Once the Washington Capitals signed free agent forward Mikhail Grabovski, the details emerged about head coach Adam Oates‘ role. He sure is slick.
Oates, like a veteran head coach or sports-car salesman, played the soft sell technique. This is hands down the best way to sell anything; having had a sales job myself, I learned quickly that any desperation you putt off as a salesman will immediately cause your customer to shutdown. You have to be confident in your product in order for your customer to be confident in you. The product is secondary and most often sells itself, so selling yourself is more important. If a customer likes you and trusts your confidence, a sale is frequently the result. The hidden psychology/sociology at work in sales situations is amazing; your subconscious is deeply affected by these subtle factors whether you like it or not.
Especially considering Grabovski’s fiery history as a player, using the strategy Oates did was definitely the right way to play it. Grabovski is most likely what the sales world calls a “bull” customer, meaning he’s confrontational and direct about what he wants, and he doesn’t go for passive-aggressive tactics. The proper way to deal with bull customers is to not B.S. them. Be direct and concise about what you’re offering because they won’t go for any type of backdoor sales maneuvers.
This is important to emphasize with Grabovski’s situation, because he just came from a situation where the coach (Randy Carlyle, Toronto Maple Leafs) didn’t seem to be direct or honest with Grabovski. He made his decisions about lineups and ice time and didn’t expect Grabovski to do anything put sit quietly. That didn’t work out too well. When recruiting a guy like this, it’s not a “fight fire with fire” situation. A bull dealing with a bull generally never works in the sales world.
Instead, Oates deftly put the ball in Grabovski’s court. Oates explained what and where the Caps are as a team, how he could help Grabovski personally, and how Grabovski could fit and flourish with the team. That’s it. No begging and pleading, and definitely no tough-guy talk about how Grabovski, unlike he did for Carlyle, would fall in line for Oates.
Grabovski ended up taking the advice, agreeing with how it’s the right move for his career at this point, and appreciating Oates’ direct and honest communication.
In the short time Oates has been the Caps head coach, we’ve heard a lot about his communication skills. Regarding the team in general, but most importantly, regarding captain Alex Ovechkin. Oates quickly established a direct and honest relationship with Ovechkin, and that was the springboard for Ovechkin’s consensual move to right wing and subsequent offensive re-ignition. He ended up winning a third Hart Trophy. (Let me just say that without having to give the mandatory shout-out to the playoff choke, okay?)
Oates has a lot of room to grow as a head coach, but it sure seems evident that he has a plethora of natural skills for the position. You can’t teach getting people to like you, and that’s the number one prerequisite for being a head coach in any sport. Combine that with his hall-of-fame smarts and savvy and I think the future for Oates’ Capitals is especially bright.