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The Butler Project » What Does a Millionaire Sound Like?

What Does a Millionaire Sound Like?

My job is to talk to broke people on the phone. After talking with a couple thousand people who are cash-poor, frustrated, and embarrassed, I know what they sound like, and I know how they feel.

Money Questions

On the other hand, each week I interview three or four millionaires about their financial situation - the two groups sound nothing alike at all.

Why am I so preoccupied with how people sound? It comes from spending hundreds of hours talking to them on the phone. Let me explain.

The Power of Tone

In any interaction between two people, meaning and feeling are conveyed in three ways: body language, tone of voice, and syntax (the words you use). But the three are not equally important in expressing yourself. Here’s how they break down:

38% of a person’s meaning is conveyed through the tone of their voice.

55% is expressed through body language.

Only 7% of communication takes place through your choice of words (syntax).

Do the math. Body language is eight times more important than syntax, and tone is a little over five times as important. What you say isn’t nearly as important as how you say it. Now what does this all have to do with anything?

The Sound of Broke

When I’m talking to a person on the phone, I can’t read their body language, so I’m left with their tone and words.

black phone

How can I explain the tone of ‘broke’? You know how someone looks after a twelve hour road trip where they had a flat tire and got caught in a snowstorm? Or maybe you’ve been in an airport during the holidays and you saw two parents with three little kids, one of them a screaming toddler (as you hear the announcement of the flight being delayed)?

Well, the way those people look is how most of the people I talk to sound. I think that gives you pretty clear picture. These people are just exhausted and ready to have something go right.

So if that’s how broke people sound, what difference do I hear in a millionaire’s tone of voice?

The Voice of Independence

I can sum it up in a single word: Calm. There is a sureness and confidence in the voices of the millionaires I’ve interviewed over the last few weeks. Not many sentences have to leave their mouths before I have the thought “This person sleeps well at night.” And why wouldn’t they? Contrast some of their statements with those from my conversations with the financially frustrated:

  • Broke: “I have debt I’ll never pay off.”
  • Millionaire: “I paid off my mortgage in two years and I’ve never owed on a home, car, or anything else since then.”
  • Broke: “I don’t have any college funds set up for my kids.”
  • Millionaire: “When some tough family circumstances came up that required a lot of cash, I had it on hand.”
  • Broke: “I can barely keep up with the minimum payments on my credit cards, let alone pay down the balance.”
  • Millionaire: “I’ve never paid interest on a credit card.”
  • Broke: “My retirement funds aren’t anywhere near where they need to be.”
  • Millionaire: “If I sold my business tomorrow I could maintain my lifestyle forever just living off the interest.”
  • Broke: “I hate my job.”
  • Millionaire: “At a certain point I decided enough was enough when it came to money, and it was time to move on to more important things.”

Not bad huh? And let me point something out - when I was listening to these guys talk there was something I was not hearing; arrogance. They’re almost embarrassed to admit how successful they are.

I interviewed one man who had spent over twenty years as one of the top financial advisers in a major firm. He hesitated to talk about his accomplishments, saying he felt too boastful. Trust me, he wasn’t boastful.

There’s a Big Difference Between High Income and Wealth

Many of my conversations with people I’d call broke are high earners that love to talk a big game - doctors, lawyers, sales professionals. They’ve got six figure incomes and seven figure debt, and the reality is if they missed a few paychecks they’d be facing foreclosure.

What I hear in the high-income Broke is bravado, laced with fear. Nothing like the millionaires. The truly wealthy men I’ve talked to are completely at ease with money.

The world at large is pretty frantic about money right now, with all this talk of mortgage crisis and recession. The millionaires I’ve talked with don’t have much fear about it. One of them, whose job it is to buy public equities (stocks) to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, was actually almost giddy about the current state of affairs.

That’s the reward for a lifetime of good decisions. When the economy turns down, the wealthy don’t panic. They get out their checkbooks. Whether it’s real estate or stocks, everything goes on ’sale’. Smart people increase their wealth much more quickly in down markets.

Money Ideas

Million Dollar Decision Making

So what are the decisions my millionaires make? Some you could probably guess; others may surprise you because they go so contrary to what you hear in the media. Stick around and you’ll find out what millionaires really have to say about their success.

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7 comments ↓

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#2 Adfecto on 02.26.08 at 1:20 pm

I aspire to be in the millionaire camp one day. For now I’m slowing moving up while skating on the edge. I’m not sure how I sound on the phone, but I’m not in too deep to loose sleep. Though, if I lost my job it would only be a month or two before I would be wondering how to pay the mortgage. Most people who are thinking about their finances enough to read a blog post about it are at least working hard to make it into your millionaire group.

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#7 InvestorBlogger on 03.10.08 at 8:58 am

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