I’m not a big self-help book reader.
Books by men like Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins and Brian Tracy have never had much appeal to me. So, when I read those names in the dedication to the “authors and other influential people” in the back of Michael Maher‘s book, “The Seven Levels Of Communication,” I had an instant negative reaction. I immediately stopped reading, and I set the book on a stand beside my bed.
Michael had given me a copy of his book just after having heard me speak at CRS Sell-A-Bration in Orlando. We sat down for a bite to eat at lunch the next day and talked about life and business and I walked away from that meeting thinking, “this is a sincere guy who is truly motivated to help others achieve success in their life.”
Despite that impression, the book has been sitting on my shelf for over six months. It has languished there mainly due to my perception that it was going to be a “typical self-help book.” The problem is, my perception of “a typical self-help book” is built entirely on short snippets of speeches delivered by the three men I mentioned above. I’ve never read any of their books. In other words, I have no idea what my real aversion is about. I’m sure there’s a good psychological study in there somewhere.
This past Sunday, during one of my self imposed social media blackouts, I decided to take a nap. It’s rare when I do this. True to my form, I fought it. As my head hit the pillow, I reached over, picked up The Seven Levels Of Communication (7L) and once again turned to the back of the book… this time to read the “Heartfelt Appreciation” section in it’s entirety. What I found was that several people I count as good friends, including Brian Copeland and Maura Neill, were on the Board of Advisors for the book.
I have no idea what role they played in the process, if any, but those names caused me to set aside my bias and finally read the book. My nap turned into a complete reading of the book.
I’m not inclined to do a critique of this book. I’m not a book critic. I am amazed, quite frankly, at anyone who has the discipline to write a book, let alone one that has as many people touting it as this one does. But what I will do is tell you what I learned.
It’s important to understand that this book is written specifically for real estate agents. It’s also written in story form and has four main characters. It follows the path of a guy named Rick Master as he goes from a real estate agent on the brink of bankruptcy (with a huge bias against “self-help” and coaching) to the top selling agent in his office. Michael mixes a bit of romance in to spice things up a bit. You’ll either like the style of the writing or you won’t. I wasn’t moved positively or negatively, which would normally bring an end to my reading, but I kept reading anyway. I’m glad I did.
What I Learned
I understand a bit more of what Michael had to say at our lunch now. He said my presentation that day aligned very well with that 7L was all about. The presentation was entitled, “Listening As Strategy.” A snippet of it is below.
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This segment includes concepts regarding community and the need for us to move beyond conversations around shared interests to conversations that get us to shared values, and about the fact that your values are your true brand. And 7L speaks to this almost directly.
Michael lists the seven levels as advertising, direct mail, electronic communication, handwritten notes, phone calls, events and seminars and 1-0n-1 meetings. The bottom three, advertising, direct mail and electronic media are in the “information zone.” The top three, phone calls, events and seminars and 1-on-1 meetings, are in the “influential zone.” Understanding the hierarchy is pretty simple. 1-on-1 meetings have a higher impact than advertising has. 1-on-1 meetings have greater influence than phone calls have.
The book moves you through a fictional coaching process that addresses how to use handwritten notes to create impact, how to organize your time during for the highest impact on building relationships, and on focus, getting things done now. This includes minimizing email and electronic distractions and making a specific number of phone calls first thing in the morning. Since my stay at The Ranch in January, I’ve been slowly learning how to eliminate the multi-tasking that has dominated most of my career and focus on a single task at a time. It’s been transformational.
But one of the things I’ve not taken control over is how I deal with email. If there is one key behavioral take away from this book for me, it’s this: set specific times to respond to email and don’t allow it to dictate your activities during the day. It’s simply too easy to get derailed from the tasks that are import. Next step – a schedule for email that I can live with.
I Am Here For You.
“Wherever you are, you need to be there 100%.” This is a line the coach in the book delivers to Rick Masters. It’s also a buddhist principle expessed as “I am here for you.” It is the guiding force behind a quest I’m on to “be present.” Since Sunday I’ve added email to the list of items I shut down and only turn to when I can focus fully on it. Thanks, Michael.
Michael also believes 80% of your time in the real estate business should spent be on the phone or in front of people. He spends a good deal of book space illustrating how to move people you want to influence into 1-on-1 meetings. I can smile knowingly now about Michael’s insistance at CRS Sell-A-Bration that we carve out some time to meet 1-on-1 for lunch. Having read his book, I see clearly that this is something he does with intent. He wants to move people into the “influence zone.” It’s not random. And I don’t think it’s insincere either.
The Generosity Generation
I’m not big on systems. Michael clearly is. So, if I’m rating the book, I rate it lower for that reason. Besides, most of the systems discussed in the book are directed specifically at real estate agents. I’m not a real estate agent, though I could certainly see how some of the systems could apply to any business. So, what stood out for me was not any one system that I could apply to my business, but the overarching theme of “the spirit of helpfulness.” This is where “your values are your true brand” comes into play. I’m a firm believer in the notion that the more you give the more you get. This is the premise behind “the generosity generation” that Michael introduces in the frist chapter of the book.
This line on page 13 is what made me keep reading. “In the old days, the only way to get business was cold-calling, door-knocking, and other ways to market to strangers. Everybody spent time and money trying to attract and close people they’d never met. In the Generosity Generation, we can spend our time, energy, effort and money on people we actually like and trust. In the end, those are the ones who are most valuable to our business.”
This is truth. I’ve been doing business this way for as long as I can remember. But what has been missing, more times than not, is a constant, undistracted focus on the areas of communication that deliver the highest impact. For me, the intent is not what has needed changing, it’s the direction of the intent. Too much time has been spent in electronic communication and not enough time has been spent on the phone, at events and face-to-face.
This past Inman Connect in San Francisco was one of the best I can remember. But I didn’t attend a single presentation. I spent my entire time at Lobbycon, talking with friends, meeting old friends face-to-face for the first time and discussing business in small grops and 1-on-1. There is no question, that is the real “influence zone.” My takeaway from Inman and my takeaway from The Seven Levels Of Communication are one and the same… I need to spend more time 1-on-1 exercising the spirit of helpfulness I believe in so strongly.
Thanks for giving me the book, Michael. And thanks for inviting me to that 1-0n-1 lunch.
Note: On the stand beside my bed, I have two other books that have been languishing for months. They share similar stories. They are, Tom Ferry’s “Life By Design,” and Stefan Swanepol’s “Surviving Your Serengeti.” Perhaps I should finally read those too.