Days before my 10-year wedding anniversary, I was sweating bullets about what kind of gift I could buy that would be more special than anything. I found myself flipping through catalogs, driving to the mall, and going into random stores, but nothing I found seemed special enough to celebrate a decade of marriage.

Zero Art Knowledge

At the time I was deep into my career as a radio trade magazine publisher, and I knew nothing about art. As I was walking down the street, I wandered by an art gallery. Frankly, I’m not sure I had ever been inside one, and as I glanced in the window, I saw a lot of beautiful paintings and some elegant old furniture, none of which I could relate to. But, because I was desperate to find something, I went in.


A Bit Snooty?

A well-dressed woman approached me, and looked me up and down with what I felt was a sense of disapproval. After all, I was probably wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and probably a lot younger than her typical customer.  

Without her lips even moving, she said, “May I be of service to you, sir?” Probably thinking I was there to steal something.

“Um, just looking,” which of course did not get her to walk away. It was clear I was around millions of dollars’ worth of stuff, and she was going to shadow me.

“Are you here for a specific purpose? Do you need to decorate a home, perhaps purchase a gift?”

I was totally intimidated, did not feel welcome, but said, “Well, I’m looking for a 10th-anniversary gift for my wife, but I don’t know anything about art. I was just walking down the street and decided to wander in.”

“Very good, sir, but I should probably make you aware, these are rare antique paintings and furniture, and, well, I don’t mean to be rude, but they are quite expensive. Is it possible that you might be looking in the wrong place?”


Sizing Me Up

Clearly, I did not belong, or so she thought, but little did she know I had just sold a business and could probably have afforded anything in the store. So I simply said, “I don’t think that will be an issue. Can you show me some things?”

I don’t think she believed me for a minute, but there was no one else in the store, so she played along, showed me some paintings, asked what my wife liked, and then pointed me to some really beautiful paintings that were, to my mind, very expensive.


Industry Jargon

I liked the paintings very much, but then she started spewing a bunch of gobbledygook I did not understand. She talked about the era of art the paintings were from, talked about the movement the artist had been part of, and threw out technical jargon that totally turned me off. This went on for about 10 minutes, and as my eyes glazed over, I decided I needed to get away.

Politely I told her that I did not understand a thing she had just said, and that it all seemed very important, but it did not matter to me.


Catching Me Off-Guard

Then she did something that totally caught me off-guard. She said, “The things I just told you may not matter to you now, but as you get to know more about art, they will be meaningful, because you will have paintings that are among the best of the best. You see, one of these paintings will not only be the perfect anniversary gift — it will make your wife cry when she sees it — there is a strong chance that it could put your kids through college 10 or 20 years down the road, or build quite a nice nest egg for when you decide to retire. And if you ever decide you don’t want it, bring it here, and I will always pay you what you paid me for it.”

She had me with “this will make your wife cry,” and it didn’t hurt to know that something I was buying might be worth money in the future, and that if I got into a pinch, I could get my money back. She was good.

I ended up buying one of the paintings, and it made my wife cry. And in fact, I later learned that the artist was very important, and that painting should be a nice nest egg for my ex-wife in her future.


This dealer helped me grasp the advantage.

The ability to help others grasp the advantage is one trait that all successful people possess.

All too often we speak in abstract terms that mean something to us but mean nothing to others. Yet all of us have to convince others of things in our lives from time to time.


Steve Jobs Could Sell Anything

One day Steve Jobs walked up to the top engineer at Apple and told him, “We need to make the boot-up time on the Mac 10 seconds faster.” The engineer told him it was not technically possible.

Then Jobs said, “Let me ask you this. If someone’s life depended on it, could you do it?”

The engineer said, “I guess I would have to find a way.”

Jobs then said, “10 seconds times the millions of users that use our products is equivalent to 72 years wasted. That’s someone’s life.”

The engineer not only figured out how to cut 10 seconds, he cut 20, because Steve had made him relate to the challenge in a different way to grasp the importance of that 10 seconds.


Guilty as Charged

Most trial lawyers will stand in front of a jury and say, “The plaintiff is sick. His employer is responsible, and they need to pay up.”

Trial lawyer Gerry Spence will stand in front of a jury and say, “Ol’ Bill over there got up at sunrise every day of his life for the past 40 years. He loved his job, he was devoted to his company, and he needed that job to support his six kids, who he put through college on his low salary, sacrificing what he and his wife wanted so they didn’t have to work in the coal mines. His back would hurt from shoveling coal, and he would breathe that awful black coal dust every day for 40 years. He was coughing and hacking while he worked, his skin was covered with coal dust, and the dust was always getting in his eyes. There was no fresh air to breathe, and workers were not allowed to wear masks. Now that he has cancer, his company is unwilling to pay for his care. Does that sound right to you?”

Gerry Spence helps the jury grasp the situation.


What if you and I spent more time helping people grasp the problem, the situation, the need?

We all get caught up in our own worlds. My doctor will use terms I can’t understand, and he loses me every time — until he sees my eyes glaze over and puts it into terms I can understand.


Speak in Actions, not Abstractions

Instead of industry jargon and terms others don’t understand, try to make a movie play in their heads. See your own movie, and describe what you see while weaving a story they can relate to.


Like Pac-Man

It’s also helpful to use things people already know to help them relate to what you’re trying to tell them. “There are these little creatures inside your bloodstream that are like Pac-Man, eating up everything in their path” is a lot more effective than talking about antibodies.


The Woodstock of…

It’s why I say the Plein Air Convention & Expo is like the Woodstock of plein air painting. People instantly grasp that it’s a giant, fun gathering with all the top artists, and a rare and special moment in history.


Oh, I Get It Now

Helping others grasp the right perspective is something few people do, but something that all successful people tend to do, knowingly or not. Doing so will help you in every part of your life … whether it’s convincing your kids of something, trying to sell your husband or wife on an idea, communicating with others, writing, or even selling something.

Translate everything to a story others can relate to. Find things that matter to the listener. Doing so will make a huge difference in everything you do.

Can you think of a time where you have failed to communicate with someone?

Is there something important you need to accomplish that you’ve been unable to convince others about?

Can you find an example of something else people already understand that could help others relate to it?

Help others grasp your perspective. It will do you a world of good.

Eric Rhoads

PS: Friday night late, I got back from San Francisco, where we spent some time exploring the places we’re going to paint in Wine Country and around San Francisco for the April Plein Air Convention. I’m really excited. We also decided to create a new indoor painting arena, so people who don’t want to go out of the hotel the whole week can stay inside and have a plein air-like experience with moving clouds, light, and sound, when others go out to paint. (Ironic, isn’t it? Indoor plein air painting!) It will be like looking out the window, and painting the outdoors from indoors.