Know Your Audience, My Mother Once Said | MMBS

Welcome to “My Mother’s Business School,” a series about the knowledge and life skills that have been imparted onto I, the writer, and what my grand takeaway is from it.

I was recently asked to attend a talk at my university campus; it was an ‘exclusive tea time’ with the CEO of a local company. Supposed to be an exciting and intimate way to pick his brain, and learn all sorts of whatever from him.

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely keen on going. The only thing I really knew about this CEO guy was that not a lot of people I knew really knew him, and the ones who did know him, didn’t like him. I tried going in with an open mind, but honestly, my opinion was coloured from the get-go. Still, I managed to have a positive takeaway from all of this:

“Ah,” I thought to myself. “I know this shit already.”

The speaker’s main topic was on human behaviour — aside from all his accomplishments over the years (and honestly, they were good accomplishments. I was sufficiently impressed, but I still didn’t entirely like the guy).

He said that depending on how a person answers a question, he could figure them out — just like that! And how amazing is that? That’s one thing, definitely. But then he went off about how noticing the little nuances in a person, and taking note of their behaviour, was the key to managing them. This is where my ‘ah’ moment came from.

My family is one that is used to being in all sorts of situations. Since young, we have been expected to know how to act from the country club, to the sidewalk stall. We could be having the most intense family discussion that was fast-tracking its way into a full blown fight, but if a person stops by to chat for a second, everyone knows to go into polite smiles and handshakes. As soon as the other party is out of hearing range, it’s back to putting up your dukes.

Safe to say, my family one of many masks. But I digress.

Because we are routinely in all sorts of situations, knowing the best way to gain the attention of everyone just makes things a whole lot easier. There’s a lot less trying and a lot more getting done. Life just sucks a little less. Your point is taken that much faster. You’ve told your story at the table, and now can focus on shovelling food into your face.

So of course, how does one know the best way to gain everyone’s attention? 
“It is by knowing your audience,” my mother once said.

Through knowing my audience at a young age, I knew that with some people, it is better to amp up my weird foreigner-friendly accent. With others, tone it down and try to sound like as much of a local as I can. At government offices, be police, be concise, be quick — and thank everyone, all time, for breathing. Regardless of how flippant my lecturers may respond to my long, drawn out e-mails, thank them anyway, and never forget your manners.

So I’m sitting in this tea time extravaganza, with this guy going off about how important human behaviour is and how he’s such an expert at it. And it’s fun to listen to, yeah — but as I look at my schoolmates hastily scribbling down notes, or listening intently, I’m wondering for a hot minute, “Why, again..?”

Then I nod to myself, “right.” I remember, that they don’t have my mother to impart this knowledge on them.

And honestly, there’s no shame in that. The only reason why I know as much as I do, is because my parents would often talk business at the table. It was hard to get a word in myself sometimes, but I learned while growing up that I soaked up a lot of this nonsense like a damn sponge. And of course, I didn’t think anything of it until the day I was plopped in class and my lecturer was rattling off about Blue Ocean Strategy, and I was having that ‘ah’ moment all over again. Throughout my time in university, I was having those moments quite a bit.

Had my mother to thank for that.