Don Draper is my hero.

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It’s showtime Friend!  Are you watching Mad Men?  I am.  I believe we are in the last four episodes before Don Draper is put to bed!  I bring Don Draper up because he is brilliant.  Yes, a total fictional character, who has been created by a team of writers. he has one consistent trait that I want to share with you.

As you might (or might not) know I have been in deep research over here at my desk. I’m researching what I believe to be the most crucial element, the most important tool, most important aspect of our lives, of relationships, of our our businesses.  Drumroll please… Communication.  Yes, that single word is what I am excavating; and it’s more than words and more than what you have to say. Communication is everything.  

Doesn’t Don Draper have a way with his words?  He is just as effective without saying any words, have you noticed?  He brings the best and worst out in every person he comes into contact with, he is beyond charismatic.  He is famous for saying the right thing at the right time, he saves clients with a smirk, and he has this uncanny ability to bring ease to a dreadful situation that most would cry over.  Yes, Don Draper has a communication style that people dream of having.  

A crucial ingredient to Don Draper’s communication is that he is persistent with communicating exactly what he wants! Think about that for a minute.  He wants to have sex, he tells her (any of the dozen plus ladies he has slept with over the years) that’s why she is in his house, in his bed, his arms…  He wants to win a client, he tells them his campaign is the best, period.  He wants to be recognized for not being in control, he shares his grief with others (usually Peggy).  He is constantly sharing himself and for the most part, with utter clarity.  There is one vital aspect of Don Draper that I love the most, his straightforward ability to redirect the conversation to what he wants to hear.  

Years ago I use to attend a particular networking meeting.  Every week the same people would talk, the same ideas would go around the room, boring, big snooze fest.  Then one day, John walked in the room, an older, skinny looking guy who wore pants that were too big, he wore a brown leather belt that cinched the pants so they would stay on his waist.  Old round wire framed glasses sat on his nose above a small grayish mustache that usually had a crumb or two lingering from his morning sugar dusted donut.  He lived in Hollywood and was once a somebody way back when, now just a guy sharing his thoughts on business and life.  One day after another boring meeting and wearing frustration on my face, John pulled me aside and said, “Lane, simply change the conversation.  If you’re not hearing what you want to hear, start talking about it, change the conversation.”  That was a mind blowing moment I had with John.

In my life I was taught to add to conversations, speak only when asked, and nod when he says something funny, right, or smart (regardless if I agree or not).  John opened up a whole new way of communicating to me.  He cracked open my natural born instincts, he gave me permission to voice my opinion, speak my mind, and carry a different tune that others never considered.  I will never forget that day, it was, June 13, 1997, my life changed.  This tool of changing the conversation and stating what I want has placed me ahead of the game.  I see the world differently.  If I have nothing to say, or am clearly not interested in a subject, people know it, I don’t hide it anymore.  I simply change the conversation.

Perhaps why I appreciate Don Draper so much is that he flawlessly executes this one trick effortlessly over and over, again and again when he is communicating.  He changes the subject, talks about what he wants, he shares his point of view on the given subject.  Now yes, there can be temporary setbacks, hurt feelings and fierce resentments that can instill upon others by using this tool, but the ability to communicate effectively and articulate what’s on your mind, as Don Draper does changes the way the world sees you and hears you.  In today’s world communication is everything.  If you are not stating what you think, how you feel, or telling people what you believe in then forget about it, the fast-paced tech-talk-tide will wash you away without notice.

Changing the conversation is an important skill to learn, it’s definitely something to ease into, and use wisely once learned.  Think about what you want to hear, what’s not being talked about, what do you believe in, then start talking about it.  

In order to change a conversation, there are three things that I need to do before I open my mouth, those three things are:

  1.  Gain clarity on what I truly believe in (or think).  I sit for 20-30 minutes, creating space for introspection.
  2. Set an intention on what I want others to know about (what I believe in). “I want everyone to know… xyz.. so that… abc… can…”
  3. Write it out on paper. This way I can see the words visually — setting in motion the visual aspect of communication.  ( I will write more about that later – another exciting area of communication).

Over the years I’ve watched Don change many conversations, and my own conversations have changed.  I’ve also witnessed his nonverbal communication.  He has neglected his ability to be monogamous.  He has struggled with alcohol, shakes his head in dismay at how to be a playful father, he dismisses the idea of ever being a fully available husband.  He swiftly moves about in his body, pulling his shirt sleeves, and adjusting cufflinks in given uncomfortable moments.  He reveals so much, oh how I love him.  As the final episodes come to a close I feel a small tinge of sadness, I am going to miss him dearly, I am going to miss watching him, and listening to him.  I could go on here about Don Draper but I think you get the idea… this fictional character has (fully) given me permission, just as John did to change conversations, think for myself, and communicate effectively.  

I will add Mad Men to my list (I love Lucy, Family Ties,  Jerry SeinfeldLost, The Wire, Sons of Anarchy) of adored TV shows that have made an impact on my life.   More importantly, Thank you, Don Draper.