Start Off On The Wrong Foot? What To Do…

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Start Off On The Wrong Foot? What To Do…

March 29, 2009 Persuasion 4

waitresssmSo let’s say that when you begin to interact with someone for the first time,  you have your say and then something in what you say causes all of what you say and do to be rejected.  Better known as starting off on the wrong foot, the opening slip trips you up and causes any chance of a meaningful connection to slip away.

What to do?  Here’s my advice in a word.

STOP.   Two more words.  GO BACK.  Two more words completes the plan.  BEGIN ANEW.  Because starting off on the wrong foot also means that you’ve obviously missed something fundamental to a successful connection, and until you recognize it and speak to it, you’ll not make progress in building the connection.

I once witnessed a waitress do this after things got off to a bad start with a table of restaurant patrons. The waitress was in a bad mood, unrelated to these patrons, but her mood effected their mood, and not long after that their behavior became, well, rude.   Everything she said and did seemed to make things worse.  And she became increasingly frustrated and confused by it.

Finally, she stopped trying to go forward.  She actually unset the table, and without saying a word.  It was like watching a movie in reverse.  She picked up the menus, water, silverware, place-mats, everything.   Then she came back to the table, and as she set down water for everyone, she said, “Guys, we’re starting over.  Hello and welcome!  My name is Denise, and I’m here to help you have a delicious meal and a pleasant afternoon.  Can I bring you anything from the bar to get you started? “

The patrons laughed away the earlier difficulty, and at the end of the meal, left Denise a bigger than usual tip.  As they should have.  Because she had a smarter than usual response to rejection.  She stopped.  She went back.  She began anew.

If you ever get off on the wrong foot with someone, if a conversation slowly or suddenly makes a turn for the worst, there’s no call to keep going, and every reason to back up, and begin anew.  “I think we got off on the wrong foot.  If it’s okay with you, I’d like to start from the top, and this time, really give you my best.”

That’s my best advice to you.  Your comments and feedback are always welcome.

Be well,


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4 Responses

  1. J.D. Meier says:

    I love do-overs in action.

    Sometimes that’s all it takes, admit the mistake, own it, pick yourself up and move forward. Otherwise, it’s a progressive cycle down.

    • @J.D. Meier,
      Thanks for the comment, J.D. I’ve played with the idea of getting to be the Bill Murray character in Groundhog Day, repeating the lesson over and over until it becomes obvious, and all that you learn along the way to that aha moment.

  2. Jay Koch says:

    When I first started working with horses, there was a mindset that once you ask a horse to do something, and she refuses, you have to keep asking until you get the results you want. Otherwise the horse “wins” and you lose respect. This sometimes got us into some real battles. There was one time that I was riding my mare, Baby, near the bank of the Rio Grande. We were turning around and heading home. I wanted Baby to back up a little for no reason other than showing her she should. I just wanted her to take one step backward. Baby felt like that if she took one step back, she would back off the bank and into the river. For some reason, it became really important to me to get Baby to back that one step. I wrestled with her for a while until she gave up and took that step.

    A dozen years later, I can remember our battle, but I have no idea why it was important. Like that waitress, I should have stopped what I was doing and started all over. The actual step was not important. What was important that I had Baby’s “respect.” Unfortunately, by getting into that struggle with her, I lost a lot of leadership points. It would have been so much better if I had honored her fear of stepping backward off the bank, reset, and asked her to do something else. By understanding and respecting her fear, and not making a big deal about it, I would have been a better leader.

    When working with people, it’s so easy to get into the “because I said so” mindset and insist on doing something a particular way when it would be in everyone’s best interest to start all over again. Thanks, Dr. Rick, for sharing that lesson.

    • @Jay Koch,
      Jay, that’s a great lesson learned, and I love learning how what works is what works, independent of context, be it dealing with people or dealing with horses. Thanks for the comment, and do come back and tell us more!
      Best wishes,

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