Stacking the deck for success: Your initial contact sets the stage for a positive – or negative – interaction. Set it up right and you’re on your way to achieving your goals, whether you’re in sales / customer service — or you’re that consumer with a gripe.

An Ounce of Image…

For many years working in law enforcement and public service we joked that “An ounce of image is worth a pound of performance”. We knew that wasn’t really true but it’s not as far off as one would think. Experts say that a person will make decisions about a person somewhere between the first 10 to 30 seconds. That is a very important fact because you don’t have a chance to make another first impression and you have to work hard to change that impression. If that impression is one of uncaring, not willing to listen, or being just annoyed we have started the contact in the wrong direction.

So “An Ounce of Image is worth a pound of performance” makes sense here. The tenor of your initial contact can make a huge difference in the reaction, cooperation and understanding of the person with which you are communicating. It has been shown that people will tend to mirror other’s emotions and behaviors and starting the contact with a positive image and tone may very well start your customer on the same path.

The workshops of Verbal Defense and Influence talk of the “SHOWTIME MINDSET”. This tool can work wonders when speaking with an upset person. While presenting at a financial aid conference I asked if there was anyone who is known as the “go to” person when others couldn’t communicate with an upset person and a lady raised her hand. I asked her about her formula for success. She said that when a colleague asked for her help she put herself in the mindset of an actor. She took a moment to think that the other person’s role is to be uncooperative, angry and wouldn’t listen. Her role was to be the cool, calm professional and to win the person over with kindness and understanding. She said it not only worked to calm the other person but to calm her as well!

The VDI SHOWTIME MINDSET approaches that “ounce of image” from the essentially the same direction stating that you must “Respond as if you are being watched, be capable of emotional detachment, and know that a difficult person will usually tell you no the first time…but when handled properly most people will comply”.

When confronted with a difficult person you then take a moment to: stand or sit up tall, put a smile on your face, take a deep breath (mentally if the your customer is there), and think a positive statement like, “they like me, I can solve anything! And then think “ITS SHOWTIME” and you are ON!

Maintaining the SHOWTIME image and mindset is important during the contact. Remember the other person may be intentionally trying to get you angry, and will use personal attacks. Your job is to remain capable and effective. This is particularly difficult in these stressful situations. Here are 10 tips from Verbal Defense and Influence:

1. Understand the difference between reasonable resistance and severe resistance.

2. Flexibility is strength. Rigidity is weakness.

3. Always treat others as you would want to be treated in identical circumstances.

4. Anticipate, don’t expect.

5. Use positive feedback when you least want to.

6. Never use the words that rise most readily to your lips.

7. The most dangerous weapon you have is your cocked tongue.

8. Never tell someone to “calm down!” Calm them down by your performance.

9. Remember that when your mouth opens, your ears close.

10. Bad words color good deeds negative.


You now have that positive friendly image, that confidence of a professional and the perfect “public face” for success. Going back to the mirroring concept, your customers may adjust their attitude away from difficult to one of listening more and perhaps cooperation! You may not realize it but you also have reduced your stress and anger level during the contact. It’s important to keep professional detachment and practice tactical empathy. According to Dr. Thompson from the Verbal Judo Institute, “If someone wants to ruin your credibility and get the advantage over you, all he has to do is make your angry enough to misuse words”.


Mark Gotsch, Vistelar consultant


Vistelar Group –