Get the details, not the fairy tales

 Today we go back to 1665 and the Great Plague of London, known also as the Bubonic Plague.  What a frightening experience it must have been.  The death rate was over 60% and at its peak it killed 8,000 people a week. By February 1666, the Plague had nearly run its course. It died out during the Great Fire that same year and never returned.  We know today that the fire killed the rats, which carried the fleas that were infected with the disease.

 The cause of the Plague was never determined by the people at the time and various remedies and solutions were offered and tried.  Some people believed that bleeding the victims would help, but in no case did it work.  Others were convinced that the disease was carried in the air, and used perfumes or stuffed their pockets with flowers to sweeten the air around them.  The first symptoms of the Plague included a rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin.  The victims then manifested flu-like symptoms and began to cough and sneeze, then soon afterwards they would succumb to the disease and die.

There’s a story from that time that children, seeing their loved ones dying all around them, created a song which later became a nursery rhyme, as follows:

“Ring, a ring all rosy,

Pockets full of posies

Atchoo, atchoo

Then all fall down.”

But a bit of further study shows evidence that this could not be so, since the nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosy” can be traced back only to the 1800’s, so the link to the Plague is surely apocryphal, but it is a fun story to tell if you want to make people think you know your history. If you ever hear it again, direct the narrator to

Now here is a lesson for us, or else it wouldn’t be Fable Friday and I would have no teaching point.  The lesson is that we often hear words or phrases we think we understand, but that each of us may understand in a different way, and as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.”

Coaching is one such example.  I often hear managers say they are going to do a better job of coaching, but if I don’t know what that means there is a risk that a manager may coach poorly, or actually do harm.  I like to see someone coached positively, with emphasis on the right behaviors, rather than criticism of the wrong ones, which can lead to self-defeat.  If your company decides to institute “one-hour coaching meetings,” find out the details.  They may be weekly trips to the woodshed and do more harm than good.

Another misunderstood sales management practice is “reward and recognition,” in which managers begin throwing “attaboys” at people in a random and meaningless way, thus diluting the attention to the desired behavior. Here’s an example. I say to you, “You did a good job handling that discussion.”  Now you have no idea what you did well. But if I say instead, “You did a good job in that discussion by letting Mike model some of the teaching points.  It showed the others how you wanted it done and gave Mike a chance to shine.” (That was for you Dale Mancuso.)

Next time someone proposes that we need to do more of this and that, find out what they mean.  Otherwise you’re just singing “Ring Around the Rosy.”

Think Like Your Customer!

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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