Fable Friday: Sight gags and another trainer’s tip

Inspector Clouseau, played by Peter Sellers in the classic film “The Pink Panther” is frustrated by his inability to catch “The Phantom” played by David Niven, and his female accomplice, played by Capucine, who is also Clouseau’s own wife.

We see him fuming in his office as he absent-mindedly spins a huge globe.  He says, “We must find that woman!” And with that he puts his hand out to lean against the spinning globe, which causes him to fall to the floor.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedThis type of humor is known as a sight gag.  The joke is in what you see rather than in what you hear. The Pink Panther films, Marx Brothers films, Three Stooges and others were filled with sight gags, and they present a unique and hilarious form of humor. I love them!

So here’s one you can use as a trainer which I employ when I teach negotiation or sales skills. Walk across the training room and deliberately trip or stumble. Make it realistic. Now look behind you to see what it was on the floor to make you stumble like that.

Say to the learners, “What did you see me do just then?  I tripped, then looked behind me to see what I had tripped on.  Why do you think I did that?  There is clearly nothing on the floor that could have caused me to trip.”

After some discussion of this, someone will point out that this is a very common occurrence. When people stumble, they will often look back to see what they tripped on. Perhaps you have done this yourself.

The point here is that we do this to save face. We want those who saw us trip, not to think we are clumsy or awkward. Looking back at the floor or sidewalk is our way of saying to the world, “I don’t usually stumble.  There must have been some bump or something that caused me to trip.”  It’s our way of saving face.

So what does this tell us about conducting a negotiation or a delicate sales conversation?  You cannot succeed if you cause your client to lose face.  Be careful not to use language that backs people in a corner, or makes them feel helpless, uninformed or unintelligent.  Language that includes an “or else” in it and other displays of your power position are very poor technique. Try always to help others save face.

You can create your own sight gags to make a learning point or at least keep your group relaxed, engaged and having fun in your sessions.  Use your imagination.

I saw a fun one the other day while watching my son practice piano. He was playing “The Minute Waltz” and he knew I was watching him.  At one point during the piece he played with only his right hand, and lifted his left wrist to look at his watch, as if to see if the “minute” was up yet, all with a straight face and without missing a note. Victor Borge would have been proud. I know I was.

Here’s to you, my readers, in the hope that you have a wonderful, relaxing holiday with your own family and friends. I’ll be back after the New Year.  Meanwhile…

Think Like Your Customer

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

One Response to Fable Friday: Sight gags and another trainer’s tip

  1. Jeanne Kelly-Rieken says:

    Thank you Greg for your terrific posts. I look forward to them. I have to say that I thought you were going to say about looking behind you and moving forward . Maybe next time. Thanks again for your great stories

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