One of the reasons I ended up becoming such a vocal person was NOT because I was born this way - it came about as a result of pain. Lots of pain. The pain of being shy. The pain of not thinking people would listen to me, or even worse — not hear me at all — if I ever spoke up. I was just a shy kid. But something in that reserved social style didn’t sit well with me. I always felt that feeling of wanting to speak up in class, or defend myself when I was getting made fun of, but I could never bring myself to do it.
I was a different-looking kid. Dad is Afghan. Mom is Uzbek. And somewhere in that lineage there is a little bit of Russian blood too… But I was born in Long Island, New York. I was American, right? I guess that’s what I was hoping I could say back to the “real American” kids on the school bus whenever they made fun of me and called me Chinese —as if being Chinese were something weird or funny or both—but I wasn’t even Chinese. I tried to tell them too, but they just wanted to make fun.
When I was around 12 or 13 I started working. Working was fun because it got me away from all the kids at school and it put me in front of adults that made me feel good about myself. I’d go to the mall and work at one of my mom’s cell phone accessories kiosks, selling plastic covers and leather cases to people with Nokia’s and flip phones back when they were cool. I don’t know how people played Snake on their Nokia phone after putting a cover on it; but whatever. I remember one day while I was trying to sell a car charger to this guy that stopped by the store while he was shopping in the mall. He stopped in front of the kiosk, whipped out his flip phone, and said “you gotta car charger for this?”. I reached for the phone and said, “of course”.
I grabbed the charger he wanted and showed it to him. He looked at and asked how much. I told him $19.99 (or something like that). And then he asked for a discount. I said no… and he looked pissed. But right then, I realized that even though I respectfully refused to give him a discount, and even though he might a little ticked about it, I could still sell him the charger, and persuade him to purchase something else along with it. I looked at him and said, “cost too much?” He said, “yeah”. I asked him what he thought would be fair. He said something ridiculous.
I looked at him and asked, “how long you had your phone?” He mentioned it was relatively new. I asked, “you’ve got a charger to charge it up, but what are you using to keep it protected or prevent it from getting damaged?” … I reached for another product — a holster that clips on to your belt for easy access when the phone rings. I handed it to him and he clipped it to his belt. He felt good with it on. In theory, this wouldn’t really protect the phone all that much, but he seemed impressed when I showed him the rotating feature on the holster that would allow him to position his phone sideways along his waist, keeping it safe and secure, and out of his way. Then I pointed at my own phone — securely fastened on my waist with the exact same holster and told him “I’ve got the same thing, man”, and then I rotated it quickly because the clicking sound it made added to the coolness effect of the holster. Then I said, “I love this thing, man.” And I really did.
He bought the car charger at full price because I hooked him up with a discount on the holster.
He was happy. I was happy.
And the reason why you’re reading this story, is because that was when I first learned how to sell and to not be shy about it. Things changed not too long after that day. I became more vocal about my thoughts. I became interested in learning about human behavior and the triggers that cause us to do X rather than Y, and vice versa. Thinking back on it now, who knows where I would’ve been if I never decided to speak up and look for opportunities to up-sell and add even more value to that customer who bought the holster.. even though he was trying to negotiate a lower price; it wouldn’t have happened if he never tried to negotiate. Thanks to him, I learned how helpful my voice could be when combined with a little bit of courage to defend myself and look for something winnable for everyone involved.
Oh, and the kids stopped making fun of me not too long after that, too.