I want to tell you a story.
I know that, on this blog, I share a lot of “how to’s” and philosophical pieces and there can be the risk of people thinking that because I generally post positive things, I must never mess up, I must have everything together and I must never get frustrated with clients.
Which is certainly not true . . .
This story has to do with something I heard Stephen Covey speak of years ago which was to never mess with someone’s rice bowl. It was an Asian proverb he’d heard. It meant, in essence, don’t mess with someone’s means of sustenance. Note that the aphorism isn’t “don’t mess with someone’s rice.” It is don’t mess with the bowl. The rice is one meal, but the bowl is the thing that carries their food and makes it possible to eat. In modern times, people’s businesses or computers are a sort of rice bowl. They are the things that make sustenance possible. If you run a workshop, it’s your rice bowl.
And recently, my rice bowl got messed with by ten people.
So I want to tell you the story of this and what I learned from it.
At the end of February, I hosted a workshop in my living room in Edmonton.
My living room isn’t very large. It can accommodate about 12 people.
This means that my Edmonton workshops tend to sell out quickly.
And that means that once it’s sold out, people don’t bother asking about spaces or if they do, I have to turn them away and hope they might make it to a future workshop.
It means that, if people no-show without telling me, I lose money. On a day-long workshop, where the price is a $25 deposit and pay-what-you-can (PWYC) by the end, I tend to make about $100/person (in addition to the deposit). Because the workshop is PWYC, my only expectation is that you show up. Not that you pay a lot. Just that you show up. That’s it.
On this day, five people no-showed. They didn’t come and they didn’t, for the most part, tell me they weren’t coming.
And then again, just a month later, it happened almost identically. Five no-shows for a workshop of twelve.
Of course, most of my blog posts are trying to help you look at your business through the eyes of your potential customers; helping people see how their marketing might come across as gross or disrespectful.
But this one is also about helping you look through the eyes of the entrepreneurs you might be doing business with. I’m hoping to lift up the impact of your own conduct as a customer.
And . . . perhaps also to commiserate with you a bit, my dear reader, about shitty behaviour you’ve had to deal with from your clients and to offer you seven lessons on how to deal with it.
Here’s the story:
Both workshops started at 10am but in both cases, only six of the 12 people registered were present so I asked everyone’s patience to wait until more folks arrived. By 10:15am we just got started anyway. And the others never arrived.
After the first workshop was done, I realized thar I had accidentally left the “pay at the door” option on Eventbrite on and a few of the registrants had chosen that option. Which means they hadn’t had to pay the $25 deposit. It’s a rookie mistake on my part, and not the first time I’ve done it. Whenever people don’t show up for my workshops, it’s almost always the people who’ve not put down a deposit because they “promised” to pay at the door.
So, that wasn’t great, but that was my bad. It’s not good behaviour on no-shows’ parts to not let me know, given how few spots there were in the workshop, but it’s predictable and I know better. I learned this lesson first in Seattle, when 36 people signed up for my PWYC weekend workshop and only 12 showed up because there had been no deposit asked of them. Since then I’ve required $100 down for the weekend workshops and no-shows have vanished. When I began doing day-long workshops, I asked for a $25 deposit, and hadn’t had an issue with no-shows . . . until these past two workshops.
Then I noticed that one of them had actually been on the waiting list and I’d forgotten to tell that person that they could now come as someone had dropped off the list. My bad again.
But, by the end of it all, there were still five people who had paid their deposits for the second workshop and simply not shown up. Ten people in total. Not even a courtesy message the night before or the morning of.
Here’s What Was Particularly Frustrating:
This was the first workshop in which I’d decided to give everyone my $80 Marketing for Hippies 101 video in advance of the workshop.
The pitch was that, before participants showed up, they’d get all of the content of the workshop and our day together could be 100% question and answer focused on applying the content to their own particular situations. It was, I knew, an experiment. It was my attempt to be generous with my people and also avoid my having to go over the exact same content again and again in my workshops. I’d hoped it might be a win/win.
And yet, it is the workshop with the highest percentage of no-shows I have ever had since instituting the deposit system.
Most generous offer = most no-shows?
I was left with a sense of having been taken for granted at best or, at the worst, taken advantage of.
For someone who operates their business largely on trust (and is most often rewarded for that), it felt brutal. It’s the worst I’ve felt in business in years.
Looking through my email after the workshop I saw one message had come in that morning from a couple, but via Facebook and it landed in my “Other” inbox:
Morning Tad! My partner and I are registered For your workshop today. We are sorry we aren’t going to make it, our jobs at a show last night went much later than expected. We are happy for you to keep our donation of course and will keep an eye out for more of your workshops in the future. Our apologies again!
I felt grateful they’d let me know. And apologized. And . . . there was still a hint of . . . the fact that they’d not set themselves up well enough to be able to keep their word on attending the workshop. That if, let’s say, it had been a friend’s wedding, they either would have shown up, even if tired, or made sure they weren’t working so late the night before.
And so, after the workshop was done, I messaged those who had no-showed to see what had happened.
One of the responses felt 100% good. Some others felt mixed. And some, though well intentioned, felt downright awful. I will share their words here anonymously and my reactions candidly.
“Unfortunately we were unable to attend. Feeling worn out and tired after to much travelling, we felt it was best for us to rest. We have been told wonderful things about your class and would love to attend in the future. Do you be having anymore classes coming up? We are located in Medicine Hat which is in the south eastern corner of Alberta. We are always open to travel to Calgary, Edmonton or Lethbridge. Would you ever consider doing this class in Medicine Hat? We look forward to hearing back from you.”
Unable to come. Because they were tired. That felt not great to read because it felt like a shirking of responsibility. It’s not that they were “unable” to come. They chose not to come because they were tired. They were tired because they arranged their travel schedule in such a way that it had led them be tired. If it had been important for them to make it, they would have made it.
Sure. Maybe it was best for them to rest. But what about me at the facilitator and host? And the other participants? What about the people who weren’t able to come because their spots had been reserved? Void in their note is any sense of the impact their behaviour had on others.
Also, the light tone that assumes I would even be excited, in that moment, to have them sign up for another workshop. Or that, having just bailed on me, I’d be so thrilled come to their corner of the world.
And most of all, why didn’t they email me the night before to let me know they wouldn’t be coming so I would, at least, have a fighting chance of filling the space. Or even the morning of. No. I had to email them to even hear that. Which feels deeply disrespectful.
I was so stoked for the workshop but sadly I have been so sick I wasn’t able to attend today. I hope everything went well and I hope to meet you one day as I loved the video and get a lot of inspiration out of it.
Ugh. Again, “wasn’t able to attend.” How about you just let a brother know as soon as you think it’s likely? So glad you enjoyed that video I put thousands into producing and that I sell for $80. Glad it entertained you. And again, this light tone of “hope to meet you someday” as if I’d be really excited to meet someone who totally bailed on my workshop and didn’t even think enough of me or the other participants to let me know.
Everything is ok. I was up late working and needed some sleep. It’s been a crazy work week for me
So, they chose to stay up late working and then decided the need for sleep trumped the need to keep their word, my need for income from my work and someone else’s need to learn what was offered in the workshop. At a certain point, this is the inescapable algebra that they had to wrestle with. I understand having crazy-busy weeks. For sure. But I’m not okay with using that as an excuse to no-show. Especially with no notification.
And then this one:
Hi Tad, sorry I missed this… Two of my kids are sick and I hardly slept last night. :(
I get not sleeping. But, you can still let the workshop facilitator know you won’t be coming. You can set your alarm to wake you up to send an email. You could send me an email before going to bed. I didn’t get that message from her til 1pm. Three hours after the workshop had begun. And it was only in response to a message I’d sent out asking, “Are you coming?”
yes, I was going to come with two others. Sadly it didn’t work out. I really do appreciate your words. So passionate and inspiring. Keep up the great work Tad. (Another time I hope. )
This one might have felt the worst. Again, it only came after I had written this person. And . . . it just “didn’t work out.” Huh. Not their fault. And who knows – this is me being extraordinarily cranky. There are, of course, all manner of reasons that would be entirely justifiable to not attend to my super duper important workshop at the last minute. I get it. I know it’s pissy. But it’s also how everyone feels when you break your word to them. This is desperately important to get. You can tell me, “I really do appreciate your words,” but if that’s not backed up with some sort of action, the feeling I’m left with is, “the hell you do.” Because, no-showing for a workshop and costing the facilitator hundreds of potential income dollars and others the chance to attend . . . that’s not how you treat someone you actually appreciate. And again, the assumption that I’d be so happy to have her come another time given her behaviour.
And, finally, my personal favourite:
I can’t make it today. Please pass my ticket on forward. Thanks :)
Yes! You’re welcome! I’ll totally pass it onto that lineup of people I asked to be waiting outside of my door this morning just in case you canceled. I wonder who the lucky person will be!
The Words That Felt Mixed:
There were some participants whose words felt better because they were willing to actually do something to make ammends and pay for their spot.
“sorry my friend, we didn’t make it today for your workshop. we live in white court (2.5 hrs away), and it was just too treacherous a drive with all the snow this morning. really i just feel sorry for myself, for having missed it! i only moved to alberta a few months ago, before that i lived in toronto and that’s where i first heard about you, through a friend. so i was pretty excited when i realized i’d be able to take a workshop with you in edmonton! maybe next round – please keep me on your mailing list for workshop announcements. in the meantime… i have two questions: of your online materials, what would you recommend as most relevant for a yoga teacher/massage practitioner? also, is there a way that i can send you a bit more money towards these amazing downloads that you provided as part of the workshop? i can’t give a lot, but i would like to give something. thanks for being such a cool dude and doing what you do.”
What didn’t feel good here was that I didn’t get this message until 3pm and only, so I thought, in response to an email from me. Which had me feel cranky. But, it turned out that, even though the email was later than I would have liked, it was sent entirely on her own initiative which feels good to know. The road conditions were very bad that day and I am glad they stayed safe. And they could easily have emailed me three hours before the workshop began. That would have felt really good. But, one of them sent me $60, unprompted, to make up for it which was incredibly gracious. So, overall, this felt good. The only part that didn’t feel good was it coming later than I would have liked and that I’d thought they were only emailing after I’d emailed them. Knowing it was sent unprompted is touching to know. It strikes me how much of this all comes down to feeling valued by people. Which, by the end, I did.
You probably already know, but I missed your workshop today. I really loved the video series that you sent out a few ago though and I know your event was pay-what-you-can, so I’d like to send you a cheque. Where should I mail it and who should I make it out to? Hope the day went well!
Oh gosh, I just saw your fb post about no shows. I’m now feeling super embarrassed….sorry to have caused any negativity today.
The Words That Felt Good:
Of all of the messages I received, this one felt best:
I’m registered in today’s class although I’ve come down w something, I was hoping it would pass and I could still attend. Do I pay for the video w pay pal? Although I was sick I don’t want to flake out. Any idea when you will offer this again?
It felt better because they sent it at 4am. That’s incredibly considerate. As soon as they knew they wouldn’t be coming, they let me know and offered to pay for the $80 video that was provided in advance. I get that things come up. I do. Life happens. If you just let people know as soon as you can, that’s all most folks want or need. In the end, even though they’d missed my workshop due to illness, they sent me $240 for my work, which felt . . . incredibly good and honouring.
Given the fact that the average PWYC donation was $197 per person that day it also meant that nothing was lost financially for me due to that person missing the workshop. And, because of their graciousness, you can bet I’ll be available to them for questions here and there and am excited to meet this person in a workshop when they finally make it to a day-long workshop as my guest (I won’t charge them at all as in my books, they’ve already paid). I did my best to be as generous as I could in communicating and they returned the generosity to me which made me want to give her more. I did the same with the person who sent me $175. The truth is that, while those amounts feel good and fair for the work and materials provided, it’s not really about the amount. It was that they wanted to send me something. They sent what they could. If it had been $20 I would have felt wonderful too because . . . that’s why I do PWYC. So this work can be accessible to whoever needs it. If they’d come, maybe they could only have paid $10. That’s fine. What is not fine, for me, from my perspective, is no-showing and then doing nothing to make up for it.
The Email I Would Have Loved to Have Received:
In my perfect dream world, this is the kind of email I would have loved to have gotten and, therefore, the kind of email I am committed to sending should I need to cancel last minute for a workshop. Imagine you’re a workshop leader and I’m bailing from your class but you get this email from me.
“Something has come up and it looks like we won’t be able to make your workshop. We wanted to give you as much heads up as we could, and wish it was more, in hopes that you might be able to find someone to fill our space. We feel awful because we know there were so few seats and that our missing the workshop means that others were turned away and might not get the chance. Of course, we know you’ll keep our deposits but we also got this video from you and we were wondering if we might be able to pay you for that to make it right. It’s not your fault we can’t make it. If there’s anything else we can do to make things good, please let us know because we respect your work in this world so much and wouldn’t want our inability to keep our commitment to come to take away from your ability to do your work in the future.”
I would have felt so good about that.
So, What’s The Solution?
One woman from England, upon reading an early version of this post said, “This man doesn’t make what he is offering important enough for people to respect him, pay in advance and make sure they show up to his workshops. That’s what he needs to be addressing.”
So, her stance is that, I don’t value what I’m doing enough and need to command more respect.
And this is where things get tricky.
The reality is that, again, until shifting the offer to add the video, I got very few no shows. Negligible. Adding the videos was an experiment and it turned out differently than I’d imagined it might. That’s life. This is not an endemic pattern in my life or business.
And aside from the arrogant tone of her knowing what I need in my life somehow, this whole idea of making what we offer ‘important enough’ for people to respect us is fraught with peril. First of all, it’s very connected to the troubles of the notion of charging what we’re worth and the way that many people walk around trying to command respect from others by posturing.
I run my workshops on a pay what you can basis. So, I don’t get all the money upfront. There are a lot of reasons I do this (some strategic and some altruistic), but a lack of self respect isn’t among them.
I want to suggest that the way forward isn’t a one size fits all approach but about finding a way of structuring your business and offers that feels good without needing to puff yourself up so that others value what you do and it’s more subtle than simply making what you do ‘more important’. I have no idea what that actually means.
Seven Business Lessons to Pull From This:
Lesson #1 – Don’t Tolerate Bad Behaviour From Clients.
Sometimes your clients behave badly. They do things that won’t work for you. It’s ok to be upset with your clients. When your clients do things that break agreements you have or are unkind or thoughtless, it’s okay for you to speak up and address the issue directly.
Too many entrepreneurs put up with it because they think “the customer is always right.” But this is not true. This feeds the bizarre, spoiled, community destroying and toxic entitlement in which we are constantly swimming as a culture. They collapse and say, “Oh. It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. It’s fine. No big deal.” because they don’t feel like their needs matter at all. They’re trying to be “nice.”
It’s far worse that this though because this niceness actually robs the other person of something. It robs them of their humanity. When we refuse to let people know that their actions impact us, for better or worse, we turn them into a ghost. When we refuse to be real with them we contribute to them being less real; we contribute to their loss of understanding of what real is.
Sometimes we don’t speak up because we know we’re guilty of the same things too. We know that if we speak to their lack of integrity, we are suddenly incredibly vulnerable to have ours pointed out to us too. So, it can feel easier and safer to let it slide with them in the hopes that they’ll give us the same pass when we drop the ball and flake on them. And if they don’t? Well, then at least we get to feel morally superior about how chill we were about them bailing and how uptight they are. Soooo… that’s something.
It’s easy to tell ourselves the story that, until we get our own integrity sorted out and are 100% consistent that we have no right to expect it of others. But I want to flip that all around. Yes, work on yourself. But let’s make part of that work about having good boundaries, about letting yourself respond honestly. When we hold others to a higher standard, it also calls up and galvanizes that in us. The more we consciously do it with others, the more likely we are to do it in ourselves. The act of holding someone accountable is a more visceral and real reminder about the importance of keeping our word than a year or meditation on the subject because it makes us vulnerable.
And, if, out of laziness, fear or just low standards, we don’t hold others accountable to their word, we won’t be able to court something better from the other, and that robs not only our business but the community of a more mature person.
This isn’t about punishing clients or calling them out. It’s about courting the possibility of a more whole village in which all of us could live.
Lesson #2 – Set Up Clear Cancellation Policies.
Giving away all of the content in advance was a small experiment (which we’ll talk about later). What I learned from that experiment was that, for whatever constellation of reasons, it dramatically increased the rate of no shows. That was reality. Adding those videos was literally the only thing I changed in the arrangement. I imagine a small part of the no showing may have been the guilt of them having not watched the videos and not wanting show up and be embarrassed by this but I think a big part of it is, even if unconsciously, the sense that, “Well . . . I’ve already gotten all of the content so . . . there’s no real need for me to show up.”
I’m open to doing this same offer in the future. But, if I do, I will have an iron clad cancelation policy that says: “If you cancel within 48 hours of the event, your credit card will be charged $100 as I won’t have the possibility of filling the space. If you no-show without letting me know in advance of this workshop, your credit card will be charged $200 for being an asshole.” Or something like that.
This is a common policy. My dentist does this for missed appointments. Many therapists and massage clients do this. I think it’s wise to have a cancellation policy because, without it, you leave yourself open to being taken advantage of by those raised in a culture that only ever taught them to worship at the altar of what-works-for-them.
Someone recently shared her version of Alexandra Franzen’s brilliant cancellation/no show policy wording (students have to tick the box indicating they have read this before payments are made):
“When you register and make your first payment, that’s my cue to block out a seat — and shoo other folks away if the class will be full. I prepare your 40+ page manual. I start crafting your name tag and graduation certificate. I start brewing and meditating on your journey that’s just beginning and holding you in my mind while I’m stuck in traffic.
I invest in you — just like you invest in yourself, by investing in this class. And that’s why, with exception of tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, avalanches and unforeseeable grief-stricken situations, I do not offer refunds for cancellations —which, to my delight, are fairly infrequent.
If you are in dire straights and need to reschedule your training to a later date, please please get a hold of me (via email or phone) as soon as possible — out of respect for me and my time to re-jig the class, and most importantly out of respect for those other fine souls I may have to turn away if a seat is not available. If a rescheduling happens in advanced, I will hold your payment until you are able to join me again. Because commitment is sexy, and extra time + energy goes into the process, an additional fee of $50 is charged to reschedule to another class. If less than 48 hours (2 days) notice is given, you will forfeit the entire $225 and rescheduling will happen with another full payment. That, my friends, is my Karma-Friendly Cancellation Policy.”
Lesson #3 – “It Matters That You Come” – Get Payment in Full Before or Set Up Deposits on PWYC Events.
If you decide to run a pay what you can workshop, I beg of you, get a deposit for it when they sign up. If you let them pay at the door, they’ll likely never end up arriving at the door at all. Make sure the deposit is enough that, if they cancel, you still feel good and you’re not out too much money. I used to not require a deposit and the no show rate was huge. Ever since adding it, until this recent experiment, it’s been negligible.
A colleague, Audrey Seymour wrote these words about an earlier version of this blog,
“Tad wrote a great blog post yesterday about how no-shows increase for workshops when you don’t require prepayment. This matches my experience, and when you look at it from the perspective of parts of the psyche, you can see the part that signed up and the part that is resistant to the shift that the workshop is likely to create. Requiring prepayment supports the part of the client that wants the shift. I found this to be particularly true when teaching Speaking Circles, helping people get past stage fright. I offered a prepay discount for a package of sessions, and I remember one client saying “I’m SO GLAD you offered that prepay package, because if I hadn’t prepaid, I never would have come back the second time. My fright was still so strong, and I would have missed this incredible transformation that has happened! Thanks for doing that.”
One of my colleagues Sue makes sure new clients read this before booking with her:
Please provide payment prior to your session, via PayPal (Internationally) or Interac Online (in Canada). If you encounter an emergency that requires you to cancel a session, please just let me know and we’ll schedule another at a time that works better. If you need to change an appointment time for any reason OTHER than an emergency, again, please contact me asap and we’ll find a good time for both of us.
Lesson #4 – Overfill Your Workshops.
No matter what you do, there will always be some no-shows at your workshops because “shit happens.”
People get sick.
People’s cars won’t start.
In my experience, unless they pay everything in advance, you’re looking at a 10-20% no show rate. You’ll learn what it is in your own situation through experience. But, if you notice that you keep having 10% of the people not show up, then make sure you consistently sell 10% spaces than you need. If your workshop has a limit of 30 people, sell 33 seats.
Doing this is an immense relief.
And if everyone shows up? You’ve got three extra people. No big deal. And if, predictably, three people no show you or cancel so last minute that you can’t fill their spaces? You’re prepared and harbour no bitterness towards them because you already filled those spaces. If I’d done this in this situation, I wouldn’t have felt half as bad. How do you fill up your workshops? Read this, son.
Lesson #5 – Take Responsibility for Your Business.
This ties into all of the other lessons but the heart of it is this . . . as much as I bitch above about people no-showing and kvetch about their overall lacklustre responses, my business is my responsibility, not theirs.
The truth is that they are doing exactly what they need to be doing.
They’re just being themselves. They’re responding perfectly to the parameters of the offer I made. In their shoes, I might behave the same way. How they act is their business. My business isn’t to change them. It’s to notice how they’re being in response to what I’m offering and adapt to that. My business is to take care of myself while loving them as they are. But if I don’t do the former, the latter will prove impossible.
I have seen clients deal with clients showing up late or not at all for years and never do anything about it beyond whining and complaining. And, the longer that goes for, the more it becomes a story like, “People are inconsiderate” or “There must be something wrong with me.” etc.
My colleague Joseph Riggio who wrote the guest post for my blog Are You More Comfortable Being “Salesy” Or “Subtle” had this to say…
I do charge in full before people can attend my program and I have a very generous refund policy before the program begins, but they need to initiate it, because I don’t want to become responsible for them showing up and I make my living this way. If I want to give something away because I think someone needs it or I simply want them to have it I do that too. Currently I’m running a major certification training program (4 modules of 3 1/2 days, $9000 regular investment) and I gave away 12 spaces in it as a scholarship, and make another 6 available at a huge discount as a sponsorship. All the spaces were taken and I had zero no-shows. What I did was establish the importance of what the commitment I expected was up front and assumed responsibility for making sure my clients got it, 100% on me. IMO my clients are only able to treat me as I allow them to, and I never, ever take it personally. I work this way now because I totally get it. I been there before … i.e.: in a room “full” of no shows. I’ve also been the “no-show” in a room and while I pay for the space I haven’t occupied when I do that, I don’t feel guilty for not being present if the presenter hasn’t indicated that it’s important to the program and/or others who will attend for me to be there. When I get that, i.e.: my presence and not just my money is significant, I make a much more informed decision about what I need to do if I decide to register.
You have people no-showing you consistently? Do something about it.
You have clients who don’t treat you right? Say something.
You have clients not paying you? Change something.
This is your business and your responsibility.
Whining and blaming your clients is a dead end street that will leave you broke, bitter and full of resentment to the very clients you profess to love and want to serve. Don’t blame others for your own laziness or miscalculations in creating systems.
Lesson #6 – Reminders.
If you have a workshop, send a reminder about it 48 hours before the event. You’d be surprised how many people forget it’s coming up. Sometimes these emails will actually prompt people to email you and say, “I can’t make it.” and then you’d at least got a fighting chance of filling those spots.
Lesson #7 – Start Small.
I’m currently on tour. I’ll be leading eleven workshops. Only one of them is getting the same “here’s all the content free” deal because it was one of the first ones I set up. Thank God I didn’t plan out my whole tour like this. I decided I would test it in Edmonton and see how it went. But then I got so excited about it that I decided I would do my whole tour that way. Luckily, I led my first attempt at it at the end of February, before the whole tour was planned and noticed that half of the people no-showed. That was all I needed to decide not to do the whole tour that way until I understood the dynamic better. Then, just before going on tour, was the second workshop where the exact same thing happened. I felt annoyed and really frustrated, but also relieved that I’d been able to test small before going big.
Business and marketing are not guaranteed things. You’re always taking risks and experimenting with things. Every time you make a new offer, explore a new niche, change the name of something or try a new activity in a workshop – it’s an experiment. That’s unavoidable. The only thing you can control is the scale of the experiment. Too many people go big with every experiment.
In business this is called doing your due diligence. Any time you’re going to invest your time, money, reputation or energy in any significant amount, it’s vital that you investigate and test to make sure it’s worthy of it and will work. Too many entrepreneurs fail because they don’t.
To be clear: If I’d set up my whole tour this way, I’d be looking at half of the money for the same amount of effort. That would have been brutal.
I encourage you, whenever you’re thinking of changing something significant about your business or what you’re offering, start small.
The Community Lesson:
“Everything we do and don’t do makes a wake, a legion of waves and troughs that pound the shores at the edges of what we mean, grinding away on the periphery of what we know. This goes on after the years of our private lives are long past. If we don’t learn that simple, devastating, and redeeming detail of being alive – that what we do lasts longer than we do, that the past isn’t over – then the parade of our days stands to indict much more than it bequeaths.”
– Stephen Jenkinson, Die Wise – A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul
The business lessons above are important, but the lesson in community here is even more important.
Every action you make builds the village up or tears it apart.
If there’s a most important lesson that I’m taking from this it’s not to no-show other people’s workshops. That feels most important. Because I can be out of integrity all over the place. So this blog post, while coming from a cranky place, isn’t coming from any place of moral superiority.
I just had this chat with a friend on Facebook about this:
Friend: “There’s some sort of illusion of busy = I’m a good person and you should understand …
Me: Interesting … Wow. Totally. “You should understand” gets said as this non-verbal, “awww. but you understand what it’s like, right?” with a wink as the charm pours on and the accountability rolls of their back.
Friend: Ya, like that. I’ve done it myself.
Me: It’s most of my life.
And I’m not being cute about it. I’ve really done that most of my life. Learned how to be charming as a way of avoiding responsibility for the consequences of my actions. If I had to sum up immaturity into six words, they would be “trying to get away with things”. That was me. Learning how to be likeable to protect myself from the impact my lack of integrity was having. If integrity is so important to me today, it’s because I’ve had times where I personally had so little of it. And when we let others off the hook for doing this, we hurt the community. This is so important to understand. When we don’t honestly share the impact that others have on us, we make them less human.
Every time you make a promise and break it, it tears at the fabric of trust in your community. This is just as true as a business or as a customer. We all have a role. When businesses overhype their products and services and ultimately let people down, trust in the marketplace is diminished. And when customers behave poorly, it is the same. When customers lie to businesses or business owners lie to customers that “everything is okay,” trust slowly drains out of a hole in the bottom of the marketplace that’s approximately the size of that lie.
At a recent workshop I had a participant ask me what was being covered in the last part of the day because, “I really want to leave early to go to satsang. What time does it end? 5? Oh I thought 3:30pm. Can I pick your brain before I go?”
It felt so gross. Like I was just a tool for her to get what she wanted with no thought that her leaving early might impact the vibe in the room, that her holding my workshop so casually might impact me and that she was entitled to get what she could out of me before she left early. I stood there feeling sort of stunning by it. In her mind, this whole day seemed to be all about her getting what she wanted and then leaving as soon as she’d gotten it. It felt awful. I nodded and told her that we needed to get started soon and I wouldn’t have time. It wasn’t the most honest answer, especially since I then went to the back of the room to answer someone else’s question from whom I felt a sincere level of respect for what was going on. If this woman had said to me, “Tad. I am loving this workshop so far and I’m going to have to leave early which I’m sad about and I was wondering if I could ask you a quick question.” I would likely have sat down and given it a shot. But she hadn’t even valued the day enough to know when it ended. She seemed to place no value on my accumulated knowledge. She just wanted to pick my brain.
At minimum, both entrepreneurs and clients are called upon to keep their promises. Keeping our word is the basis of trust. Trust comes from people being trustworthy.
“Gealladh gun a’choimhghealladh, is miosa sin na dhiùltadh.Chan eil fealladh ann cho mòr ris an gealladh gun choimhlionadh. (Promising but not fulfilling, is worse than refusing. There is no deceit/fraud so great as the promise unfullfilled.)“
– Scottish Gaelic Proverb
A small story: I recently created a project in Edmonton called The Social Yogi which creates monthly social events for local yogis.
But, being as overwhelmed with things as I was, I asked a friend to help me launch it. This friend then proceeded to bail on scheduled meetings fifteen minutes before because he was too busy. Each time he bailed he would use charm and good vibes to deflect the consequences. After the third time, I sent him a terse email letting him know that this could never happen again. He received the words well but then subsequently, and unsurprisingly, stepped down from the project.
You can’t build a project, a business or a community on the shattered remnants of broken promises. You can’t plant the seeds of new initiatives in depleted soil.
The hippie scene, in which I operate, is full of flakes. They bail on commitments all of the time without ever really “getting” the impact it has on others.
I think that this has a lot to do with our culture. If we have a culture of selfishness, I would submit that it’s because it’s rooted in the Cult of the Self.
We worship individualism.
An important point to notice: most of the emails people sent me were them expressing regret that they had missed the event and that this was a loss for them. While I appreciate this expression on one level (them letting me know they really wanted to go and were sad they couldn’t) what’s utterly missing is an acknowledgment that anyone else was impacted at all.
There’s no meaningful sense often that they understand the impact their actions have on the world around them as they trudge through the woods scaring all of wild nature and the spirit of goodwill away from them and anyone close to them. They proceed as if their needs are paramount rather than proceeding as if they are needed.
Author, elder and teacher Stephen Jenkinson once shared a story about his work with a therapist. Each time he would see the therapist, he would pay him the money for the session. But, on this day, things were tight and so Stephen casually told the therapist, “So, things are tight right now. I’ll pay you for this session next time.” Not thinking much of the impact this might have on his therapist in the same way that most of us don’t think of the impact of our actions on others.
“Why me?” were the words than came from his therapist’s mouth after a long and considered pause.
Those two words eviscerated the shroud of myopic complacency of Stephen’s excused. It asked something important of him. There was no blame in the words. No shame intended. Just the honest and, until then, ignored consideration of how he had come to decide that his therapist should be the one to bear the consequences of his lack of money. Why not his parents? Why not him? Why would the therapist be made to wait?
I get my haircut at Barberha (best barbershop in Edmonton). Three times since starting to go there about a year ago, I’ve been too late and missed my appointment. Each time, I’ve insisted on paying for the appointment I missed. Then, one day, I was speaking with Linda the owner and she said, “You know Tad, you’re the only one that does that.”
I was incredulous. “What? What do they say? That’s ridiculous. They wasted your time and cost you money.”
“They just sort of say, ‘Oh man . . . I really can’t afford it right now . . .'”
My response was, “Fuck them.”
And if I were behind their counter when they pulled that, I would look them in the eyes, pause and ask them, “Dude. Why us?”
The Five Impacts of The No-Show:
When you no-show someone’s event you promised or committed to attend, it has an impact. Sure, you miss out on the workshop and that’s a bummer, but that’s too easy. That’s only the lense of the “self” this culture so celebrates. More profoundly and importantly, looking at it through the lense of the village, we see that there is an impact on many others.
Impact #1 – Money Lost: These five people no showing mean a loss of at least $500 of potential revenue for me. And maybe more if those who might have come in their place might also have spent money on other follow up products and services.
Impact #2 – Time Wasted: Now I need to follow up with the no-shows and deal with them individually. If they want to send me more money to make up for their absence, as generous and unlikely as that is, I will have to arrange payments for each of them. And there’s also some time wasted at the start of the workshop waiting to see if they’ll show up. Just 15 minutes of time wasted? No. That’s 15 minutes times seven for the seven people there who waited. It’s 15 real minutes of each person’s life, including my own.
Impact #3 – Someone Else Can’t Make It: If the workshop is a sell out, it means that, very likely, someone else wasn’t able to be there. Someone who really wanted to attend. And who was able and willing to be there.
Impact #4 – The Workshop is Changed: I plan my workshops for a certain number of people for a reason often. When people no-show, I have to change my plans and, sometimes, whole exercises need to be cut because there just aren’t enough people to carry them out.
Impact #5 – Impact on the Facilitator: My colleague Russell Scott said it so well, his words capturing the visceral essence of the thing I experience every time people no show me.
“At the beginning of the event I’ve been so pumped and excited anticipating the numbers and then 1/2 the people don’t show. Imagine going into a room of people with your heart totally open and then someone punches you in the stomach. That’s what it feels like right at the beginning of the workshop. The presenter has to deal with the excitement of doing the workshop and the disappointment of the no-shows at the same time. Its not a great way to begin.”
It’s so easy to forget that the facilitators are human beings too. That we’re not vending machines for wisdom that aren’t impacted by the group with which they work.
But it’s also important for us to remember that most people won’t see things this way and so, it’s good to consider how you can institutionalize and systematize the education and elucidation of this into your marketing and registration systems so the importance of their attendance is lifted up to them.
Crucially, we’re no longer talking about the importance of their attendance to them. Whether or not coming is important to them is literally none of my business or concern. I have no interest in making it important to them. I have interest in setting up the agreement, boundaries and payment structure so that it’s fair for both parties but I have no interest in trying to position what I’m doing as vital and therefore that, should they decide not to come, that they’re missing out on something important. None of my business.
Trying to get people to love or respect us in their hearts is a huge red herring; a false thread to follow. It looks like a good path to follow but it only takes us further and further away from where we need to be. In the end, it actually doesn’t matter if they love or respect you. What matters, very much, is how they behave. How they feel about you? Not so important. How they act around you? Very important. You have literally no control over how they feel, but there’s a lot you can do to create the conditions out of which good and courteous behaviour will grow.
Now, I will, of course, share what I have to offer as clearly and compellingly as I can. I want to help them see not only what I’m offering but the benefits it could have to their life. Of course. But that’s done with the offer to help them see if it’s a fit, not to convince them it is.
This is huge. If you don’t establish, with crystal clarity who your work is fit for and for whom it isn’t a fit, people will tend to see what you do as a commodity. They’ll see it as something generic and common. And that won’t engender respect. If they see that you do some things but not others, if they see that you have a scope of your work outside of which you’ll need to refer them to other people, they begin to get this sense of respect for what you do because they actually understand what you do. The clearer you are about your point of view and perspective, the more clear what you do becomes.
Respect begins with clarity and relevance. It deepens with trust and credibility and solidifies when they understand the value of it.
When I say, it’s good to lift up the importance of their attendance, I mean lifting up how and why it matters to other people besides themselves. This can show up in:
- the contract they sign when they sign up
- a welcome video you make
- a box they check where they say, in essence, “I agree not to be a dick and no show because I know that impacts other people, costs you money and is a general buzz kill.”
- a personal welcome call
- a welcome email that they get
But it also shows up in…
- the way you treat them with the kind of courtesy and respect you’d want from them
- the kind of welcome they get in your programs so that they actually have the experience of knowing their presence is noticed and mattered
- the way you carry yourself and speak about your work with the kind of respect and reverence you want from them (which has to have its roots in a real and meaningful respect you have around it – if you don’t respect the work you do, your own time and energy – they will smell that on you like a horse smells your nervousness and backs away)
- your willingness to check in with them directly when they do something that doesn’t feel good to you
There are so many ways to do this and so many ways of wording it. Note: I’d love to read yours if you’d be willing to post it below.
You can’t build a village out of a group of people who only think about themselves and what’s in it for them. To hell with the invisible hand of self interest.
And we can’t build a village out of people who think that beautiful words are enough or that saying something is the same as doing it.
What was present in most of the words I received was the sentiment “I value you” and what was absent is any meaningful action about it. It is jarring to have someone utterly no-show a workshop and then say the words, “I really value you and your work.” To which my honest response is, “No. You don’t. If you actually valued it, you would have behaved differently. You just showed me how little you valued me. Now you’re trying to manage me and have me not be upset with you.”
During the lunch hour of the second workshop of the no-shows, I was venting my frustration with my friend Megan. She’d worked in the restaurant industry for 10 years and she related how, on big days like Valentines Day, people would often make reservations at three or four restaurants so that, on the day, they could choose whatever worked best for them. But that meant that the unchosen restaurants found themselves with too many staff and a lot of empty tables, costing restaurant thousands.
Cab drivers deal with this when people call a cab company to book a cab but end up hailing one down later and never calling to cancel their booking with the original cab company. They justify it by saying, “Everyone does it. It’s just how it is. No big deal.”
All too often, people make promises to others to do things not because they intend to do them but because they want to keep their options open and so they use their promises like a credit card that accrues the interest-based debt of resentment from others as the cost for buying more possibilities and time than were actually available to them without it. Instead of feeling the real human grief of our limitedness and all of the things we can’t say a real, solid, genuine “yes” to, we pretend that maybe we can say “yes” to everything and everyone and then, at the last minute, if things don’t work out for us, we can just bail and walk away.
Responsibility is a bigger thing than just trying our best to do what we say we will. It’s also about taking responsibility for making sure we’ll be ready and able to deliver on what it is we’ve committed to. It’s about creating the conditions we know we’ll need to succeed. If we promise to be somewhere and then choose to stay up late the night before . . . we chose to do that and, in that moment, we made our own comfort, productivity etc. more important than our promise to that person.
There’s nothing inherently wrong about that. But, at least, let’s be honest that that’s what happened.
If you need to bail, then own that that’s what you’re doing. Don’t pretend to have been a victim of something so much smaller than you.
Most of our lives are dramatically over committed (as a result of a desperately sick culture that creates this, which is a topic for another blog post). Most of us are barely scraping by as we sort out how to live a life of integrity in a larger system that utterly lacks it, how to enjoy the natural cycles of community in a culture addicted to linear growth and how to give our gifts in a culture that only values gifts if they add to the GDP. All of this can add up to overwhelm and burn out. And, unless we’re deeply committed to village mindededness, we can draw a straight line from this overly committed life to broken promises, hurt feelings and shattered rice bowls.
The task before us is immense: to tear down this failing culture, to build something new, and still – in the midst of it all – have the space and support we need to be there for each other in a good way. Before us is a hard road to learn to balance taking care of our needs and the needs of the community. And there’s a lot for us all to learn in the process. This process is guaranteed to be messy and woven together with the threads of our own self righteousness and hypocrisy until enough thread has been stitched in that we can see its sickening colour but, instead of tearing it out, we leave it in so that we remember that even our approach to solving the issues of community was, itself, tearing the community apart. I don’t know all of the answers in this, but I do know that it’s worth the mess of being real with each other.
And I do know that, as entrepreneurs, we have the opportunity to not only sell people things but to be a part of re-educating people on the etiquette of graciousness and courtesy through our own example.
“Let’s treat each other as if we plan to work side by side in struggle for many, many years to come. Because the task before us will demand nothing less.”
– Naomi Klein, address to Occupy Wall Street