Slow the Plow

Slow the Plow

We’re in New York for Thanksgiving and to see the grandchildren. Wednesday night my son, wife, and I went to see David Mamet’s “Speed the Plow” from house seats.

I think Mamet is brilliant and provocative, but the dialogue bothered me throughout the one-act play, though I couldn’t quite decide why. The three actors were good, but the two male leads seemed almost too bright, and the woman too deliberate.

Snaking our way through Broadway’s post-theater crowds on our way to a hot dog vender (traditional) before returning to the St. Regis, my son (the actor and college instructor) gave me the answers.

“You didn’t hear them breathe,” he pointed out. “The two leads were responding immediately to each other. Think about great repartee that you’ve been part of—don’t you have to listen to the response before you can reply? They knew their lines, but he director (Neil Pepe) hadn’t taught them to listen, to take a beat, before responding. It was unrealistic.

“As for the woman, I ‘heard’ every comma, semi-colon, and period in the script. She was reciting, not acting.”

That made it quite clear. We were having our hot dog at Rockefeller Center, watching the Christmas windows and entire façade being lighted with flashing, huge snowflakes, at Saks. Brilliant people can respond quickly to intellectual provocation, but not before they process what the other person has said. And it’s easy to memorize a script (or read a TelePrompTer) but harder to translate what you read into natural actions.

It’s great to be quick, but it’s better to listen. It’s fine to have good answers, but better to have great questions. Knowing what you want to say is not nearly sufficient; you must help the other person to understand what it means for them.

The art of influence and persuasion isn’t based on multi-page letters espoused by marketing “gurus,” nor telephone scripts advocated by cold calling experts, nor memorized lists of features and benefits, nor computerized connections in cyberspace collected like postage stamps.

Persuading others is about building relationships, and that is best done in person, looking the other person in the eye, listening to what they say, and articulating your own position in such a way that they can see their self-interest being met. That’s how you enable the buyer to buy in a solo consulting practice.

Don’t speed the plow, slow it a bit. The longer you take to forge trusting relationships, the faster you’ll develop quality business. Does that sound counterintuitive? Well, welcome to Things are different here.

We take time to breathe.

© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

9 thoughts on “Slow the Plow

  1. At least Madonna would have been someone seduction-capable (as we all know). I couldn’t see sacrificing a friend and producing an inferior play for an evening with this actress. (She’s the one who plays the upwardly-mobile secretary in “Mad Men.”) Especially when the character is a producer who can have his choice of women in Hollywood.

  2. True about this actress, Alan, but let me tell you, in the original production, Madonna was wooden. She was just a name on the marquee. She was splinter-capable.


  3. I’ve often felt pressured to come up with on-the-spot answers, documents, project plans, whatever. In this instant world the client wants everything instantly, and that can really work out for the worst. I do my best work after being able to mull it over and think on it a bit, at the expense of being perceived as “slow.”

    Still, knowing that doesn’t rid me of the temptation to blurt out a response under pressure when all eyes are on me.

  4. “Small World” probably doesn’t apply in New York, but there’s a good chance we were walking around Rockefeller Center at the same time. I was visiting family with my son and wife, stayed at her aunt’s on W 83rd and watched the parade starting point on Thursday morning. Since it was our first time there together, we made the rounds to The Rock, Grand Central and Times Square on Wednesday night. What a wonderful place to visit during the holidays.

  5. Love this post!

    I was in an amateur production of STP and the “repartee” you describe is actually written into the stage directions. It is horrible to even attempt it.

    For a great satire of this, get a copy of the CD “Forbidden Broadway – Volume 2” and listen to the track entitled “Madonna’s Brain.” Actually, the whole CD is hoot, however, the material is a bit dated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.