it out just to see if you can win another point. (I’m sure you are not like this and probably never will be – but chances are you know someone who is.)
But let’s get back to the question of what to do if you don’t feel tough? How do you gird your loins and take on the tigers? Easy answer: Do what I did when I was just starting out:
- Recognize your shyness.
- See it as a weakness.
- Understand how it hamstrings you.
- Allow yourself to feel ashamed.
- Admit it to others.
- Commit to reform.
A good start is by recognizing that you have a problem. You err, however, when you attribute your problem to “politeness.” By calling shyness “politeness,” you transubstantiate (transform: change or alter in form, appearance, or nature) something ordinary into something admirable. But there is nothing admirable about timidity in your work.
Politeness is a good quality to have in business. When you are trying to get people to do things for you, it’s almost a necessity. So you don’t need to quash your politeness to succeed. You need to ratchet up your temerity.
You need to dig down deep inside yourself and find the pluck to do your job. It may help if you break down each task into its component parts (“I pick up the phone,” “I dial a number,” “I ask to speak to Mr. Jones,” “I say to Mr. Jones…”) and then realize that each part in itself isn’t so scary.
It might help also to recognize that you’ve done tough things before and that somewhere inside you is a person who is just as good and smart and capable as the gutsy person you imagine you’re not.