Watch Your Language

Watch Your Language

Watch Your Language

When I was 24 and had just completed an MBA at the University of Connecticut, Graduate School of Business.

I was shopping for a car and was about to start my first career position. My immediate goal was to find the right first car to buy – you know the feeling!  

Vehicle Shopping

Months before my younger brother had purchased a Gremlin (don't ask me why) at an AMC dealership on Albany Avenue in Hartford. He bought the car from a salesman named Mel Turner, (name disguised) an early 50s veteran of both new and used car sales. Apparently, my brother got a good deal, he was happy, and my father who knew cars rather well, was pleased.  

I had been considering subcompact cars. This was long before CarFax and all the novel car vendors of today. At the time, AMC manufactured a Hornet which seemed to have the dimensions and specifications I was seeking. So, it seemed natural enough to meet Mel to see what Hornets he had available. I had a list of parameters that I handed to him, attempting to be helpful. After all, neither of us wanted to waste time on vehicles that didn't fit what I was seeking.  

I sought a late model used car, perhaps a V6, with power steering, tinted glass, built-in radio and cassette player, hatchback with a flat storage section underneath (i.e., the tire was in a compartment below that), in a dark color, perhaps blue, maroon, or gray, and but certainly not white or bright red.

Take What We Have, Dingbat

Mel only had one car in stock that came close. It had nearly everything, except it was white. I sighed and told him that there was no way I could live with a white car, but I would certainly check back with him in case something else came in.  

In an incredibly crass move, in what he must have known was in earshot to me, Mel sauntered over to some of his sales associates (about twenty feet away) and said, "I've got the perfect car for this guy, but the dingbat doesn't like white."

I was taken aback. When you live in a college dorm for three or four years, you've heard every kind of foul language imaginable. Still, 'til now, I hadn't encountered an adult, a professional if you will, who so quickly broke out of form, on the job, and within earshot. I was troubled. I debated for the next minute what I would do.  

Mel was still with the other salesmen. I sure as heck wasn't going to do business with him. The question became do I leave, or do I leave and tell him off?  I walked over a bit in his direction and in a controlled manner (in earshot of everyone else) I said, "Pardon me, I said at the outset that I didn't want a white car. I don't think I need to be called a dingbat because the color of the car is important to me."  

Mel was... actually, I don't recall.  He muttered something...  I left the showroom.

Easy Sales Only?

Most assuredly, Mel had sales goals. Was he using language that would help him achieve his target? I cannot say. Perhaps he sought only to make easy sales and had little interest in handling more challenging sales.

My father and brother were a little surprised because, after all, they were the ones who sent me to Mel. My father, however, always one to dispense wonderful wisdom said, "Well, I wouldn't buy a car there either if he said that to me."  

A couple of weeks later, I achieved my goal of finding the car by answering a classified ad in the newspaper.

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Jeff Davidson

Work-Life Balance Expert

Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" and the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit or call 919-932-1996 for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars.

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