Table of Contents
The Wealthy Franchisee

How to Deal With the Negative Talkers Inside Yourself, Your Employees and Your Customers You're not the only one with an "inner heckler" trying to shut down progress. Here's how to make sense of those negative thoughts.

By Scott Greenberg Edited by Dan Bova

Key Takeaways

  • We all have a private inner critic, a mental heckler whispering in our ears. You don't have to be a franchisee to have self-doubting thoughts, but owning a franchise can make you more susceptible to them.
  • Leaders must be aware of the inner experience of their employees — if they're unable to sympathize with their self-doubts, they won't know how to support them.
  • Franchisees need to build more than sales — they need to build the confidence of their customers about their purchasing decisions.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

This is part 5 / 9 of The Wealthy Franchisee: Section 2: Mastering the Mindset for Franchise Success series.

Each of us has our own private inner critic. I call it the mental heckler. It's not your conscience or your usual stream of thoughts. It's that specific self-critical voice whispering in your ear. You've heard it. It's the voice that tells you:

  • "You're unqualified."
  • "It's not going to work."
  • "You're going to fail."
  • "You made a complete idiot of yourself."
  • "You're inferior."

You don't have to be a franchisee to have these thoughts, but owning a franchise can make you more susceptible to them. After all, when you open a new business, you're going out on a limb. There's a whole lot in that situation to get your mental heckler going. There sure was for me.

After I signed the lease for my first location, a friend who lived nearby offered some "helpful" feedback: "OK, you know there's not a lot of foot traffic there, right?"

It was an offhand comment made in casual conversation. She had no data, just an impression of the area, and thought her observation would be useful. Instead, it sent me into a mental tailspin:

What have you done? No one's going to walk into the store. They'll just drive by without even noticing the storefront. You should have taken more time before committing. There are probably much better locations. You're never going to cover your rent.

My mental heckler also accompanied me to Connecticut for the Edible Arrangements owners' training. I remember walking into the corporate kitchen and seeing posters with pictures of the product line. Look how many arrangements there are. There's no way you're going to remember all this! I watched the other new franchisees making fruit baskets. Their arrangements look so much better than yours. The trainers showed us their sophisticated business management software. This technology is so over your head. At night, I had drinks with some of the other franchisees. These people have run more businesses than you have. You're not qualified to be doing this.

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I didn't always have these thoughts, but they popped up just often enough to distract and depress me, which made learning the business harder. Ultimately, I still got what I needed from the training. I learned the whole product line, figured out the point-of-sale system, and got plenty of walk-in business at my store.

So much of what my mental heckler said was wrong. The mental heckler is quite wily, and for some reason, it's easy to believe. It has tremendous credibility. If someone else talked to you that way, you'd walk away. But when the heckler speaks, you listen. With experience comes knowledge and context. Things don't freak you out as much. You have the facts, and you know better. That's when the heckler starts losing its power over you.

It's not that you don't still have negative thoughts; they just don't haunt you as much. The trick is to manage the mental heckler long enough to get to this point. I love discussing the mental heckler with franchisees. When I ask who among them hears that negative inner voice, most of their hands go up. Many volunteer to confess their insecurities out loud:

  • "You really don't know what you're doing."
  • "You're never going to turn this business around."
  • "Other franchisees are making more money."
  • "You're only successful because you lucked into a good location."

I get similar responses even when I speak to high performers. The real estate franchisor RE/MAX brought me in to speak to their top 500 agents in Texas. This was a group of high achievers, but they, too, shared all kinds of self-doubt, telling me their inner hecklers made them believe things like:

  • "You're not working hard enough."
  • "You just got lucky this year."
  • "You're a bad parent."

Insecurity is not something franchisees expect to discuss at their meetings, but it's very powerful when they do. It helps them realize they're not alone with these thoughts, and it's a reminder that we're all human.

We are our own mental hecklers, our saboteurs, our worst critics. We're the ones behind the curtain generating the heckler's comments. And consequently, we might be the ones screwing up our businesses. Sometimes I meet ultra-confident people who claim to never hear self-criticism, saying things like "I never doubt myself," or "I can do anything I put my mind to!" It's hard to know whether they really believe this or if they're parroting back the motivational podcasts they listen to. What I can tell you is that I've spoken to groups ranging from teenagers to CEOs, and in every case, people have admitted to having a brutal inner voice. It's normal to have a mental heckler.

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Your Employees Have Mental Hecklers

Maybe—maybe—you never doubt yourself. But your employees do. I've met many confident people who are terrible leaders because they expect the same level of confidence from their teams. They're clueless about the inner experience of their employees, and since they're unable to sympathize, they don't know how to support them.

I recently heard a management training expert tell a crowd that when employees underperform, it's because they either don't have the know-how or the desire. I totally disagree. Certainly, these can be factors, but I've met many well-trained employees who want to succeed but don't. There's more to human performance than information and attitude.

When you train someone on a procedure, remember there's a voice other than yours talking to them at the same time. Here's what they might be hearing:

You say: "To take an order, click on 'New Order.' Then click on this menu and scroll down to 'Item List.' Then . . ."

Wait, where's "New Order"? This is so confusing.

". . . type in the SKU number, confirm it's the right product, and request the recipient's ZIP code."

You're lost already. This makes no sense. Is the "recipient" the customer? Just nod your head. You're going to look so stupid if you already have to ask a question.

You can't train a human the way you program a computer. It's not enough to provide input. You need to support them through the self-doubt, the fear, and all the other issues that come with a new experience. It's not that they can't work through these mental challenges on their own. It's just that it'll take more time, and some will shut down before that happens. You want them to get past their issues quickly. Train with compassion.

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Don't just check for mastery. Instead, gauge their confidence, acknowledge their fears, and offer encouragement. Make it clear that it's OK if they feel confused. Warn them that it's normal to feel self-doubt and praise them when they get something right. Remember that you're competing against their mental heckler, but if you offer your employees a positive alternative to that voice whispering in their ear, it'll go a long way toward making it a better experience for both of you.

Your Customers Also Have Mental Hecklers

Customers' inner dialogue impacts their purchasing decisions. Sometimes it drives them to buy something (You have yellow teeth. Better get that whitening toothpaste) and sometimes it scares them away (You're too fat for those pants). Consider all the self-critical thoughts that might be going through the mind of an Edible Arrangements customer wanting to send a romantic gift to his girlfriend: If you don't do something special, she's not going to like you anymore. You can't afford this. Maybe this isn't her taste. You're coming on too strong. Your message on the card is too corny.

There's a lot going on during the transaction that has little or nothing to do with our product. If I can identify where his insecurity is, I can then better serve the customer and help him decide.

My employees understood they needed to build more than sales; they needed to build the confidence of our guests. I wanted our customers to walk away feeling a little taller and excited about their purchase. This was our value proposition and was part of the experience we were selling. That meant breaking through their mental barriers to purchasing. Along with ideas and information, we validated their purchase and expressed our enthusiasm and confidence in their choice. We assured them (in defiance of whatever their mental heckler said) that their fruit basket was about to blow some minds. It wasn't about flattery. It was about helping them build a spectacular order and celebrating that with them.

All franchisees are in the people business, and part of doing business with people is helping them overcome the traps in their mindsets for them. Do that, and you'll enjoy much greater success.

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