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Believe Them

Robin Donovan on the importance of first impressions.



A Maya Angelou quote came to mind recently: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” A loan officer, who received good reviews online, wasn’t responding to my emails quickly, if at all. In fact, he didn’t even reach out to introduce himself. Hours, then days went by. Finally, I typed a quick message: “What timing should I expect in hearing from you?” He didn’t write back. 

There was one thing that did get his attention: my request for a replacement. Suddenly, the phone was ringing. After I gently suggested that someone in my time zone might be a better fit, and finally said I would only proceed with a new loan agent, he quickly ended the call. 

There’s a mantra in startup culture: Fail faster. It means to confidently pursue your chosen path, yet be able to swiftly alter course if you wind up in the weeds. It has some of the whiplash effect of a driver who smashes first the gas and then the brakes, but it works. 

“Fail faster” taps into the concept that no idea is mature at its inception, even as it challenges our egos to admit defeat after defeat. Forbes called it “just hype” in a 2014 write-up, citing business owners’ exquisite fear of financial loss, but failure does not always mean fiscal ruin. 

What failure can mean is short-term discomfort. It’s the exact thing that makes Angelou’s mantra is so hard to follow. Someone shows us they’re not kind, not attentive, not interested and we believe them. OK. Then what? We have to admit that a hoped-for partnership can’t work. We have to have an uncomfortable conversation. We have to start over. At worst, there’s that niggling sense of frustration and failure.

Despite that discomfort, “fail faster” and Angelou’s advice do work. You need not risk your entire business to embrace the former, as Forbes implied. And not every failure is personal. In my case, my first attempt at finding a loan officer was a bust, and I soon decided the risk of enduringly awful service was greater than the discomfort of requesting a replacement. 


When someone shows they value your business – or don’t – believe them the first time. When first impressions are poor, why spend time dreaming up plausible excuses for the other party? A timely, welcoming first contact sends a positive message. Speedy resolution of that first complaint? Critical. We are all, in turn, the service provider and the recipient. Don’t give clients a reason to believe you’re anything less than your best.



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