When I started dating the woman who is now my wife, it was just a touch scandalous.
This was seventeen years ago, and we were both working at a magazine - Entertainment Weekly - but on different sides of the publishing fence. She was on the business side selling ads, and I was on the editorial side writing articles. Church and state. Art and commerce.
Okay, maybe art is a strong word for my round-table Q&A with the Melrose Place cast. But still. It was something and commerce.
Remember, this was back when there was still a so-called "Chinese wall" between advertising and editorial. Nowadays, as publishing struggles to figure out a new business model, the wall is more like a screen door with a busted hinge.
But back then, our relationship was still enough to raise eyebrows. When my wife told her boss, he said "That's great. So which one of you is quitting?" He was kidding. Mostly.
There are many reasons I'm glad our Montague-Capulet romance survived (e.g. our three kids, the fact that I now know what sconces are). But one big reason I'm glad we got married is that she's taught me how to be a much better businessperson.
I was thinking about this when I was approached about doing something for LeanIn.org's Lean In Together campaign. The idea of Lean In Together - which is the brainchild of Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg - is to stress how important it is for men to promote gender equality. Men should "support women" at work. Honestly, I don't think my wife needs much of my support. More often, she just needs me not to throw up roadblocks.
So I can't act all noble and say that I'm a huge help to my wife's career. But in honor of Lean In Together, I do want to thank my wife for teaching me some fantastic business lessons. Here are three that come to mind:
1. When negotiating, silence is your best friend.
I'm a nervous natterer. I have a natural tendency to fill the vacuum with overexplanations and justifications and apologies. Julie has taught me to embrace the silence.
Keep it short, sweet, confident and declarative. For instance, she'll quote a client a price of $150. They'll counter with $50. She'll respond "The best I can do is $100."
Then she'll wait. Let the silence settle in. Luxuriate in the awkwardness. It's much more powerful than non-stop chatter.
2. When selling, it's just as important to listen as it is to talk.
Julie is the head of sales and marketing at Watson Adventures, which runs highbrow scavenger hunts in historic neighborhoods and museums. (Check them out. I'm being totally objective when I say it's a fantastic company).
Many of her clients are businesses looking for a team building experience.
In the initial meeting, Julie starts by asking what the company wants to accomplish in an event. She listens for buzzwords. She takes notes.
Then, when she writes a proposal, she mirrors a lot of her client's language. It's a winning strategy. Either clients are impressed that she listened. Or, if they forgot they told her, which is often the case, they're astounded by how closely her vision aligns with theirs. A miracle!
3. Keep in touch
At the start of her career, Julie was working at an ad agency but loved magazines. She finally got an informational interview with one of the publishers of Entertainment Weekly. At the end of their chat, he told her, "We don't have any openings, but keep in touch."
So she did. She wrote him a note congratulating him on the magazine's award. She shot him an email when she read a relevant article.
A few months later, he hired her. He said he was pleasantly surprised by her persistence. She said, "You told me to keep in touch. So I did. Is that so weird?"
This is not to mention how brilliantly organized Julie is. Let me put it this way: She once had a color-coded sticker system for arranging her Real Simple magazines. Just yesterday, she taught me a new organizational trick. When she opened the (regular) mail, she found an invitation to a fundraiser for my college. So she snapped a photo of it on her iPhone and emailed it to me with a searchable keyword. I love that!
She's also taught our kids to be ace negotiators and mini-salesmen. My 10-year-old, for instance, is fearless when it comes to cold-calling. When his school had a raffle, he had no trouble knocking on the doors of neighbors with whom we barely had a 'nod-as-you-pass-in-the-lobby' relationship. He knew he might get rejected. But he also knew rejection is part of sales. Julie has taught him well. So I guess I'm saying, thanks for marrying me, Julie. Keep in touch!
A.J. Jacobs is an author of several books and the organizer of the Global Family Reunion, coming June 6. Meet thousands of new cousins and support the fight against Alzheimer's. Join the family by clicking here.
This post is in honor of #LeanInTogether, an initiative that stresses how important it is for men to support gender equality.
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