Playing The Odds to Win

Posted by Todd Smith

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One of life’s greatest lessons came to me fairly early in my career. I would often get feedback about the things I said or did that caused offense or people found objectionable. My first reaction was, “If you don’t like it, tough.” But then I thought to myself, “what kind of attitude is that?”

It was then that I learned I should play the odds. In other words, make the decisions that give you the greatest possibility of success.

As I reflect, I always had a choice. I would ask myself, “Will my actions or my words cause a problem?” “Will I turn someone off?” “And if so, is there an alternative?” As a result of seeking feedback and criticism, I am now very intentional about not doing or saying things that others may find offensive.

I realize there are many people who take the position that you can’t make everyone happy, so why try. While I agree you can’t make everyone happy, I have found it best to avoid the things that I KNOW some people could find distasteful or objectionable.

Using Inappropriate Language

One of the things I observe so often is the use of inappropriate language.

According to a 2001 IRIS study, 81% of all adult Americans identify themselves with a specific religion and 76.5% or 159 million adult Americans categorize themselves as Christians. While many of these people use inappropriate language, there are also many others who are offended and turned off to foul language, including the use of God’s name in vain.

So, here’s my point. If using inappropriate language could turn people off, then why say things that others could find offensive? What is the upside? Could it be that people like to hear you swear and as a result of your profanity, they’ll be attracted to you? I doubt it.

I shared this post with my daughter last night and she immediately went and looked up the top grossing movies of all time. What was interesting was not one of the top 25 were R rated.

Turning Off Your Social Media Friends

Another example that illustrates playing the odds was raised on my Little Things Matter fan page. I made a post about the wisdom of NOT using your personal Facebook page to market your products, services or business. Based upon my experience and research, engaging in this activity will likely turn off your friends.

Here is a quote from Copyblogger, one of the top bloggers on the Internet. “It’s really hard to sell products and services in social media, mostly because this audience hates salespeople worse than they hate Microsoft. You may be able to get some limited success out of it, but more likely you’ll be banned, blocked, shunned, and abused.”

Gary Vaynerchuk, the #1 most recognized social media expert, is a little more blunt. He says it is like “prostituting yourself.”

Over 50 comments quickly appeared in response to my post. Some felt it was acceptable to use their personal profile page to market their products, services or business. To this group of people, I have the same question, “Why would you do something that you KNOW is going to turn off your Facebook friends?” Are the potential sales worth ruining your personal reputation and online brand?

Others who responded felt that an occasional update to their friends about a new business or a new product line they represent was perfectly acceptable. After all, this is consistent with why we use social media. We want to know what’s going on in our friends’ lives and I agree. The problem results when people CONSISTENTLY pitch their business, products or services through their social site.

These are just two examples where I believe the upside is not worth the downside. My guess is that if you think about all the decisions you make in any given week, there are hundreds where we must assess, “is my doing this or saying that worth the risk of offending someone?” You always have a choice.

I want to encourage you to be thoughtful of what you are doing and saying, and avoid the things that you KNOW some people may find offensive. As I sit here today typing this post, I can’t recall any instance where I felt turning off my friends, business colleagues or acquaintances was worth any potential upside.

I encourage you to play the odds. Make decisions that will give you the greatest chance of being a person worthy of respect. Avoid doing things that will unnecessarily offend people. In every situation, you can choose the option that won’t have an adverse effect on your personal reputation.

“The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it.” -George Washington

About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 34 years and founder of Little Things Matter. To receive Todd’s lessons, subscribe here. All Todd’s lessons are also available on iTunes as downloadable podcasts.


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