Reposted from March 15, 2009.
I don’t have kids so it’s easy for me to say. I know it sounds harsh, but if I did have kids I’d really rather know. So often in business we are forced to work with people who won’t go to that place of, “tell it like it is,” and it’s frustrating for the rest of us who want to know the ugly truth. I’m not suggesting you lose all regard and respect for common decency, I am asking you to be the person who’s known for telling the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s a place you’ll share with few, but be respected by many. None of us want to hear bad news, but quite frankly once we hear it we can then begin to process it and even resolve it.
Here’s my story of how I learned a very important lesson in being forthright. I was a rookie mortgage banker back in 2002. Business was booming until about April of 2004 when the rates began to climb…had I even known enough to panic, I would have. Instead I plodded along for another couple of weeks…that’s when the panic set in. You see in the world of mortgages, you gamble daily on whether the rates are going up or down. And you hope that you lock-in on the “good day” when they’re down so your clients are happy. And when your clients are happy, everybody’s happy. I had about 40 loans in the pipeline as they call it and hadn’t locked about 15 of them. There’s a 50/50 rule on both the customer and the banker to agree upon and lock rates, but you can’t blame a customer when you’re equally as responsible. Did I mention that rates were climbing? I didn’t sleep. I was worried and was bombarded with phone calls and emails from people asking me what rate they were locked in at…this went on for two weeks and I was just sick.
Finally, one night at about 7:30 I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to email all of the clients who were out there “dangling.” It went something like this, “I have made a grave mistake in securing the lowest interest rate for you, given the influx in the economy, things have been unpredictable…and for all we have been through as a nation since 9/11, that one quarter of a percent on an interest rate seems insignificant in comparison.” Then I went on to say, “…I will honor the rates you are expecting by taking personal financial shortages to keep my promises.” I closed my eyes and hit the “send” button. I felt relieved.
The next day, I was flooded with emails from customers telling me that they’d split the difference with me, or that they’ll take the eighth higher, of course some simply said, “OK.” By the end of that day that email would cost me nearly $16,000 and I only had $8,000 to work with. I called my bosses boss and explained to him what had happened, how I handled it and then I quit talking. He didn’t think twice about it; he picked up the difference, even chuckled at the mess I was in, called it a “split” then actually thanked me for my candor.
It was my willingness to go there that saved those loans. Facing the customers wasn’t the hard part, it was all the drama I created leading up to the confrontation that was grueling. While I didn’t have a very fruitful April, I did close over 30 loans. Some of them even became repeat customers. That year I was the top producer in the State of Tennessee…by only a few loans…ones I would have lost had I not been willing to tell my clients they had ugly babies.
From that experience I now have a formula for handling unwanted news:
- Procrastination: don’t avoid conflict, the wait is worse than reality
- Problems: should be dealt with up front, set the right expectations
- Promises: may be your only source of business integrity; keep them
- Planning: when organizing daily tasks, put the hard ones first; get ’em out of the way, hit your easy button and go on with your day
People really are willing to work with you if they know the facts. And that in and of itself is great to know. Again, my post eludes to humility, but I have to be honest with you, prior to this incident, I avoided conflict at all costs. I figured if I ignored it, it would eventually go away. It never did.
Now I embrace being a “tell it like it is” person. It makes me a better leader and a better sympathizer. It also makes me a better manager of my time when I’m not wasting it worrying about all the “what if’s” that never come to pass. Go ahead, tell me my baby’s ugly. I can handle it.