by Steve Adubato, PhD

Actor Steve Carell has left “The Office” after many years starring as the often-inept manager/communicator on the NBC hit series. In this role, Carell played Michael Scott, who often said the wrong thing, at the wrong time, and to the wrong person. (And usually for the wrong reasons.) Simply put, Michael Scott was a terrible communicator. Yet, interestingly, there was one scene from an episode many years ago that proved one of the most powerful communication and sales lessons I’ve ever seen.

Picture this. Michael goes into a meeting with a sales prospect along with Andy Bernard, who has just come in to the office and is universally seen as the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company’s worst salesman. If you think Michael is tone deaf when it comes to communication, Andy Bernard makes Michael look like Oprah.

In the scene, Andy and Michael are talking to a small business owner trying to get his paper account. Michael starts by pointing to a picture of the business owner in which he is holding a fish. Michael says; “Hey, did you catch that fish? That’s a big one.” As the guy smiles, and begins to share the story about how he caught the fish, Andy rudely jumps in and says something like; “That’s nothing. I caught a 40 pounder off of Montauk…sniped it from the crows nest and I have it hanging in my house.”

Immediately, the business owner’s expression changes. He’s got a frown on his face and really doesn’t know where Andy is coming from. Michael, trying to regain control of the sales meeting, starts talking about Dunder Mifflin and how the company will be of service to the business owner and will give him personalized attention.

At this point, Andy jumps in again and says; “That’s the classic undersell. You should know that we don’t work out of a log cabin. And get this, we trade on the New York Stock Exchange…It’s in New York. Did you ever hear of it?” With this condescending comment, the business owner is now totally disgusted with Andy and is wondering why he is wasting his time with a guy that is only trying to show off.

Finally, as Andy tries to go on, Michael suddenly grabs him from the back of the neck and squeezes until Andy can’t speak. It’s only at this point that Michael takes control of the meeting. Ultimately, Dunder Mifflin doesn’t get the sale, and Michael is disgusted with Andy’s performance.

What’s so interesting about this scene is that while funny and over the top, in many ways it mirrors what too many salespeople continually do when communicating with prospective clients and customers. What it really comes down to is Andy being confused and thinking that the more he impresses the prospect by talking about himself and his accomplishments, the greater the odds that he makes a sale. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

I’ve said it many times in this column before, but it bears repeating. Great communicators understand that it is all about THEM—the customer—and THEIR story. It’s not about the fish that YOU caught or how big YOUR organization is. The customer is only impressed with whether you care enough about HIS situation and how you can help HIM achieve HIS company’s goals and objectives.

Interestingly, in Steve Carell’s final episode last week, Andy Bernard was in a sales meeting engaging a customer and clearly demonstrating how he had grown as a communicator and salesman over the years. It was encouraging, but then again, it was a sitcom. In real life, such a positive outcome is more the exception than the rule.