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Mitch Anthony's Intuitive Advisor

The Practice Doctor is IN

In Translation

by Al Depman, CLU, ChFC, CMFC, BH
Practice Management Consultant

Al Depman photoBack in January, I shared a story by a good client and friend, Brian Blodgett, CEO of a technology company in Buffalo Center, Iowa. Brian continues to be a source of motivation to both his expanding team and me, so I'd like to share some more of his inspiration with you.

His latest adventure is one of "seeking first to understand, then to be understood," one of my favorites from Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. We pick up the story as Brian settles into a booth at a favorite watering hole in Buffalo Center.

The restaurant was quiet; only one other person in the entire place. They had Wi-Fi, I was hungry, and I had my laptop, so I asked for a glass of Cabernet to help me deal with the pile of to-do items my executive assistant insisted I deal with.

As I sat there mulling over my workload, I was feeling overwhelmed and sorry for myself. "Poor Brian, he has all this work; he can't even enjoy the evening." I battled my way through a few items on my list when I was distracted by a conversation over by the bar. I looked across the way, watching and listening. There was an obvious communication issue happening between the gentleman, the bartender, and the waitress. While the conversion was not heated, there was some obvious frustration beginning to build. Shortly thereafter, another waitress came over to my table and asked, "Do you speak Russian?" I responded with, "No, but I do have Google and a good Wi-Fi connection."

I proceeded to the bar area with my laptop. While walking, I pulled up Google Translate and set it for English-to-Russian. I spoke into the computer and said, "My name is Brian, how can I help you?" Just as I arrived at the bar where the man and the two employees were interacting, the computer spit out, "Меня зовут Ерайан как я могу вам помочъ"

My Russian acquaintance immediately snapped to face my laptop and started to speak very quickly. I held up my hand, signaling him to stop, and then hit REVERSE on the translator and pointed to the computer. He then spoke, "Меня зовут vасilу, спасибо за помощъ. Я хотел бы заказатъ стейк из свинины и жареные яйца." The computer quickly translated and spoke out loud, "My name is Vasily. Thank you for helping. I would like to order pork steak and fried eggs."

I held up the universal symbol for, "Just a second," using my index finger, and turned to the waitress. She noted that they "do not have pork steak, or eggs, but have pork ribs, and they are very good."

I reversed the translate direction on the computer and explained the lack of pork steak and eggs, but explained that the ribs are very good. The translator did its stuff and I found myself on the receiving end of a rather generous two-handed clasped handshake followed by broken English aimed at the waitress, "Ribs of pig good; I have."

At this point, the communication gap was closed and there was a general non-verbal acknowledgment that we had succeeded from the point of all parties.

Vasily sat down, and I proceeded to Google Translate, "May I join you?"

Vasily excitedly agreed and I proceeded to ask about his story.

Over the course of the next 45 minutes, I was regaled by the tale delivered in broken English, broken Russian, some Ukrainian, and a good amount of Google Translator.

Vasily told of his origin in Ukraine; a few years ago, terrorism and war had broken out. His music was destroyed, his family threatened, and his life was in turmoil. Vasily was a music teacher in Ukraine, as well as the proud father of three daughters. He recognized the need to flee the violence, and so he applied and was accepted to America, to the city of Sacramento. He worked there for a few years teaching music and what he called ministry in the Russian community around Sacramento. The pride was obvious on his face when talking about his daughters: a musician, a dental hygienist, and a "student of college."

Vasily exclaimed in English but with a heavy Russian accent, "My girls are grown, so I see America. Last year I learn to drive truck. I rest here tonight and have food. I see the North, South, East, and West of America. America great county." Vasily, speaking Russian again, then told of his travels across America and of all the things he had seen. He told of seeing the ocean and New York City. His favorite was the Rocky Mountains; all the while brimming with a warm smile and an air of contentment that was infectious.

Here's what I learned: when we are faced with a problem, we can handle it in one of three ways:

  1. Internalize and become bitter
  2. Lash out and become angry
  3. Work to make it better

I met a Russian-speaking, truck-driving, accordion-playing father of three who chose to make the third option: facing adversity that I can only imagine.

Turns out that I am having a pretty good day! All I have to do is work on my list of "to do" items.

Thanks, Brian. Not only should we try to always choose option three, but also remember that each of your clients has at least one story that defines them. Get to know that story—and become a better financial advisor in the process.

The Doctor is OUT

© 2016 Al Depman

Al Depman, CLU, ChFC, CMFC, BH, a.k.a. "The Practice Doctor", is's Business Practice Consultant, and contributor to "The Wall Street Journal." He is the creator of "The Practice Management Assessment" tool, the key component of The Business Practice Check-Up™, has authored numerous articles in professional publications on practice management, and is the author of the book, How to Build Your Financial Advisory Business and Sell It at a Profit, available from McGraw Hill. Al combined his Liberal Arts studies with 10 years of management experience with McDonald's Corporation to enter the financial services world 25 years ago. Since then, Al has evolved from an MDRT-level sales rep into a full-time consultant specializing in helping others engineer their business practices to the next level. Contact him at

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