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What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School


Personal Thoughts

To this day, McCormack’s business classic remains a must-read for executives and managers at every level, featuring straight-talking advice you’ll never hear in business school. Relating his proven method of “applied people sense” in key chapters on sales, negotiation, reading others and yourself, and executive time management, McCormack presents powerful real-world guidance on

Summary Notes

  • What people say and do in the most innocent situations can speak volumes about their real selves.
  • People reading is a matter of opening up your senses to what is really going on and converting this insight into tangible evidence that can be used to your advantage.
  • Observation is an aggressive act. People are constantly revealing themselves in ways that will go unnoticed unless you are aggressively involved in noticing them.
  • questions: How direct and forthright are his answers? How quickly will he make a decision, and once he has made it will he vacillate? Is he consistent? Is he up-front or would he rather operate from behind a wall? Does he deal with the facts as they are or as he would like them to be? And, most important of all: How secure is this person? A person’s “security quotient” has a direct bearing on how he will behave in business situations. Will he be stubborn or reasonable? Will form be more important than substance? What excesses and vanities will probably come into play? Is he likely to say one thing and do another? Does he prefer to deal to your face…or to your back?
  • People often reveal their innermost selves in the most innocent of situations. How they deal with a waiter or an airline attendant can provide a fascinating glimpse beneath the surface. Knowing how impatient they are in a particular situation, or how upset they get over a minor error, can prove invaluable later on.
  • I was once having lunch in New York with someone I had not met before but knew from previous phone conversations that we were likely to be negotiating with one another. When the menus came, he told me he was on a strict diet and was going to have only a cup of coffee. This was a fairly prominent restaurant, and I found it interesting that he was not intimidated into ordering something just for the sake of ordering it. But when the waiter came and I asked my guest out of politeness if he was sure he wouldn’t have just a salad, he said, “Maybe I should,” and added, “I’ll have whatever you’re having.” I found this even more interesting. If he could change his mind so easily, I had to wonder just how firm his “final” position in a negotiation might be, how easily influenced he would be to follow the lead in any negotiation—and even whether he might make concessions based on convenience rather than convictions. None of this, of course, was to be taken literally. But I did think I had gained some insight that might prove helpful in my dealing with the man in the future.
  • The Gimme Putt A “gimme” (give me) is a short putt conceded to the golfer by his playing partner or opponent. It’s interesting to observe the broad behavioral spectrum relating to this tiny aspect of social golf. Some people refuse all gimmes, insisting on putting everything in the hole and accurately recording the results. Business translation: It’s hard to do a favor for people like this. Others don’t even wait and assume it’s a gimme—even if it’s six feet from the cup. These are usually the big egos who, if they stopped to think about it (which they never do), would figure they could “command” the ball in the hole anyway. Business translation: They won’t ask you for a favor either; they expect it. Most intriguing to me are the people who “half try” to sink the putt, sort of sweep at it one-handed. If it goes in, fine; if it doesn’t, they “weren’t really trying” and count it as a gimme. In business, these people are hard to pin down. They have a capacity for self-deception, tend to exaggerate, and may give you a rounded off version of what they originally said.
  • Discretion is the better part of reading people. The idea of using what you have learned properly is not to tell them how insecure you think they are or to point out all the things you have perceptively intuited that they may be doing wrong. If you let them know what you know, you will blow any chance of using your own insight effectively. You don’t owe anyone an insight into yourself for every insight you have into him. Remember, you can only use what you’ve learned if he’s learned less about you. The surest way to let people in on your own security quotient is to tell them all about your accomplishments. Let people learn of your qualities and achievements from someone else.
  • If you can force yourself to step back from any business situation, particularly one that is heating up, your powers of observation will automatically increase.
  • A colleague of Ray Cave, Patricia Ryan, the managing editor of People magazine, once told me that if she is having a business lunch in which she anticipates being intimidated or not being taken seriously enough she will order a Scotch and water. She rarely drinks, but just ordering a Scotch instead of a Perrier creates a subtle, almost imperceptibly different, I-mean-business impression.
  • At the very least it is disarming, and generally, the less knowledgeable one appears, the more forthcoming and revealing the other party will be.
  • If you say you will return a call the next day and you don’t, that’s enough to influence an entire relationship. There’s no business law that says you ever have to return any phone call; just don’t say you will. It is also unwise to put yourself in a position of speaking on behalf of your company if you know there’s a possibility, however slight, that your company won’t back you up.
  • If you have a client or customer you want to impress, do something for his kids. It will mean far more to your customer than almost anything you could do for him.
  • The other extreme is being too anxious to please. I have seen people playing a role “get on a roll.” Pretty soon they are saying things they can’t possibly back up and promising things they can’t possibly deliver. Once you can’t deliver what you promise, you are perceived as lacking authority, and the ultimate impression you end up creating is one of weakness.
  • One of the best rules I know is, when a crisis occurs or is in the process of occurring, don’t react. Just say you’d like to think about it. Make any excuse, but don’t respond. Once you have analyzed the crisis in terms of its potential for an opportunity as well as its potential for disaster, then you can respond. This at least allows for clear-headedness in dealing with the problem, and if you’re savvy about what’s going on and haven’t become caught up in the crisis yourself, it may present a very interesting edge.

What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School


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