Making the Skeleton Dance

Turning negatives into selling points.


"If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance."
- George Bernard Shaw


If you want to be truly persuasive and build immediate trust, take a lesson from Clyde Thompson.

It's 3:30 on a hot, Friday afternoon. The room is stuffy, and we've drawn the blinds against the direct sunlight so it's dark, almost cave - like. The three people I'm with have been conducting job interviews since 9:00 a.m., and I've been kibitzing, consulting on a way to improve a hiring process that has left the company with a 37 percent annual turnover rate.

Our sixth interviewee of the day steps into the room. He introduces himself to us as Clyde Thompson. He's got a thin line scar running from his hairline, down across his eyelid and down onto his cheek. He's well - groomed, but like me he's got a non - standard body that can make a $3,000 Armani suit look like it was ripped it off the rack in K - Mart. His hair and mustache are gray; he appears to be in his mid - fifties. We've already got three strong candidates and only two openings. And in two days of interviewing, the division manager has shown an unshakable predilection for "vigorous and energetic" - meaning young - candidates, and appears to be threatened by anyone her own age. Her two subordinates take their cues from her.

As I look over my copy of Thompson's application, I mentally reduce his chances from minuscule to non-existent. I glance at my watch. I've got an early flight. I wonder how long it will take my compatriots to blow poor Thompson off.

"So why should we hire you, Mr. Thompson?" the division manager asks, starting with the question she usually finishes with.

Thompson smiles.

"I'm 53 years old," he says without hesitation. "I'm not pretty. I've been unemployed for almost five months - ever since my last company went belly - up. I've got no experience in your industry. If you take a look at my application you'll see that there's a checkmark next to the yes on that question about whether or not I've ever been convicted of a felony. I've applied for any number of other jobs and no one else will hire me." He looks at us each in turn while he's slowly ticking off these points on his fingers, as confidently as if he were explaining his Harvard MBA, his Olympic gold medals and his seven years as CEO of General Motors. "So let me tell you why I'm the best possible candidate you're ever going to find for this position."

And that's exactly what he proceeds to do - demonstrating the poise and assurance and experience he'd gained in those 53 years.

"If you hire me, I can't afford not to succeed!" he says with passion and conviction. "I don't have the option of being able to move on to greener pasture when the job gets too grueling. I don't even have brown pastures. There are no other pastures for me until I'm ready to be put out to pasture. I'm 100 percent committed. As locked into this position as I was locked into that jail cell 35 years ago. And if you'll notice that's where I earned the most of the credits for my college degree. Fortunately, I never needed a Master's, so I've never had to go back. But what I learned in that place - the formal and the informal training - has a huge amount to do with why I've been so extremely successful at every job I've had since then."

Clyde Thompson walked into the interview room with about as much chance of getting that job as he had of being elected Miss Congeniality in Atlantic City the following September. Then he provided us with all the reasons why we might not want to hire him: all the ones that we probably would have brought up on our own once he was out of the room, and a few more we might never have come up with.

When he did leave, however, the discussion barely touched on any of those negative points. Since Clyde had put them all on the table, it was as if we'd already dealt with them. Not that I talked much, mostly I just sat and listened - with a growing amusement. Clyde had turned his unemployability into his greatest strength. And the fact that the other leading candidates were so good that they could quit and get hired anywhere else had actually become a liability for them. Everybody in the room was convinced that Clyde would never add to that 37 percent turnover rate. Not if there was anything he could possibly do to prevent it.

The division manager selected Clyde Thompson as her number one choice. Her two subordinates immediately made the selection unanimous. The following Monday, they offered Clyde the job.

Clyde surprised everyone by asking for 24 hours to think it over, then called back the next morning to thank them and turn them down.

"Unemployable" Clyde Thompson had gotten a much better offer.

The strategy Clyde used was one I call Making the Skeleton Dance. It's simply as strategy of bragging about your potential negatives. And it works like this:

"Are my hourly consultant rates expensive? Absolutely! And why do I charge so much? Because I can. Because my customers aren't just willing, they're happy to pay those kind of rates for the results I generate.

"Can you find someone else to do the job for less? Absolutely! I'll give you phone numbers. Why do they charge less? I have no idea. I don't know a lot of businesses that charge less if they could charge more, but maybe they're humanitarians."

Or maybe, the implication might be (without it ever having to be said), maybe they charge less because that's what their clients are willing to pay for the results they generate.

Truly great businesspeople don't stumble over potential negatives and they certainly don't hide them. Truly great businesspeople use potential negatives as selling points, even bragging points. You can - and should - do the same. Make the skeleton dance.

Barry Maher is a small business writer, speaker and motivator who specializes in management, leadership, communication, marketing and sales. His book Filling the Glass has been honored as "[one of] The Seven Essential Popular Business Books. And the all new edition of his book, Getting the Most from Your Yellow Pages Advertising, "the bible on the subject" has just been released. Contact Barry Maher and/or sign up for his free monthly newsletter at or

© Copyright 2007 Barry Maher, Barry Maher & Associates. Used by Permission. Adapted from Filling the Glass by Barry Maher.