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What A Necktie Can Teach You About Success

Yesterday I was visiting clients.

At my first stop, my client looked at me and said, “You’re wearing your UVA (University of Virginia) tie today. ” His son is graduating from high school and enrolling at UVA in the fall.

I left his office and went to another client’s office.  He said, “You’re wearing your Bucknell tie today.”  You guessed it.  His son is enrolling at Bucknell in the fall.

The tie is one of my favorites.  It is a simple alternating stripe pattern – blue and orange.  I’ve always thought of it as my Denver Broncos tie.  And I have a funny story about it.

Several years ago I was doing a talk for senior executives and board members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.  I had been invited by John Arigoni, a friend and President of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Denver.

The evening before my talk, John introduced me to one of his board members who was attending the meeting.  After we exchanged a few pleasantries she said, “I know you’ll do Denver proud tomorrow.”  I said, “Thanks, I even brought my Denver Bronco tie to wear during the presentation.”

Her eyes widened in horror.  I could tell that she was imagining that I would show up wearing one of those really ugly fan ties that NFL teams sell.  I assured her that the tie would be in good taste.

The next morning, I arrived at the meeting room to make sure everything was ready to go.  The guy who was helping me with the setup said, “I see you’re wearing your Auburn tie.”

My talk was to a national audience and had to do with how to be influential with people.  I began it by telling the tie story.  One of the guys in the audience raised his hand and said, “It could be a Chicago Bears tie.”  Another guy thought it could be a Clemson tie, somebody else said it could be a New York Knicks or Mets tie.

They were all right – and that leads me to the important career success point here…

In order to create the life and career success you deserve you have to be adept at building strong relationships.  Relationships are an important key to your success.  You build relationships by paying attention to other people.  You can’t assume you know what is going on in their head.

George Bernard Shaw is my very favorite playwright.  There’s a character named Mr. Bohun in one of his plays, You never Can Tell.   Mr. Bohun is a know it all.  Several times during the course of the play he says to someone, “You don’t know.  You think you do, but you don’t.”

And that’s the point about my Broncos/UVA/Bucknell/Auburn/Clemson/NY Knicks and Mets tie.  I put on the tie and assumed people would know that I think of it as a Broncos tie.  My friend with a son going to the University of Virginia thought it was a UVA tie.  My other friend thought it was a Bucknell tie.  Each of us thought we knew what the tie represented, we were all wrong.  Or as Mr. Bohun might say, “We didn’t know.  We thought we did, but we didn’t.”

And this can be a relationship killer.

Assuming that other people think like you and know what you do, is a recipe for conversational and relationship disaster.  How do you fix this?  Simple.  Don’t assume you know what other people are thinking or that they will interpret an event the same as you.  Take the time to learn how other people think and perceive the world and you’ll be better able to build relationships.

So the next time you find yourself assuming that you know what someone else is thinking, remember what Mr. Bohun has to say – “You don’t know.  You think you do, but you don’t.”  Then ask questions and listen to make sure you truly understand.

Read more posts by Bud Bilanich, Ed.D., The Common Sense Guy, a career success coach, leadership consultant, motivational speaker, bestselling author and influential blogger for JenningsWire.