People have a remarkable ability to determine when you’re not really interested in what they want or what they think. That’s why self-serving conversations, like the one described below, often end badly.

On a clear Texas morning, a young man screeched his shiny Mercedes to a halt in front of an old farmer’s gate.

“Good morning sir,” said the young man. “I have a proposition for you. I’ll bet you one of your young calves that I can tell you within ten minutes precisely how many cows you have on this farm without ever laying eyes on them.”

“I’ll take that bet, young man,” said the old farmer. “Even my wife of fifty years doesn’t know the exact number of cattle on our ranch.”

Bet entered, the young man placed a laptop on the hood of his Mercedes and punched buttons furiously for the full ten minutes while the old farmer watched with mild amusement.

“Three hundred and twenty-seven,” said the young man. “That’s how many cows are on your ranch.”

“You’re exactly right,” said the farmer. “You can help yourself to one of my calves.”

Beaming, the young man walked off to find a calf. When he returned with the animal under his arm, the old farmer spoke: “I’m wondering if I can make a wager with you. If I can guess your profession, will you call us even?”

“Of course,” said the young man.

“You’re an economist,” said the farmer.

“You’re right,” said the young man, “But how did you know?”

“That’s easy,” explained the farmer. “You’ve never done a day of ranching in your life, but you came out here with a straight face and your spreadsheets and proceeded to sell me an answer I already knew.”

“And by the way,” added the farmer. “You can put my dog down now.”

Moral: People don’t care what you know until they know that you care about their interests and their ideas.

For better conversations, get a copy of Stop Talking, Start Communicating. Autographed copies are available online at Brace Books.

Originally posted on

All Chat and No Cattle

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