If You Want People to Like You Don’t be a Jerk

Alabama crushed Louisville 51-14 on Saturday night. Head coach Nick Saban didn’t crush the postgame interview though. He went all Nick Saban on ESPN reporter Maria Taylor who asked a completely reasonable and necessary question. Taylor wanted to know if Saban got any answers after his two quarterbacks — Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts — split time during the game.

Shorts-in-a-bunch Saban responded in aggressive fashion. “I think both guys can help our team, all right? So why do you continually try to get me to say something that doesn’t respect one of them? I’m not going to. So quit asking.” The drill sergeant response was only missing a final mic drop demand — “Now drop and give me 50, Taylor!”

The unnecessary outburst got me thinking about sports radio, which has been known to have an over-the-top explosion or two along the way. The end result can also be much more damaging in our business as opposed to college football.

I made a few critical comments on the air a few weeks ago about some Philadelphia Eagles fans. One person made a billboard near Gillette Stadium that was gloating about the Eagles win over the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Another fan flew a plane over Gillette Stadium that said, “41-33 Philly Philly Super Bowl LII,” just before a preseason game between the Eagles and Patriots.

The actions were petty. Yeah, Philly won it all. Great. Have fun, but don’t be classless. Instead, a handful of fans were clearly acting as if they were so brand new to this whole winning-a-championship thing that they didn’t know how to behave. Act like you’ve been there before. You wouldn’t see Patriots fans pulling the same silly stunts because they’ve actually won Super Bowls in the past and don’t resort to flying planes with messages attached.

Mike in Portland called in. He’s an Eagles fan. Mike in Portland didn’t like my comments because Mike in Portland wasn’t listening to my comments very well. He thought I was saying that all Eagles fans were behaving badly. I started out patiently re-explaining my stance. The longer he failed to listen and had his mind made up that I was saying every Eagles fan was a classless lowlife, the more frustrated I got. I didn’t reach Saban-esque levels, but it’s difficult to remain completely calm when a conversation basically plays out like this:

Mike – “It sounds like you’re saying 2 + 2 = 5.”
Brian – “I’m not. No. I’m saying it equals four.”
Mike – “Nope. You’re clearly saying it equals five.”

Nothing drives me crazier in sports radio than listeners who misinterpret my comments because they aren’t listening. It’s the worst. That’s not a good enough reason to get bent out of shape though. Although Mike clearly would be designated for assignment when it comes to paying attention, it bugs me that I wasn’t calmer and more patient with him.

Another situation occurred just the other day that I actually handled well. I’m making strides, BSM community. The lovely Christina had a family reunion every Labor Day weekend in Kentucky. We hopped on a red-eye flight on Friday and had a connection in Dallas. When I exited the bathroom, my wife was talking to a delightful guy named Calvin who worked for the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. 

We struck up a conversation about football after he asked what I did for a living. Calvin told me that he believes the Seahawks won’t trade safety Earl Thomas to Dallas because of something that happened way back in 1977. This, of course, is a terrible opinion. A three-week-old burrito is better, but I didn’t focus on how the regimes of both teams are totally different now compared to over 40 years ago. Neither franchise would let potential bad blood get in the way of a great deal either. I just glossed over it.

It’s interesting why Calvin’s theory didn’t throw me off — it’s because I didn’t lose sight of what I wanted to accomplish. I wanted Calvin to enjoy our conversation. If I picked apart his bad theory, it could have easily been the part that he remembered most. In discussions and debates, the #1 rule is to not forget what you’re trying to accomplish.

If you want your audience to enjoy listening to you, don’t call them idiots or bozos. Don’t aggressively pick apart their weak theories or inaccurate comments. Ask yourself if your words get you closer to achieving your goal or further away? If the comments you make get you further away from the goal, you’re simply venting. You’ve lost the initiative while working against yourself. Don’t let that happen.

Calvin and I were also were speaking to each other in person. It’s very easy to speak to a caller as if they’re just a thing. As sad and ridiculous as it sounds, it’s simple to forget that the person you disagree with on the phone actually has friends and loved ones. He has interests and emotions. It’s much easier to be aware of these facts in person than during a phone call.

During the next debate with a caller, pretend that same person is standing in front of you. Better yet, pretend it’s a friend, family member, or your boss that’s sharing a crazy theory in person. You’d be far less likely to speak aggressively. Your words and tone would also change. Don’t treat strangers on the phone like they’re actual strangers. Talk to them like the other people you value most in life.

I bumped into another person named Adam before a flight out of Portland. Adam said that he and his 10-year-old daughter, Lily, enjoy listening to me. I thought it was awesome. Later I thought that if I ever had a phone conversation with Adam the same way I had with Mike in Portland, Adam would’ve have come up to introduce himself to me. He wouldn’t have felt very positive about the show. He might not have even listened to the show anymore.

It isn’t just the host and the listener having a private conversation. That same conversation plays out in front of hundreds and thousands of people, including the caller’s family and friends. Embarrassing a caller and then expecting that same listener to still support the show is illogical. Listeners are the bread and butter of the industry. Without them, we don’t have jobs. It sort of makes sense to treat those people with respect.

Nick Saban actually called Maria Taylor to apologize for his pointed response. It’s very unlikely that a host will have the same luxury after blasting an anonymous caller. Think about that — our margin for error is actually smaller than a head coach that has won six championships in college football. In sports radio, we really need to get it right the first time because we might not get a second chance.