I noticed something troubling involving many startup founders I’ve met this year: They suck and have no people skills.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware of the fact that I’m an asshole. The title of my last book was Social Media Is Bullshit. Do you have any idea how big of an asshole you need to be to put out a book with a title like that? But, and this is worth noting: I am not an entrepreneur, nor do I have any plans to ever be one. So, I can afford to be an asshole. My job is to get on stage, make people laugh, and collect money. So, this isn’t about me. I know who I am and what I want out of life.
But for you, Mr. or Mrs. Would Be Entrepreneur, you don’t have that luxury. You can’t be an asshole if you’re going to be successful. You can become an asshole AFTER you’ve become successful, but you have to get there first, and that simply ain’t going to happen if you don’t know how to interact with people.
Thankfully, learning how to interact with people, or to put it another way, “How Not To Be An Asshole”, is super easy. You know what the trick is? The trick is to actually give a shit about a person. Not necessarily people, but a person. You see, people are dumb, ignorant, and prone to kill you over any given thing, up to and including a Black Friday deal on discount VCRs. And, do you seriously know anyone who owns a VCR these days? But a person! A person is smart, wonderful, compelling, and as annoying and stupid as some of them may be individually, I think everyone should be treated with kindness, love, and respect until they give you a reason not to treat them in that way.
And I’m saying this as a professional asshole. You see, I’m only an asshole to people I think deserve it. Social media marketers like Gary Vaynerchuk? Totally deserve it. Amateur Mimes? Ditto.
But sadly, I don’t see this approach being done with my friends in the start-up community. This is a pretty serious problem. The fact is this: If you can not deal with people on an individual basis, they will not deal with you, and you in turn you will make a shitty product which no one will want to use. And that sucks. Come to think of it, entrepreneurs acting like assholes have deep and lasting ramifications not only on their own business, but the ecosystem around their business and, in turn, the larger economy of their city. So you could make the argument that if you’re an entrepreneur and an asshole, you’re a drain on the national economy.
So what do you do if you totally lack people skills and don’t know how to begin taking an interest in people on an individual basis? Truthfully, the cure is as straightforward as the logic behind practicing it: Interact with as many people as possible and shut the fuck up. Seriously. Shut the fuck up. I’ve seen so many entrepreneurs blow sales, press opportunities, and other moments where they could have scored a victory because they simply would not shut the fuck up. I know it’s not an easy thing to do, especially when you’re a entrepreneur and the world HAS to revolve around you and your idea for it to succeed. But. Being able to learn when to shut the fuck up, and when to speak, is mission critical. And it’s not negotiable either. You can’t half-ass it because if you fake it when you’re listening to someone, they WILL notice, and they will judge you, harshly, for being fake. And once that gets out, it’ll take years (and lots of money) to undo the damage done to your reputation. And when will you know when to shut the fuck up? You won’t. Not initially. But after talking to people and taking interest in them on an individual basis, you’ll begin to see patterns emerge and how they respond to different things. And from there, you’ll figure out real quick when to shut the fuck up.
A good rule of thumb? Ninety-nine percent of any given conversation with another person shouldn’t be about you. I know. That sounds crazy, but it’s true. You shouldn’t be in the business of starting conversations with people to hear yourself talk. You should be in the business of starting conversations with another person to learn something from them, or just to have fun.
(Oh. That reminds me: I shouldn’t assume you’re a master conversationalist. Don’t worry. There’s no secret to that either, just listen carefully and ask leading questions. That’s all there is to it. A person’s favorite thing to talk about? Themselves.)
Thankfully for everyone reading this post with this particular problem, the fix is easy, and it’ll cost you nothing. And since I mentioned that entrepreneurs who are assholes are a drain on the national economy, the return on investment of NOT being an asshole speaks for itself.
Image by Eduardo Arranz. B.J. Mendelson will be speaking at our AllTwitter marketing conference on June 4, 2:30 pm – 3:15 p.m. in a keynote entitled, “The Truth About Twitter: Everything You’ve Ever Needed To Know (And Some Things That You Didn’t).”