Don’t Burst His Ears!

Sometimes, all that looks delicious is not edible!

Every successful organization has at least one original geek who has stuck around from startup days. monkey_01 Scott Leonard was one of those ‘originals’ for DoubleClick . He was there long before Google took a couple-of- billion-dollar worth fancy for DoubleClick. He was there even before DoubleClick could afford to employ a small army of engineers to steer its pioneering advertising technology towards corporate hall of fame.

Yes, Scott was one of DoubleClick’s original architects when it all started from Kevin O’Conner’s basement in Atlanta (Of course, “starting from the basement” narration has a lot of dramatic merit; who is there to scrutinize whether it was a luxury basement of a sprawling mansion?). Then, when young DoubleClick struck gold and logically graduated to the crowded skyline of Manhattan, Scott got talked into relocating to Big Apple—a big step for DoubleClick, but a giant leap for a person who abhorred stepping out of Atlanta. Later, when it was the turn of young Cybage to strike gold by signing an outsourcing contract with DoubleClick, Scott was cajoled into repeating the favor. Only this time, the giant leap was over a couple of oceans!

This was Scott’s first exposure to a developing nation; I drove all the way to the Mumbai airport to ensure that his landing was smooth. As we sat sipping coffee at an airport hotel, I realized that Scott was running a temperature—partly because of his travel exhaustion, but mostly for having psyched himself about traveling to a third-world country. Once we started our drive back to Pune, I politely tried to create a diversion, ‘How do you feel about the drive?’ I enquired. Scott aptly summed it up, ‘I feel like I am right in the middle of a CNN documentary!” The rest of the drive was mostly in silence.

Over the next several days I saw little of Scott. He was busy working, and I was not getting the opportunity to take him out for lunch or dinner. You see, he had come all prepared: lots of canned food to last his two-week stay in Pune. Towards the end of the trip, he finally started getting the hang of India—even started smiling a bit. On one occasion, while driving from his hotel to Cybage, he witnessed two guys pedaling the same bicycle, together using the solo paddle, and burst out laughing!

Seeing him loosen up, I gathered enough courage to take him out for dinner on the last night of his stay in Pune. To ensure a grand finale, I chose an upscale Indian restaurant at a premium 5-star hotel. No hospitality gesture was left unturned on this gala dinner night for Scott. He kept hesitating, we kept encouraging. So he ate and ate, and then ate some more. As the sumptuous dinner came to a close, the hostess served paan—a stimulating preparation of betel leaf that, perhaps, Wikipedia is better suited to explain. Scott was not prepared to push the experimentation this far. He confusingly looked at us with a plea. We persuaded him to go for it—how can one have a grand closure of an Indian meal without the traditional paan? And that’s when it happened, and it was over before we knew it!

No sooner had the paan disappeared behind his lips, Scott’s facial shades underwent lightening changes. His expressions were visibly distorted, a helpless darting of eyeballs—all indicators pointing to an inevitable ‘throw-up’ of our expensive dinner! Panic buttons were activated, a napkin hurriedly handed over to Scott, who fortunately had the presence of mind to quickly spit out the paan before swallowing it. After few awkward moments of recovery, Scott uttered the betel words—‘Once I am back in US, I will issue a warning in public interest: ‘Don’t fall for any Indian hospitality gesture that includes paan—that green stuff is not edible, it’s a Christmas decoration!’

Soon after his return back to US, Scott quit DoubleClick. While I am sure that his quitting had nothing to do with his infamous experience with young Cybage happy, the current Cybage character has surely a bit to do with its experience with Scott.

When it comes to being overbearing—be it on a personal hospitality front with an existing customer, or a professional presentation being delivered to a prospect—too much pushing is always counterproductive. For when we push too far, we end up reducing our customer or prospect into a second Gandhian monkey… one who chooses to close his ears to your forceful advances.

Now before we hop over to check our last standing monkey, it’s time to extract yet another valuable business lesson from the learned readers. Pushing too little or too much of ‘quantitative’ information to a prospect can backfire—Cybage now understands that well. But what about the ‘qualitative’ part? Which of the following positioning of your presentations to your prospect has the finest pragmatic balance? a) Speak the honest truth about your strong as well as weak areas; b) Speak the truth about your strengths, but maintain silence about your weak spots; c) Inflate the truth about your strengths, while deflating your weak spots; d) Not only spruce up the truth, fake your weak areas also as being strengths?

Original, Customer, Understand, Style


  1. As always, very well written.
    Among the options i’d go for (a) as that is what the prospect when converted, would eventually discover. Its better to start the business relationship with truth than to end it following a discovery of flaws!

  2. a Cybagian is always truthful.

  3. I think it is a good idea to highlight our strengths. We may want to ‘keep silence’, but must not be hidden when it is obvious to inform client.

    • * keep silence about weaknesses.

  4. LOL about Scott’s experience. Scott seems to have a ‘Sheldony’ sense of humor. Loved the CNN remark part.

    Anyways IMHO the options given to the query posted in the last paragraph is not as simple as it sounds. Everyone exaggerates about their strengths and try to downplay their weakness. A simple example is the ‘Strength’ and ‘Weakness’ section of the appraisal form where everyone keeps going on and on about their achievements but fail to provide even a half-decent weakness (even though they know their weakness). So the same applies while dealing with the client. Do we just take the easy route and say ‘yes we are great and no we have no kryptonite’ or do we say risk it all by admitting that ‘even Achilles had a weak heel’. Tough decision.
    So if i have to choose any one of your options then i may go with option A but with some modifications. ‘Speak the honest truth about your strong as well as weak areas but mention the action plan you have in mind to address those weak areas.’

  5. When it comes to business dealings with a new prospect then always option “b” is my choice, as sometimes there will be a first time. No one comes as learned on everything, especially in the tier 2 segment. Its better to remain silent than being vocal about what we d’nt have in the first response or interaction and we should rather speak only about what we have and leave the weak spots to be situationally managed as the famous saying goes ” We will cross the bridge when we get there.”

  6. This article is a delight to read; worth reading for every corporate citizen.

    It is a fact that Strengths & Weaknesses are two sides of a coin, needless to say that they go hand-in-hand. And, Customesr/Prospects too are aware of it. They are least bothered about such things provided our strengths suffice their requirements and add value to them, and our weaknesses hamper our process, to the minimum, in catering their needs. And yes, it is anyday better if we convince the Customer/Prospect that we have a plan B ready to overcome our weaknesses.

  7. In my opinion, we can highlight our strengths that are more critical to customer business and important to our relationship; highlight the weaknesses which are least important to customer business. For other weaknesses, we can discuss those honestly if there is a discussion around the same and also our solution or alternative options as to how we can overcome the same.

  8. I choose the first option “a) Speak the honest truth about your strong as well as weak areas”.

    I am learning lessons from the blog. Thanks.

  9. This is really a good blog.
    My way of thinking is Scott should be happy for tradinational Paan. Because he got the Experience from the paan and now he will never go for it. 🙂
    In our industry experience is worth.
    About the option I will gor for A and with some change as already described by CrazyGuyonBike- ‘Speak the honest truth about your strong as well as weak areas but mention the action plan you have in mind to address those weak areas.’

  10. Interesting blog. I liked the way ideas are being shared.It was hilarious to read the client experience being shared here but at the same time can well imagine what the situation must have been like for all.For me ,C and D option is completely ruled out .While we can use option A for new clients to grow the business initially.As we proceed in building a strong client relationship we can make use of option B for these clients but letting them know the areas that we have been working on to improve on weak spots and action plans for maintaining consistency for the strong areas.

  11. I love to read your Blogs. When it comes to a prospect we should usually end up highlighting our strengths and keeping silence on our weakness. Once we get in to business with the identified prospect we can surely throw some hints of our weakness which again needs to on gradually.

  12. I think I would go with option b).When a prospect is deciding bombarding with weakness is not a good idea.Actually it is a very delicate moment when prospect would be taking a call so it would be good to provide just required information and then hold on.

  13. First of all, I really admire this blog and your views. I keep on looking for the latest article of yours. 🙂
    As far as it is about keeping a pragmatic balance, I believe option ‘a’ should help the most but with going a step further while opting for it.
    We should make our client aware about our strengths as that’ll give us a competitive edge. At the same time while putting our weaknesses in front of client we should go prepared with the ‘improvement strategies’ that are being adopted to overcome those weaknesses and how they are not going to impact (or atleast have no severe impact on) the client needs. This should also help increase their confidence in us.
    Otherwise also, since honesty is the best policy we should be confident to follow that.

  14. Another gem and another situation.

    But in my opinion, during a presentation, there is no absolute truth, it is all very subjective. It all boils down to adjusting your version of truth to the tone of the conversation

    For example, common sense says you always over play your achievements. But being in the field for so many years I have to say, there are times when you have to underplay / tonedown the truth, your strengths, and achievements so you don’t overwhelm the prospect.

    The real question here is — how you handle your weaknesses.

    I believe any response or how you choose to position your company, should align with organizations goals. As individuals and as an organization, we all work towards getting better at our strengths and continually try to find ways to overcome the weaknesses.

    Having said that, we should remain honest to our occupation and not dig holes to later find ourselves falling in them head down. Anything told with the right intention and confidence of having the backend to support it, is the right way.

    To answer within the given 4 options, in an ideal world, assuming my audience is mature a) Speak the honest truth about your strong as well as weak areas.

  15. Indeed a very good and awesome blog.

    The base of any relation may be personal or professional should be built on truth. In the end it is what one takes from you. Its like how you feel good when someone says proudly “he/she was always true to me.or this group was true to me ” In the end, the truth is the only thing that matters, though the benefits may not be seen in the short run but it comes with long term benefits. Trust is slowly built over time with truth. Because the truth is always worth the risk but it is a huge risk professionally, being true may not get you huge gains or may even run you into slow downs but if you stick through it would benefit later.

    Deciding whether or not we choose to speak our truth needs to come from our own honesty with ourselves about why we are speaking the truth. Truth can enhance or destroy a relationship, depending upon the intent.

  16. When we attempt to attain any kind of assignment from anyone, its for the point that we are confident over the skill required to complete the task.

    Similary, taking some job and getting blown up just because you promised and could not deliver since it was not the strength but rather weakness in terms of skill set that was required to complete the task.

    I’d say I would follow below:-
    a) Speak the honest truth about your strong as well as weak areas;

    Who knows, the customer might be able to tell us about the possible avenues of our strenght or the areas of improvement for future. 🙂

    As long as any organization has the potential to stay young, hungry and foolish for knowledge, it can grow and think in new directions.

  17. Relationship grows with the similar thinking while business extends with the quality achieved. Mirror absorbs the light and shows the true face. Strenght fragrances while weakness smells but both occurs due to the medium of air. That what has more quantity it empowers. So better develop the strengths the other one will reduce automatically. A normal nose senses both fragrance as well as stench. It never requires any radio station to relay the news.

  18. Fantastic Arun. Great write-up.

    I would go for Option B. Better to talk about our strengths and keep mum about the weakness. We can always work on our weakness later to convert them into our strengths.

  19. As far as having pragmatic balance i can’t ssay much about it but i prefer in my personal LIfe is option a) Speak the honest truth about your strong as well as weak areas.
    Also i would like to share an instance when i got some beautiful replies from elder ones when asked for some suggestion about the same. There Answer was always to choose option b). No doubt speaking truth always about your strength as well as weakness will backfire you most o fthe time but trust me when you once speak truth about your weakness, you are afraid of it and as time passes you will observe that you are not having that quality which you said to be your weak point. Thats mine perspective towards it. I know it is easy to say but difficult to follow but once you start speaking truth about your weakness you will start loving it, because then you have nothing to be afraid of that if someone gets to know about it.

  20. Being an Indian we have a tendency to impose our choices on others. I have a similar experience in my previous organization being in a pilot batch I was given a responsibility to receive a client from her hotel and bring her to the office. After my first formal interaction with Kimitra I came to know that she is very open and friendly. She wanted to know more about India and Indian culture. On one fine day we planned a small get together with the entire batch. As she had shown little interest in our food everyone tried their best to bombarded her with original Indian food. It was so nice of her to keep her calm and try her best not to upset with this overly done hospitality. But it was visible with her expression that she didn’t like anything and she was just looking for an escape. I came to her rescue and explained everyone that we already had heavy Indian breakfast on our way to office. In India we have a culture where we need to feed forcefully to our guests because guest might be a shy and might not have enough. We are too much concern about others or at least show too much concern for others because we were taught to do so. From this experience I learned that whenever we are dealing with client we need to be more introspective and aware about their culture and customs. It’s good to talk about our strengths because that’s what we are supposed to do while representing our firm but sometimes things do happens and we get carried away with the flow. I personally believe that to have a great relation with our clients we just needs to go with the flow and avoid being too pushy.

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Don’t Burst His Ears! - Arun Nathani Blog