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Life Lessons of the Dread Pirate Roberts

Life Lessons of the Dread Pirate Roberts

Jolly Roger

    Once word leaks out that a pirate has gone soft, people begin to disobey you, and then it’s nothing but work, work, work, all the time. 

    Ah, who can resist the call of the pirate’s life. Yo ho, ho yo, right? I was surprised to find recently that, while The Princess Bride’’s Dread Pirate Roberts is clearly a fictional character, there really was a dreaded pirate Roberts who sailed the high seas in the early 18th century, looting and pillaging at his ease. Unlike Westley’s predecessor, this Roberts was named not Cummerbund but Bartholomew, an equally less-than-fear-inducing name (though somewhat more suitable when shortened to Bart).

    Piracy, as it turns out, wasn’t quite what our movies today make it out to be. In many ways, it was worse – Dread Pirate Roberts only killed the crews of the ships he plundered, while plenty of real pirates were notorious for their creative tortures, like slicing off a victim’s ears, frying them up, and forcing the victim to eat them. But in other ways, pirates’ lives were quite a bit better than our movies make out – they were free in ways few of their times were, and had developed laws and traditions that protected their freedoms as well as – if not better than – our modern Constitutional principles.

    In fact, there are quite a few things we can learn from the pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries. Like other organized criminals, pirates were consummate business people, whose taste for booty could only satisfied by shrewd thinking and practical action. Here, then, are six things the Dread Pirate Roberts might tell you if you hired him as a business consultant for your firm, or a life coach.

    1. Your reputation precedes you.

    I know who you are — your cruelty reveals everything. You’re the Dread Pirate Roberts; admit it.

    What a coup for the Dread Pirate Roberts! Here he is, face-to-face with a farm girl-turned-princess, and he’s recognized instantly – despite the fact that nobody’s ever seen him and lived. That’s reputation, and in many ways, it’s the most important treasure.

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    Pirates had a rough dilemma to face. They made their living by boarding and plundering merchant ships. Fighting too hard against those ships’ crews risked damaging the ship or its precious cargo – but not fighting hard enough meant most likely suffering defeat and not winning the prize at all.

    Pirates’ solution to this dilemma was clever – they let it be known that the crews of any ship that surrendered without a fight would be spared, unharmed – while every last man of a crew that resisted would be slaughtered, often viciously. With that kind of reputation, pirates rarely had to fight at all – most crews that came under assault by pirates surrendered immediately.

    Today, your reputation spreads more easily and more quickly than ever before – imagine what pirates could have accomplished with a service like RateMyPirate.com! A reputation for being effective and without qualms about doing what’s necessary can open a lot of doors.

    2. Follow through on your promises.

    THE DREAD PIRATE ROBERTS TAKES NO SURVIVORS. ALL YOUR WORST NIGHTMARES ARE ABOUT TO COME TRUE!

    A reputation for blood-thirstiness did pirates no good if they weren’t willing to actually be blood-thirsty when the occasion demanded. Every now and again, for whatever reason, a merchant captain and his crew would decide to press their luck in defense of their ship. In those cases, pirates usually won handily – they often outnumbered the crews of the ships they boarded as much as ten-to-one, their ships were faster and better armed, and in the end, they had little to lose.

    Once a crew decided the engage with pirates, there was no quarter – and no survivors. But  the flip side of the promise had to be honored just as well – a crew that surrendered without a struggle had to be treated with the utmost courtesy, or merchant sailors would quickly learn there was no upside to surrendering. Pirates thus not only showed their captives the deepest respect, they often rewarded them with treasure from their own holds, and even recruited sailors to join their crews.

    Follow-through is crucial, for today’s business person as well as for the pirates of old. If you make a promise, be prepared to keep it, even when it’s impractical – or be prepared to pay the consequence as your reputation crumbles and more and more people feel comfortable challenging your word.

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    3. Distinguish yourself proudly.

    Pirate Ship

      While pirates flew under all manner of flags, once the pursuit was under way they quickly ran up the Jolly Roger – the pirate’s black flag adorned with images of death and terror, including the famous skull and crossbones but also skeletons, bleeding hearts, and decapitated heads.

      The purpose of the Jolly Roger is simple: it let the crew of the ship under attack know that their boarders-to-be were pirates, and resistance would be severely dealt with. The Jolly Roger tied the pirate reputation for cruelty to the vessel about to overtake your own. It made plundering easy.

      But if flying the pirate’s flag made it easy to capture a ship without resistance, why didn’t military ships, coast guards, and privateers fly the same flag? The answer is that flying the Jolly Roger came with a price that few non-pirates could afford – you had to be willing to kill mercilessly to make good the promise of the Jolly Roger, should the enemy resist, and you had to be willing to face hanging if you were captured sailing under the Jolly Roger.

      Pirates showed few compunctions about torturing and killing a crew that gave them trouble, a level of blood-thirstiness few more legitimate raiders could stomach – especially as they often had to answer to authorities back home. And for a pirate, the penalty was the same whether they flew the Jolly Roger or not: death by hanging. For others boarding and plundering ships under government authorization, flying a pirate flag meant death if captured, while plundering under their own nation’s flag was legal (or nearly so).

      The high cost of hoisting the Jolly Roger made it uniquely pirates’ own, and was recouped many times over in booty taken with ease. Do you have a marker of excellence that others can’t afford? Producing a better product than anyone else, certification from third-parties, high-value clients and endorsements – these things are expensive to acquire and expensive to maintain, so display them proudly as marks of your excellence – and avoid or minimize those marks that anyone can achieve.

      4. Be accountable.

      Pirates lived under a code of democratic leadership that was virtually unheard of in the early 18th century. Captains were elected by popular acclaim, and quartermasters were appointed to act as a check on the captain’s power. To hold  onto his position – and often enough his life – a captain had to be fair and even-handed with his crew, and vicious and extravagant with others when the situation called for it. A slip-up could lead immediately to a vote of no confidence and appointment of a new leader, with the old captain marooned on a deserted island with naught by a pistol, some shot and powder, and a jug of water to keep him company.

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      To maintain transparency, captains often slept alongside their crews, ate the same food, and maintained an open-door policy in their cabins. Except in the heat of battle, the captain could expect to be questioned on every decision, so had better have had a good reason for all of them. Booty was often kept in unlocked chests in an open, public space aboard ship, to prevent an unscrupulous captains from self-dealing.

      This openness was crucial to pirates’ success. A captain’s crew, after all, served at their own will under great threat to their personal safety whether in battle or if captured. A captain’s accountability kept the crew satisfied and loyal, allowing the captain to pursue his goals and everyone to benefit. While today’s business leader might have a little more leeway in his or her behavior – he or she can’t be removed from their post quite so easily as the pirate captains of yesteryear, for one thing – embracing the pirates’ code of transparency cna go a long way towards running a tight ship, free of morale problems and unrpoductive strife.

      5. Manage your personal brand.

      Then he explained the name was the important thing for inspiring the necessary fear. You see, no one would surrender to the Dread Pirate Westley.

      One of the most fearsome names in pirate history was Edward Teach’s working name: Blackbeard. Blackbeard carefully cultivated his personal brand, braiding his long beard and hair to give himself a terrifying appearance, even to the point of working lit matches or fuses into his beard so that his head was wreathed in pungent smoke. No pirate’s name was ever so feared.

      In fact, so well did Blackbeard manage his brand that over the course of his career, he had not once been obligated to take a single life. Talk about faking it until you make it!

      The secret of Blackbeard’s success is his effective use of image and close attention to PR. His fearsome appearance, boasting, and determination put weight behind the pirate promise to give no quarter – so effectively, that he was never called on to prove it. That’s good branding!

      6. Don’t be afraid to make enemies.

      Finally, the most successful pirates always made it clear who their enemies were. Captains pit themselves against all merchants under a particular country’s or colony’s flag, often in response to the hanging of their colleagues, killing all crewmembers of a particular nation to demonstrate the cost of dealing harsh justice against pirates. Heavy-handed merchant captains were also targeted, with pirates often surveying the crew to determine how well they were treated and then torturing or killing their captain to punish wrongdoing.

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      These personal vendettas and rogue administrations of justice helped pirates by solidifying support for them among  at least a significant minority of non-pirate seamen. While the members of Spanish colonies might be terrified by a pirate who announced his intention to kill all aboard ships sailing from a particular Spanish port, English sailors might well be rooting him on! Likewise, sailors of all nations experienced the frustration, humiliation, and often degradation of working under an unfair and brutal captain – and may well have learned to view attack by pirates as a kind of liberation.

      This is as true of business – and other realms – today as it was of piracy then. Taking a strong stand against something or someone may well solidify your opposition, but it also solidifies your own core of support. Consider Apple. By taking on Microsoft so boldly in their “Mac and PC” ads over the last few years, they’ve certainly upset plenty of Microsoft employees and users, but they’ve also strengthened the tight-knit community of Apple users drawn as much by Apple’s “spunk” as by the design of their products.

      A pirate’s life for you!

      Have you ever considered piracy? You’d make a wonderful Dread Pirate Roberts.

      You would make a wonderful Dread Pirate Roberts. Just keep in mind these lessons from the world of piracy and see where they take you. For now, let’s say the black mask is optional.

      Avast!

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      Last Updated on October 22, 2020

      8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

      8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

      How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

      Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

      When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

      Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

      What Makes People Poor Listeners?

      Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

      1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

      Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

      Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

      It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

      2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

      This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

      Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

      3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

      It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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      I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

      If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

      4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

      While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

      To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

      My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

      Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

      Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

      How To Be a Better Listener

      For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

      1. Pay Attention

      A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

      According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

      As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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      I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

      2. Use Positive Body Language

      You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

      A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

      People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

      But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

      According to Alan Gurney,[2]

      “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

      Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

      3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

      I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

      Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

      Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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      Be polite and wait your turn!

      4. Ask Questions

      Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

      5. Just Listen

      This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

      I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

      I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

      6. Remember and Follow Up

      Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

      For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

      According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

      It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

      7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

      If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

      Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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      Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

      Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

      NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

      1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
      2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

      8. Maintain Eye Contact

      When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

      Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

      By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

      Final Thoughts

      Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

      You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

      And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

      More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

      Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
      [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
      [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
      [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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