When is Pushy Not Pushy?

Wise people have known since antiquity that self-awareness is a key factor leading to success.  After all, 2500 years ago, Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”  This is not just true of leadership; it applies equally to business development.  Self-awareness provides an important advantage in any situation because in addition to helping us utilize our strengths and remediate weaknesses, it also helps us identify assumptions that narrow our thinking and thus restrict options.  It is human nature to formulate theories about ourselves and the world and structure our lives as if those theories were facts.  The specific theories, however, vary widely from person to person.  Here are a few examples:

“Being pushy is bad.”

“I don't fit in here.”

“Anything less that perfection is unacceptable.”

Peter Senge refers to such ideas as mental models.  In his groundbreaking business book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, he talks about the value of distinguishing and analyzing such beliefs.  Spoiler alert: Many of our beliefs (even for the most brilliant among us) do not hold up under scrutiny.  Furthermore, identifying inaccurate or overgeneralized beliefs frequently saves time, money and energy both in business and in our personal lives.

Here is one example of how this phenomenon applies to business development.  Joe was unwilling to ask for referrals because he didn’t want to be pushy. Pushiness was very bad in Joe’s world, akin to being a social pariah.  Thus, it is not surprising that, despite knowing that asking for referrals is one of the best ways to develop high quality business leads, Joe was initially reluctant to do so.  He was worried that it would annoy his friends and colleagues.  Since Joe had never consciously thought about “pushiness” he had lumped it together with asking for what he wants.  Granted, if a person expresses what they want over and over and over again with no consideration for other people’s feelings or desires, almost everyone would agree that is pushy.  Yet, in this case, Joe had lumped together repeated pestering with making a respectful request.  Just as with the eggshell skull principle, we know that it is always possible that some freakish person out there will have an unpredictable response; but for the vast majority, asking for a favor is not pushy at all.  People often appreciate the opportunity to help one another.  This is how business is conducted. It is how relationships are built. It is how friendships grow.

As lawyers, we are exceedingly careful with the logic we use when writing briefs, when talking to clients, negotiating, etc.  But we are still human, and we still make assumptions and generalizations without labeling them as such. Personally, this is why I believe so strongly in coaching.  If you are working on leadership or developing business, you can read books, find mentors, and share ideas with colleagues.  There are numerous resources available.  Yet, coaching is different because it helps us find the flaws in our logic and see where we have been limiting ourselves unnecessarily.

"There are no facts, only interpretations."   Friedrich Nietzsche