I laughed and said, "There are no sharks."
"Either you're pulling my leg or you're horribly naive," he replied incredulously.
That's certainly how we all think of the entertainment industry—sharky waters. I remember the first time I saw one of those bad boys headed for me; I had a fight-or-flight response. I had the sharkiest shark of them all circling for the kill. As he made demands and threats, I asked myself, 'What else is at play here? What's below the surface?' I looked right into his eyes and had a flash: he's wearing a shark costume! Under the costume, there was simply a man. A guy in a getup. It was hard not to throw my head back and laugh right then.
I thought, I know that costume—we all do, whether we ever put it on or not. Instead of fear or anger, I felt some amusement, compassion, and enthusiasm—and those three qualities brought me ease.
I realized I had to (a) find out what our connection was, (b) have fun doing it, and (c) relate to the human being, not the costume.
I waited for a pause and said in an easy way, "We don't have to go through all the threatening and posturing," I said. "I can't do what you're asking, and I know you're aware of the reason why. Right now our time is short—I have another meeting and you have a conference soon. Let's take a little time to think about what else we can do. I have a hunch we'll have a very productive relationship."
Two days later we had lunch. We learned a great deal more about each other, and collaborated on several projects—but he never suited up as a shark again. At one point he confided that it's a relief to work with me because the cards are always on the table, we have fun, and we often end up making a contribution to things that matter. He told me he doesn't get to do that very often.
Adapted from Lenedra Jewel Carroll's new book, The Architecture of All Abundance (New World Library).