Everybody negotiates.  Unless you live in a very remote area that requires almost no interaction with other people, your life is going to involve negotiation to some degree.  Some people, of course, negotiate frequently as part of their professional responsibilities, others only negotiate in the context of their personal lives.  But whether your life requires the type of sophisticated negotiations in which business, legal, sales, and other types of professionals engage, or whether your negotiations are simpler and less frequent, it behooves all of us to understand how negotiation works, and to have the right attitude about it.  And unless the person at the other side of the table is an true “enemy” (e.g. negotiating a surrender after a war, negotiating a resolution to a lawsuit) part of the right attitude is approaching negotiation with empathy.

The idea of empathic negotiation will probably sound oxymoronic to most people.  After all, negotiations are, by nature, competitive.  In what context would you ever want to have empathy for somebody with whom you are in direct competition?  My purpose in writing this article is to suggest that the way that we view our ‘opponents’ in a negotiated setting is not very constructive, often leads to deadlock, and is likely responsible for some unsatisfying agreements.

When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.
— Stephen Covey


1. This is Not Truly a Competition

This idea will seem very unintuitive, and possibly even counterproductive, to most people.  Isn’t the whole point of a negotiation to get as much as you can possibly get?  Isn’t getting as much as you can possibly get out of the negotiation directly damaging to the other side’s interests?  Wouldn’t we assume that our negotiating partner is going to protect those interests fiercely, and all attempts at getting the other side to yield would be competitive in nature?

The answer, of course, to all these questions is “yes, usually.”  And while certainly aspects of any negotiation are going to necessarily be competitive, that does not mean that the proper approach to a negotiation is to think of it as a competition.  Rather, in almost all circumstances, the better approach to negotiation would be to think of it as a collaboration.  If you’re seriously trying to negotiate, you’re approaching the negotiating table with a need, you have an expectation that the person on the other side of the table is going to be capable of giving you what you need, and you should expect that you’re going to be in a position provide her with what she needs.  Both sides come to the table with a problem that needs solving – both sides should be able to walk away from the table with a satisfactory solution.  Approaching such a situation with understanding and compassion is an important part of setting the stage so that you can persuade the other side that she can provide you with your needs without sacrificing her own.

This is not universally true, of course.  Occasionally you will be forced to deal with somebody who is completely unresponsive to your overtures and unappreciative of the fact that your need is legitimate.  As an optimist, I tend to think this is actually rare.  Treat your ‘opponent’ like a collaborator, and you’ll set the stage for a more satisfying result.

2. Distinguish the Need from the Position

In most negotiations, each side comes to the table with a particular ‘position’ in mind.  Let’s take, for example, a private auto sale.  Jonny wants to sell his 2004 Toyota Camry, and he lists the price at $5000.  Tanya wants to buy the Toyota Camry, but she only wants to pay $3000 for it.  When the two come together, they each present their respective positions – Jonny’s position is that the price of the car is $5000, Tanya’s position is that the price of the car is $3000.

It’s perfectly possible that from there, Jonny and Tanya can narrow the $2000 gulf in between their respective positions through offers and counteroffers.  Jonny might say “well, I can let it go for $4500,” to which Tanya will counter with “$3500” and so forth.  But when you approach a negotiation with only the positions in mind, without exploring what the ‘need’ truly is, you might miss out on an opportunity for creating a more satisfying deal.  What Jonny didn’t tell Tanya is that he has a college tuition payment coming up, and he’s worried that if he doesn’t have something in the neighborhood of $5000, he won’t be able to pay his college bills.  So Jonny’s ‘need’ isn’t $5000, his need is to have the ability to pay his college bills, and if there were a way to do that without Tanya agreeing to his ‘position’ that the car is worth $5000, Jonny would be satisfied.  What Tanya didn’t tell Jonny, and would have had no reason to tell him because she knew nothing about his need, is that her best friend works for Jonny’s school and is privy to several scholarship opportunities that could assist Jonny with his financial burden.  If Jonny’s college bill was lightened in this way, he might be much more likely to sell the car for a number closer to Tanya’s expectations.

Of course, this is a fairly crude example, but a scenario like this demonstrates why showing empathy, and spending some time to try to learn about your negotiating partner and what his needs are, can help both parties reach a more satisfying resolution.  If the parties in the hypothetical agreed to a $4000 purchase price, it would be a far less satisfying resolution for both parties than if Tanya helped Jonny secure a $5000 scholarship to pay his tuition, and then a $3000 purchase price.  In the first scenario, Jonny is $1000 short of paying his bills, and Tanya pays an extra $1000 above what she thinks the car is worth.  In the second scenario, Jonny pays his bills and has an extra $3000 in his pocket, and Tanya pays exactly what she thinks the car is worth.  Everybody wins.

3. Remember, People are Involved

Completing a negotiation with a favorable outcome for you or your client can be an immensely satisfying experience.  Like most professional or personal victories, these experiences can be empowering and gratifying.  And while there is no shame in feeling satisfaction over a job well done, it’s important to keep in mind that sometimes a satisfying victory comes at somebody else’s expense.  Keep your values in mind when you negotiate – if you’re trying to make the world a better place, it does you no good to negotiate an outcome that harms people that do not deserve to be harmed, and it does not help your reputation to do things that will cause people to perceive you as a predator.

Failing to remain consistent in your values, and lending to the interpretation that you are not conducting yourself with integrity, can be catastrophic both personally and professionally.  For this reason, it is important to remain empathic in the negotiation process – putting effort into understanding the impact that your proposed outcomes will have on people, and considering whether the deal you are attempting to strike is going to hurt people that do not deserve it.  Keep the big picture in mind, remember your values, and remain empathic in your approach.

As a society, we are trending towards collaboration in almost every sphere.  Diplomacy is solving most international disputes, most lawsuits are resolved through alternative dispute resolution, and consumers are becoming more and more informed when they are attempting to negotiate a purchase.  My suggestion is to remember that we are dealing with people, and that having and displaying empathy is always a good thing when we are dealing with people!


Unless you’re Donald Trump, you’re probably realistic about the fact that not everybody in your life is going to agree with your viewpoints or with the wisdom regarding the way you’ve chosen do things.  Most of the time, disagreeing with somebody is a perfectly routine experience and requires no special effort or mental energy.  I like vegetarian pizza, you like pepperoni.  We politely acknowledge the disagreement, we tell Pizza Hut that we want half vegetarian and half pepperoni on our large pie, and we eat our pizza and go on with our lives.  There are times, of course, when our disagreements require more attention – that often means that we’re going to have to discuss it until we reach a resolution, or until we are so tired of disagreeing that we decide that no resolution is possible.

This can be dangerous, of course.  Many areas of disagreement, and the discussion of the disagreement, can strongly effect our feelings of respect and affection for one another.  Occasionally, you can leave a disagreement with somebody with a renewed sense of respect and admiration for that person.  That largely depends on how maturely and how kindly she conducts herself in the course of the discussion.  Much of the time, however, drawn out discussions on the things about which we disagree tend to be emotionally draining, and sometimes infuriating.

Below, I propose a few tips to keep in mind when you find yourself in an important disagreement.  While you can never be certain how the person with whom disagreeing is going to perceive the experience, if you follow these tips, I’m confident that your chances of leaving the disagreement feeling as though it was a constructive experience are going to significantly increase.


1. Consider your Purpose
It’s really easy to get sucked into a pointless debate with somebody whose views make your skin crawl.  Of course, it’s important to be judicious in deciding when to engage somebody who has a viewpoint which is at odds with yours.  Before jumping into the fray, it’s important to consider what exactly you are trying to achieve when you start debating somebody.  Are you attempting to change this person’s point of view? Are you attempting to influence others that may be watching the disagreement unfold? Are you trying to change someone’s behavior? Are you trying to satisfy some emotional need to correct people? Or is there some other purpose?  When you have a well-articulated reason why you’re disagreeing with someone, you’ll have a better chance of accomplishing your objective.

In considering your purpose, you might also take some time to consider the realistic, possible outcomes of the disagreement.  There are some people who are naturally agreeable, are receptive to suggestions for improvement, and would not feel threatened when somebody approaches them with an alternative viewpoint.  Many, however, are not so receptive.  This is especially true when they are articulating a viewpoint that is strongly tied to part of their personal identity (such as a political viewpoint, or a religious belief).

Unless the disagreement is over something that is not fundamentally tied to someone’s identity, or is not an area where the person with whom I’m disagreeing believes she has special knowledge, I will almost never engage somebody with the purpose of trying to change her mind.  When I assert an alternative viewpoint, it is almost always with the purpose of influencing somebody who is not directly part of the disagreement (an onlooker) – in this, I manage my expectations, and I do not get frustrated when the person I’m debating doesn’t see things my way.  But whatever your purpose, the process of disagreeing with somebody can be a lot less stressful if you have a realistic idea of what it is that you can accomplish.


2. Distinguish the Person from the Argument
There are few things more frustrating than being personally attacked for having a different point of view.  In Latin, the attempt to refute an argument by pointing out a problem with the person making the argument (instead of the argument itself) is known as an “argument ad hominem.”  This tactic is commonly understood as a logical fallacy, and is typically regarded as unfair, unkind, and completely irrelevant to the actual discussion.

While attacking the person instead of addressing the argument is almost never good, this does not mean that you cannot create argue from analogy in a way that would make sense to the other person.  For example, suppose an Orthodox Jewish man wanted to argue that high school aged Muslim women shouldn’t wear hijabs (traditional Muslim headwear) in school, and that a law forbidding them is not an unconstitutional violation of religious liberty.  You might counter and say “would it be unconstitutional to forbid a high school aged Jewish man from wearing a yarmulke (traditional Jewish headwear)?”  While you are taking a page from this individual’s personal life to make an argument that he would understand, you are not personally attacking him.  This difference is important.  And if you are committed to having mature, constructive disagreements, it’s important to recognize when you are addressing the argument, and when you are attacking the person making the argument.


3. Be Fair in your Description of Somebody’s Position
Another way to completely turn a disagreement from a potentially constructive exercise into a stressful and harmful one is by mischaracterizing what the other person is saying.  This is commonly known as a ‘straw man’ argument.  The idea is that instead of addressing the point that the other person is making, you slightly modify the point (usually because it’s easier to refute the modified point) and then you address the modified point as though that was the original argument.  For example, if somebody is arguing in favor of relaxing laws on medical marijuana, and you counter by saying “if we completely get rid of our drug laws then we’ll have addicts running amok all over the streets,” then that would be treating the other person’s point unfairly.

More than being “right,” it’s important for people to feel understood – especially when they’re in the process of disagreeing with somebody.  If you are making little to no effort at properly understanding and addressing the other person’s point, then you are setting yourself up for a stressful and contentious experience.  Occasionally, it’s not always clear exactly what the other person’s point is – in these cases, it never hurts to ask questions to get some clarity.  But in all things, be fair!


4. Look for Areas of Agreement
One of the pitfalls into which we often fall is the temptation of treating a disagreement as something of a competition.  In most competitions, such as sports, the point is to triumph over the other person or the other team.  In sports and other activities where it’s possible to keep an objective score, it’s quite a bit easier to determine who the winner is.  If you’re treating a disagreement as a competition though, it’s nearly impossible to define a clear ‘winner.’  In Presidential debates, for example, polls tend to show that people will consider the person whose political views mostly closely align with theirs as the ‘winner’ of the debate.  My suggestion is to not view a disagreement as anything of a competition – that way, when you do find areas of common ground, you won’t feel as though you’re giving up a competitive edge by pointing them out and identifying them.

As an individual with strong opinions, it’s not hard for me to find people who say things that irk me, but I always try to recognize the legitimate ideas that are influencing their positions – especially the ideas to which I can relate.  And if maintaining rapport with the person with whom you’re disagreeing is important to you, it’s worth the extra effort to try to dig the shared ideas up.  For example, suppose I’m having an argument with a person who strongly opposes vaccinating children – while I disagree with the position, I appreciate and acknowledge that at the core of her belief, she is really concerned about the health and welfare of her child.  This is something, of course, that I fully accept as a legitimate need.  And I always find that it’s worth it to say something about our agreement on that point.


5. Be Humble about the Limitations of your Knowledge
Among the most frustrating things that you can experience in a disagreement is when somebody displays a sense of certainty about things in which they do not have special expertise or knowledge.  While everybody has important and illustrative life experiences, and everybody can come to valid opinions based on their life experiences, if you want to be taken seriously during a disagreement, you need to be realistic about the limitations of your knowledge.  To use the vaccination example once again, a person with no medical training probably ought not to make strong assertions about the safety of vaccinations – such opinions should be left to those who understand anatomy and medicine thoroughly.  You can, of course, refer to an expert opinion as the basis for your opinion, and indicate why you trust the expert.  The problem arises when we attempt to assert opinions as though we are experts – especially when these opinions are based on anecdotes.

Heeding this is really difficult for many people – as humans, we do tend to tie a lot of our feelings of worth to our knowledge about things.  And of course, when somebody is told (either explicitly or implicitly) that she ‘does not know what she is talking about,’ it can be an enormous emotional challenge.  But if we are serious about preserving our own credibility, we ought to limit our strong opinions and strong assertions to things about which we do have special knowledge.  Not only will we protect ourselves from unnecessary contention, but it makes it easier to keep an open mind, and to adopt a better belief when one comes by!


6. Always be Kind
You often hear that the real measure of a person’s character is how he behaves when he’s at his worst.  I think that you usually need to look no further than a serious disagreement he’s having to see how emotionally and intellectually mature he is.  I have always felt that the people who proactively attempt to show kindness in the midst of a disagreement are the ones that I trust most, because I know that if I am ever in a position where I disagree with them, I know that it is going to be a safe and constructive exercise.

All of the points that were already discussed are, I believe, necessary to the effort in being kind during disagreements, but there are more.  For example, recognizing and articulating the admirable qualities a person has, especially if it’s in the midst of a disagreement, is one of the most disarming and constructive things that you can do.  Overtures of kindness go a long way in both establishing and maintaining rapport with people, and in helping them understand that your disagreement with them extends only to the argument – that you still care about them as people.

While of course, none of these things are foolproof, I believe that it’s important to think about these things in the course of your disagreements.  If you believe, as I do, that building and maintaining constructive relationships is an important daily activity, then I believe that developing these habits will assist you in that endeavor.  And, as always, I hope that my thoughts here are taken and considered in the spirit in which they were intended!


Inauthenticity reeks, and it reeks badly.  I strain to think of a more obnoxious, offensive, unpleasant experience in my professional life than having a business interaction with somebody who I can tell legitimately does not care about me or my needs.  The only interest that this kind of individual has in our business interaction is his self-interest, and somebody who is only self-interested will pursue solutions that address his interests even if it’s at my expense.  Most of us have had an experience with a pushy salesperson who was either unwilling or incapable of listening to us when we were trying to explain what our needs were.  Nobody wants to buy from that guy.  Nobody wants to do any kind of business with that guy.  Don’t be that guy.

Of course, the ability to empathize and emotionally connect with people comes more easily to some than to others, but nearly everybody has the ability to improve.  Part of the effort to improve requires developing the right habits, but part of it might also require introspection about where our values lie, and coming to terms with the fact that sometimes our business efforts do not truly reflect our values.

If you are in any kind of business that requires you to be persuasive – and truly, most professions require this to some degree – then you do yourself a huge disservice if you aren’t trying to be actively aware of the emotional effect that you’re having on people.  If a customer or client perceives you as being pushy, emotionally disconnected, uninterested, fearful, or anything that makes it difficult for them to trust you, then you are very likely not going to have the kind of relationship with this person that would allow her to feel comfortable bringing repeat business to you, or to refer her friends to you.  Even if you give this customer high-quality service or an exceptional product, the toll that working with somebody who makes the customer feel negative emotions takes sometimes outweighs the value of the high-quality product.  This is just one, among many reasons why authenticity in your professional life is so important.

Below I suggest some important habits and other considerations for anybody dedicated to bringing authenticity into their professional relationships.


1. If You are Genuinely Impressed, Say So

When attempting to connect with somebody, few things are as powerful as a genuine, heartfelt compliment.  For the person who is truly interested in the client, this shouldn’t be a terribly hard thing to do.  Most people relish opportunities to talk about themselves, and especially about the things that make them feel proud.  If your client is interested in tennis, for example, and brings up the fact that she just finished playing a set before the meeting, a business person who is committed to connecting with this client might ask follow up questions to understand the interest a little better and to give the client the opportunity to talk about herself and her accomplishments.  Inevitably, as you give people the opportunity to share with you the things that are important to them, you will hear something about their interests, their talents, their family, or their lifestyle that you will find genuinely impressive.  Don’t miss an opportunity to let them know that they’ve impressed you.

Of course, this shouldn’t be overdone – excessive compliments can be perceived as inauthentic or intrusive.  Also, I would not attempt to give a compliment unless it’s truly heartfelt and you feel that you’re identifying something worth complimenting – people can typically see right through that.  And for some people, acknowledging other people’s strengths doesn’t come naturally.  Those that have grown up in competitive environments (and with three brothers, I know a thing or two about competitive environments) sometimes fear that complimenting somebody else makes you vulnerable and exposes weakness.  If you have this fear, I recommend getting into the habit of complimenting people whenever you can to overcome this fear – what you’ll quickly discover is that a heartfelt compliment is more often perceived as a display of confidence and emotional strength.  When you build up others, you deepen your connections, everybody feels good, and everybody can walk away from the situation feeling that something positive just happened.  Don’t be stingy – compliment!


2. Seek to Understand

Among the most basic of human needs is the need to feel as though one’s needs are understood and appreciated by those around them.  Most of the time, we try to fulfill this emotional need through our friends and family, but if a customer comes to you with the intention of purchasing your goods or your services, there is a sense in which she is making herself emotionally vulnerable to you.  She is trusting that the representations you are making to her about your product or your service are truthful, and that what you are giving her is the right solution for her problem.  She also trusts that any kind of written or oral agreement you come to is going to be honored and taken seriously.  Many people do not sufficiently appreciate the fact that being in a position to sell something is a position of power – and like Spiderman says, with great power comes great responsibility.  When I am consulting with a potential client who is considering retaining my services, I believe it is my responsibility to recognize the power of the position that I am in, and to be a mindful steward of the vulnerabilities that my potential client is sharing with me.  And to be a mindful steward, I have to seek to understand her.

The most important part of understanding the needs of your customer is the ability to look past the position that she might be taking on anything.  A client might call me up and say “I need a criminal attorney – my neighbor put up an ugly fence to spite me, and I’m pretty sure that’s against the law!”  This is a bit of a crude example, because as a lawyer, it’s immediately obvious to me that what she’s looking for is a civil litigation attorney who can help her sue or threaten to sue the neighbor to remove the fence.  The point, of course, is that she came to me with the position of ‘needing a criminal attorney,’ but listening a little bit more to what her actual need was, the solution that would address her problem was different than the one she took in her initial position.  Most of the time, the answer is not that easy – it requires a little bit of digging.  When a potential client expresses something to you that clues you in on the need they’re after, it often makes sense to take a little time to repeat it back to them to make sure that you have it right.  “What I’m hearing you say is that you’ve been having a neighborhood dispute, and you feel as though the erection of this fence was intended to cause you emotional distress.  Did I get that right?”

The practical value of seeking to understand your client’s position is obvious – you want to give them the right fix for their problem.  Sending a person who specializes in criminal defense, for example, would probably do very little good for the person who needs to sue her neighbor.  But the emotional power of expressing to someone, in your own words, the need that they came to you to address is incredibly powerful.  If you are not already in the habit if identifying and articulating the needs of your clients, you would be well served to develop it.


3. Deliver a Product that Reflects your Values

One of my biggest moments of clarity in my early professional life was the realization that I did not truly believe in the product I was selling.  At the time, I was a life insurance agent, and I was part of a team that was encouraged to sell a particular product to every potential customer that we encountered.  Now, as I did then, I appreciate and understand the benefits of having this product that we were asked to sell, and I can understand that there are a lot of very persuasive arguments that this product would be very valuable to most people.  The point, however, is that I did not believe that it was the best fit for most of the customers with whom I had interaction.  And no amount of work that I was doing on myself could quite persuade me otherwise.  Feeling that way put me in a really difficult position.  I remember thinking, “I want to do well with this company and I want to be deferential to the direction in which the company wants to go, but at the same time I’m having a lot of cognitive dissonance when I try to persuade somebody to buy this product that I haven’t been persuaded is the best fit for them.”  The behavior that I was expected to engage in didn’t reflect my values, and you better believe that my customers picked up on it.  They sensed that I was trying to persuade them to go in a direction that I didn’t even believe in – they recognized that at the time I was more interested in making the sale and impressing my bosses than I was in their individual needs.  Given that, as you can imagine, it was very hard to sell.

Ultimately, the solution for me was to leave the new company and try my hand at something else.  That worked out very well for me in the long run because it led me to law school, and I discovered a profession that gives me the opportunity to engage in causes that truly move me.  And now, I sell something in which I have a lot of confidence – myself!  But the initial realization that I was not the right fit for this job was a difficult one.  Had I not made that realization, however, I might not have ever determined how to be an authentic business person.  When you’re in a situation where you’re facing constant, repeated pressure to push people into a ‘one-size-fits-all’ product, it becomes very difficult to truly love and value your customers.  My advice is that if you are in that situation, recognize it, and either figure out a way to do it authentically, or create an exit strategy.  Your true, long term success may very well depend on it.


I hope that my views and suggestions on this topic have been helpful!


One of the best bits of advice I ever received during my intellectual and professional development was from a boss and mentor I had when I was about 25 years old.  I was working as a website manager for a social networking site, and my boss was the CEO of the company that ran it.  After I committed an embarrassing series of blunders that hurt the site and my reputation, I started to feel defensive when some of the individuals who were damaged by my mistakes would challenge my capability.  I responded by reminding them that I was Berkeley educated, hoping that they would take my meaning that I was smart – perhaps even smarter than these people making the accusations.  Jed, my boss, wisely and simply stated, “You know, Drew, people who really ‘have it’ don’t need to talk about the fact that they have it.  You have it, so cool it.”

I think about that experience often, and whenever I am feeling insecure and tempted to showcase my credentials, I’m reminded of Jed’s simple advice.  Obviously, being respected and valued is important to everybody, but it’s important that the respect and value flow from the reputation you have for being a decent person and for creating good things in the world.  Not only will having a strong, credible reputation help you address the aforementioned, fundamental human need, but it will help you in your professional or personal endeavors irrespective of your situation.  If you want to demonstrate to the world that you’re credible, not only should you resist taking shortcuts, but you need to be willing to put in the work necessary to build your credibility.  Here are my thoughts on the kinds of things that you should be willing to do.


1. Read. A lot.

According to oft-cited psychological studies, there is a strong positive correlation with a large vocabulary and the quality of being perceived as intelligent.  The best way to cultivate and refine a vocabulary is by consuming the writings of other authors.  Repeated exposure to words that can more precisely describe the idea you’re trying to get across will naturally increase your vocabulary, and you will instantly be perceived as more credible.

Additionally, reading from a variety of sources exposes you to a wide array of knowledge that will give you the ability to be more conversational.  Having the ability to speak intelligently, even if casually, on current events and other areas of interest to people will make it easier to connect with them.  People will also perceive that you are interested and engaged in the world around you, which can also enhance your credibility.

Highly credible people tend to consume large amounts of information (and mostly by reading), and when you’re interacting with other credible people, they will recognize that quality about you and you will be more readily accepted into their professional and social circles.  My advice is to read from several different sources.  Read newspaper articles, read books, read professional publications relevant to your field.  Also read the informed opinions of people who do not share your viewpoints – that will help you understand how to meaningfully address people who have disagreements with you, and it will help prepare you for the emotional and cognitive dissonance that people often feel when their views are challenged.  Of course, all of these things take time to do, but the effect it will have on your reputation cannot be overstated.


2. Create Value in Your World

Most people, in assessing an individual’s credibility, will look more to the kind of work she is doing and the kind of value she is creating than they will to her credentials.  Imagine what your perception of an individual with a degree from an Ivy League institution would be if she decided to spend her productive hours playing video games or picking fights on the internet, and she refused to find gainful employment.  Maybe she is even a card-carrying member of Mensa.  Would you feel a little judgmental about the fact that she is squandering her gift and refusing to add value to society?  So would I.  Would you find her credentials unimpressive if she’s not putting her talents to good use?  So would I. High credentials don’t work well as a shortcut to credibility.

Being employed at a company that does work about which you can feel legitimately proud is a great way to create value, but there are lots of ways to create value – many of which do not require high salaries or complicated products.  Perhaps creating value means spending your productive hours volunteering at a non-profit, writing a blog, or otherwise doing things that are going to benefit the world.  Credentials, like degrees, are nice and may demonstrate that you have talent, but in order to have real credibility, you need to create.

Salespeople often like to talk about the “ABC’s” of sales.  Always. Be. Closing.  I’ve co-opted it a little bit, and I like to follow the ABC’s of life.  Always. Be. Creating.  And there are always opportunities to be creative, constructive, and contributive to the causes that are most important to you.  Doing so is the best way to build a great reputation.

3. Don’t Brag

It likely goes without saying that nobody likes a braggart, and a highly credible person ought to avoid earning this label at all cost.  For people with reputations for being highly capable, not only do ostentatious displays accomplish nothing constructive, but there’s a very good chance that you’ll create resentment in the people around you.  Some folks will see the bragging and dismiss it as irrelevant, but some people will strongly resent it.  If you’re serious about having credibility, be careful not to do things that alienate the people around you unnecessarily.

Everybody wants to be valued and recognized for the contribution that they’re making to the world, and sometimes it doesn’t hurt to ask for a little more positive reinforcement from your coworkers and friends.  But don’t be a braggart – those that know and love you will probably recognize it as a thinly veiled attempt at dealing with one of your insecurities, and those that you don’t know well will like you less and won’t take you as seriously.


4. Be Introspective

Lastly, one of the most important qualities of a highly credible individual is the ability to be introspective and to recognize her own flaws.  This goes hand-in-hand with the advice to avoid being a braggart.  Just as bragging can rapidly alienate somebody, introspective statements (and occasionally, the self-deprecating joke) can rapidly build rapport and credibility.  People tend to like other people who are willing to be a little vulnerable and do not take themselves too seriously.  It’s also immensely important to determine where your weaknesses are, and to either discover ways to overcome those weaknesses, or else find other solutions to shore them up.  It takes introspection to do that.

I hope that this guide has been helpful, and that I’m seen as a sufficiently credible person to give advice on the subject!


Starting a business can be daunting, frustrating, and confusing. If you’re planning on starting a business in California, follow this checklist of 10 easy steps to ensure your best chance of success.


1. Have an Idea
All businesses start with an idea. Usually, it begins when a prospective business owner becomes aware that he/she can be particularly effective at providing goods or services, or the individual identifies that the people around him/her have a need that is not being met. When you have a good idea on how to provide a solution for your potential customers, it is time to start planning and strategizing on how to effectively deliver that need, and make a profit in the process.

2. Choose a Business Name
Naming a company can be difficult, especially if you have limited access to the market research done in your particular field. The types of names that consumers consider effective varies widely with the industry and the modern trends, but this decision is an extremely important one for branding purposes. While it is often technically easy to change the official name of the business, it can be very difficult to get your potential customers to recognize the change when you are marketing to them. You also want to make sure it is a name you can protect, and that you are not using a name that violates another business’s intellectual property rights. It is always wise to consult with an attorney prior to picking your business name to avoid future headaches. Do not be lazy about this step – make sure that you pick an effective and appropriate name!

3. Write a Business Plan
When you have an idea for a business, the very first thing that you should do is begin to write a comprehensive business plan. These plans should include information about all relevant steps of getting your products or services to your customer (e.g. marketing, manufacturing, distribution, etc) as well as a plan for managing the finances and accounting. For many people who have never started a business, this can be a very intimidating task. Luckily, there are several resources for future business owners to access available for free on the internet. For example, The US Small Business Administration (SBA) has several instructional articles and tips on how to write a solid business plan. Make sure you have one of these in place before you do anything else – it will be important to present to potential investors, banks, and high-level executives. And if you ever feel like you are getting lost in the process, a business plan is a great reference to have to guide you back to your course.

4. Decide on the Optimal Location
For many businesses, location is everything. Finding a good location for certain types of businesses, such as retail stores or restaurants, can be the difference between success and failure. Any business, however, benefits by positioning itself in a strategic geographical location. Whether you require a large commercial space, small storefront property, or you can operate your business out of your home, make sure you do the necessary research and take the necessary time to determine what you will need to properly run your business. When you talk to your local business attorney, you can ask him/her about any local zoning ordinances, permits, or licenses that you will need to consider when you set up shop.

5. Secure Funding for your Business
Most businesses require a fair amount of money in startup costs, and once the business is running, businesses have overhead costs that require money to maintain. Additionally, if your new business is your new full-time position, you may want to set aside a small salary for your living expenses. No matter your business, you will want to determine how much money that you think you will need, and start talking to potential investors or lenders to secure the funding. There are several funding types you can get, including Small Business Loans (SBA), venture capital, business startup grants, angel investors, or investing partners to name a few. Be aware that getting investments from non-relatives or qualified investors triggers securities laws, so if you are looking for initial investment capital from outside sources, you should speak with a business attorney and make sure you stay within the safe harbor protection rules for small business.

6. Choose the Proper Business Entity
In almost all circumstances, creating a separate business entity is an important step when starting a new business. While technically individuals can run businesses as sole proprietors or general partners, operating your business in this way can come with tremendous risk. If you ever run into any kind of legal trouble, people with claims against you can sue you individually, and you have no corporate-shield protection against lawsuits. Additionally, there can be several tax advantages to establishing a business entity. Consult with your local attorney or tax professional to determine whether a corporation, limited liability company, professional corporation, trust, REIT, or some other entity is the best fit for your business needs.

7. File the Necessary Documents with the Government
Most types of businesses require multiple filings with the Secretary of State where your business is located, and where you do business if you are in multiple states or countries. Occasionally, there are advantages to creating a business entity outside of the state in which you reside, but make sure to consult with a tax professional or business law attorney before you make that decision. If you are starting a corporation, for example, you will be required to file articles of organization, a statement of information, and several other documents from time to time with their respective filing fees. Building a relationship with a business attorney is a vital step to guiding you properly through this process. Additionally, before you can do several important things that are necessary for your business (such as setting up a bank account), you will need to receive an Employer Identification Number, or Tax Identification Number from the IRS. This can be done through an online application, but if you need help your attorney or tax professional can help you through this process too.

8. File for the Appropriate Business Permits and Licenses
Most businesses are required to operate with some type of license or permit. There are several resources at your disposal to help you determine what the necessary permits are for your particular business. You can consult with your attorney to help you determine what you will need, or you can use free government resources such as http://www.calgold.ca.gov to assist you in finding the information you require.

9. Hire Employees
Most businesses are difficult to run with one person, and it quickly becomes necessary to hire some additional help. Navigating the waters of properly establishing an employer or contractor relationship can be one of the most treacherous, difficult, and confusing undertakings for individuals starting a new business. Do not attempt to do this by yourself. California law heavily favors employees whenever an employment dispute arises, and the regulations surrounding the proper practices when maintaining the employer/employee relationship are dense, complicated, occasionally overbearing, and always dangerous. Above all else, this is one part of establishing a new business where enlisting the help of a business or employment attorney is imperative. One of the biggest reasons California based small businesses file bankruptcy or fail is due to improper employment practices. Violations of laws protecting employees can result in astronomical penalties and fines, especially here in California!

10. Set up a Double-Entry Bookkeeping System
Once you have everything else in place, you must set up an effective bookkeeping system to ensure you can keep track of how your business is performing. It also helps keep your business compliant with reporting and tax regulations. Proper bookkeeping, can also protect you from different types of liability when others make claims against you — especially any alter ego liability. The simplest and safest way to do this is to consult with an accountant or QuickBooks Certified Bookkeeper to assist you in getting started, but there are other free resources available on the internet to assist business owners in this part of the business’s administration. If you do not have an accountant that you know and trust, you can ask your business attorney for a referral to a trustworthy and fair accountant to help you get your bookkeeping system started correctly.