How to Avoid the Puffy Shirt

June 17, 2009


While hanging out with my younger three children last night, I heard my 9-year-old son say something I have thought a million times but never had the courage to say out loud.

puffy-shirt200He was busy putting the final touches on a new Lego ship with his little brother, when his 7-year-old sister started telling him something apparently unrelated to the project at hand. Without even looking up or interrupting the process of snapping small plastic pieces together, he replied very matter-of-factly, “I have no idea what you are talking about, but I am going to act like I know exactly what you are talking about.”

Undeterred, she kept talking, he kept building and I chuckled inside.

While that is the kind of advice that should be standard in pre-marital counseling (the concept – not actually saying it), it is not great advice for business. Like not quite hearing what someone has said and replying with a smile and nod (a la Seinfeld’s low talker and agreeing to wear the puffy shirt), only pretending to understand your clients’ needs can be deadly.

It is much better and far less embarrassing to ask a client to clarify or even repeat their request than to grab the highlights of your conversation and run with it. This is especially true if you have performed a similar task for them before. Our clients care about the details – and so should we. Everyone understands an honest mistake, but it is much harder to explain the fact that you were simply not paying attention.

So don’t fake it. Make sure you know what your clients need and then go above and beyond – be proactive, suggest new ideas and do your best to blow them away with how well you understand their needs.

Oh, and that advice goes for personal relationships as well. You think clients get mad if you are not paying attention?

Dave Fiore is the founder and CEO of Fiore Communications.



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  1. Michael Calienes says:

    July 21, 2009 @ 6:09 am

    love a good seinfeld reference to teach an important lesson on listening. today at the conversation factory, you’ll meet my dogs, jerry and newman. serious. see you soon.

  2. Dave Fiore says:

    July 21, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

    Loved Jerry and Newman, although I was a little disappointed in their lack of animosity toward each other.

    Also, just realized I stole your pen. Times are tough, but I am not yet resorting to grabbing office supplies during meetings. Sorry about that. I will save and return.

    Great meeting, great new space and looking forward to presenting together in Amelia Island.