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Real Men Speak Softly

“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” Theodore Roosevelt

How often do you hear people selling themselves? Far too often, I’d bet. Well, I’m here to tell you that real men do not talk – they do.

I was taught at a very young age that children should be seen and not heard. When I got a little older, that lesson was reinforced, with a little less dysfunction and a little more wisdom, when I was taught that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than it is to speak and remove all doubt; a proverb with many roots including old Norse literature, the Bible, and even Mother Goose stories. Unfortunately, as ubiquitous as this proverb may be, few pay it much attention.

Newly-admitted attorneys often explain every detail of the procedure that they know, while more experienced attorneys spend their time listening to their clients and attending their needs. In an effort to justify their ability to write prescriptions, nurse practitioners often explain more about a particular antibiotic than anyone needs to know, including all the unrelated diseases it treats – as if they hadn’t worked hard enough in school to earn that right. Students often preface arguments with “I’m a law student” or “I’m a whatever major” and “I know what I’m talking about.”

Experience eliminates the need to sell experience.

People are reciting their resume’s to me all the time. Real estate agents using “standard forms” that they’ve never read, let alone can understand, tell me that they have “been doing this for 15 years, and they’ve never had a problem.” During a recent negotiation, wanting to convince me that a particular penny-stock was currently worth several hundred thousand dollars, opposing counsel said to me, “I’m a former trader, you are going to have to defer to me on this.” Of course, I didn’t.

Judges don’t do this sort of thing. Neither do surgeons, experienced investors, or Ph.D. candidates (although undergrads can certainly be forgiven for wanting to share their newly found discoveries with family).

man-speakingWhen you talk about what you know, you are telling the world that you are, at the very least, insecure about how much you know. At worst, you are telling the world everything you know. Either way, you are doing yourself disservice. N0 one who knows as much as you do can be taught. No one who focuses on themselves can ever be effective at making any kind of substantive argument. No one who spends so much time selling their experience can ever be respected as experienced.

Even parents who say, “I’m the parent, that’s why” are skirting the line here. The focus should be on the parenting, not the parent. Your kids see through that shit. Really.

Real men do not talk about themselves. When they don’t know something, they are able to say so;  they know that the only shame in not knowing is not wanting to learn. Real men have nothing to prove. They only have things to do. Real men’s egos are fed by the satisfaction of doing. The satisfaction of learning. The knowledge that they are doing good in the world. That is the source of true respect.

Speak softly.

And only use a stick when you absolutely need to.

Scott Fine



  • http://grahamcgibbs.com/ Graham C. Gibbs

    Great piece, Scott! Hope others take from this as much as I did..

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sherrye-Hyland-Gibbs/1491154173 Sherrye Hyland Gibbs

    You really got me with the part about real estate agents … I’ll share this with the agents in my office …