How do you want your first interaction to go?

The price of short-term gains

An increasingly  common trick I’ve noticed is people sending you an email  with the subject heading starting with Re : XYZ. It makes it look like a conversation was already initiated except I have no idea who this person is and this is the first email I am getting from them.

The conversation starts with a lie.
It confuses the receiver.
It may be confusing especially if the person writes skillfully and well, referencing a place they’ve met or a conversation they’ve had.  In effect, they carry through the lie from the subject header and into the body of the email. This may not be too hard to do if you can be generic enough about some of the details and if you do enough research into the person online  – I guess practice makes perfect.
The conversation starts with a lie.
The point being that if you decide to spend a minute pondering and then you slowly realise that hey, the conversation never took place, which do you think is more likely :
1) that I respond to her email; or
2) that I block her or just bin any other email I get from her?
Yes,  she got the email through to me and I spent the time reading it. So it was successful on one level. But on another, she has lost out because of the disrepute she has come into – the manner in which she communicated.
Bottom line, we are all looking for results. But it makes more sense to go for results that matter, that are done in the right way and that will give you long-term gains. The time and effort involved is just as much – is it not?
#communication #branding #integrity
So my question is : how much will you sacrifice for short term gain, knowing there is a price to be paid in the long term?  
I run Vertical Distinct, supporting both Human Resource and Technology professionals through online resources and educational programmes and I blog here on the entrepreneurial journey. I write for Women of HR and am also Associate Editor at the HR Gazette. Feel free to connect to talk or let me know how I can support you.

Master the Art of Writing

Writing is about distilling your thoughts and in that process, learning the skills needed to communicate your ideas persuasively. After all, we communicate so that we can influence.

But good writing takes a lot of time, effort and dedication.

Its beauty is visible when what is complicated is made to look easy.

Two factors that have an impact on your art :

  1. How much you read;
  2. How much you write.

Learn from those around you, who are mastering the same art, with the techniques which work for them. Explore new ways and be curious.

And write.

Write to find your voice.
Write often.
Write with abandon (that’s what editing is for).
Write about many things or write about one thing – it does not matter. And remember that it’s easier to maintain a daily habit than a monthly one.

What works for you? What features are you responding to when you come across good writing? Please share your thoughts in the comments, as I too want to learn from you.

I run the VerticalDistinct platform to support both Human Resource and Technology professionals. I blog on the entrepreneurial journey. I also write for Women of HR and post on LinkedIn. Let’s connect, let’s learn from each other. Let me know how I can support you.

Message Failure

How many times have you sent a message and it was read the wrong way?

How many times have you tried to communicate one thing only to have the person listening vehemently deny that message is indeed coming across? Perhaps you’re shocked, angry or just plain frustrated.

You could blame them. After all, you know what you are trying to say, don’t you?
Or you could make your point. On deaf ears.

You could try to repeat your message in a different way.
You could come back again, at another time.
You could get someone else involved, to mediate, to step in, to oversee.
You could shout louder.

Or
You could resign yourself to the fact that the two roads shall not meet.
You could pause and take stock.You could see things the way they see it.
You could simply let go.

Why You Should Embrace Public Speaking

Public speaking is hard. The fear is understandable and real. And the truth is, wherever you turn, you are likely to meet far more people afraid of public speaking than otherwise.

Raj Kumar referred to, in The Art of Speaking Eloquently, a point made by Patricia Fripp :

“All speaking outside our home is public speaking, there is no such thing as private speaking”.

Indeed.

You, therefore, have two options. Hide below a rock and never explore the occasion to shine. Or brace yourself and do the unthinkable. Put yourself out there, raise your hand and get yourself a speaking spot.

Why?

  1. Increase your visibility

Chances are high that you seek more visibility whether in terms of where you stand in your company, as against your peers, in terms of how your business leaders view you, in terms of the dream job you’ve been vying or the project you’ve been working to get yourself involved in. Whether such visibility is for yourself or your own business, public speaking offers a chance to establish your personal branding in a more concrete, visceral manner.

It’s possible that, in your first few attempts, you may flop or worse still, be tepid. In fact, you don’t start usually with polish and pizzazz. But you must realise that you fail forward. You achieve success one painful step at a time. And every single step taken is worth its weight in gold.

  1. Helps you build character

You are effectively standing up to your fears and dealing with it head on. That is no small feat and when you’ve succeeded, this will be an internal marker that you will come back to, time and again, to help you figure out your limitations, strengths and mindset. It will help you push yourself further and do things you previously thought unimaginable.

  1. Learn to think on your feet

They don’t teach this much in school and you learn this the hard way once you enter the corporate world. Anything you can do that helps you develop critical thinking and thinking on your feet will be of immense value both in your personal and professional life. The quicker you start down this road, the better!

  1. Establish your voice and be an influencer

Everyone has the opportunity to become both student and teacher. With some exception, it is not always necessary for you to get a teaching qualification, in order to teach. We learn, at every step of the way and we learn when we open our hearts and minds to the lessons before us. If we pick up good ideas and can share them, they will be of benefit and real value to many who are at different stages of similar journeys. And so, as you learn, you teach, you share, you influence.

  1. Improve your communication skills

Even though you have been learning language and the art of communication, from the day you were born, you would not baulk at the idea that your communication skills could use some help, that communication is a lot harder to put into practice than people make it out to be.

The fact is that communication can sometimes be quite the minefield. You’re using words, body language and emotion. There’s nuances, slight twists in body language, the inflection at the end of a sentence – all these can either support what you are saying or betray your true meaning!

Practise, practise, practise. Practise quicker, practise more.

  1. Broaden your circle

Speaking is also a wonderful way of broadening your circle.

So if you are new to this and want to make your first tentative steps, I’d suggest that a good warm up, but perhaps equally effective, is to accept the guest panellist role at a conference. The choice of conference, the reputation of the conference organisers, the other guest panelists as well as the topic itself are all worthy of consideration in making a decision on whether to accept the invitation to be a guest panellist.

But once you’ve accepted the invitation, your work has begun.

In my next post, I will share tips on what to do once you’ve landed your spot on a panel session.

Why Don’t We Listen Well?

We don’t listen well because it’s quite simply, hard.

We are, at our baseline, emotional creatures, whether we care to admit it or not. People and situations get us irritated and quick off the bat. We are eager to get our point across, to defend what we believe in and to make sure that others hear us. So we speak louder and faster. So we repeat.

It may not work but it soothes us. It helps us deal with it on an emotional level but the real issues are still left unresolved.

It’s hard to stop and really listen. To suspend judgement and listen with an open heart and mind.

It means you have to stop thinking, stop planning your response, stop foreseeing the next argument about to be raised.
It means you have to let go of the outcome.
It means you have to come to terms that you do not control the situation but only control your behaviour and thoughts.
Are we capable of listening well?
Yes, with practice, mindfulness and a clear intent to do so.How well am I doing? On average, still very badly.
I still react and defend my position.
I still get emotional and retort rather than reflect and take my time.

But I am practising and working on mindfulness and more importantly, I want to.

What works?

Short pause. Midway or even at the end of a discussion, even if it feels too late. Barring some exceptional circumstances, it’s usually not too late to repair something done or said.

Big pause – sleeping on it. For bigger issues, taking the opportunity to call a half time on it and coming back to it later, refreshed.

Being open to rethinking it. Accepting that you don’t have all the answers, that perhaps the other view has validity, that you can step into their shoes if only for a while, to see things differently.

Letting go. Just simply doing that just removes all the weight off your shoulders that everything needs to go your way, that everyone needs to see your perspective and that everything is centred around your opinion. It doesn’t. And it doesn’t matter.

What do you think?

It’s hard to think of your listener when you’re communicating a message… so, now what?

When you’ve got a message, you want to get it out there. You’re ultimately focused on what you have to say, why you want to say it and how you should do so.

But what happens when your message falls flat or worse still, is misunderstood? What happens when your listener thinks that they’ve already understood you and cut you off? What happens when your listener is not concentrating on the parts of the message you are honing in on and has become distracted by a side point?

It is frustrating. But it presents an opportunity. It is a chance for you to realise that at all times, when you communicate a message, it should be about the listener. While the message is important, how well the message is received depends on whether the listener is interested. And his interest is very much dependent on how you phrase your message to suit him.

It can be tedious and complicated to fashion tailored messages depending on who’s listening.

You could craft a single message, focus on getting it out there and then hope for the best.

Or you could tailor your message to the intended listener and ensure that it really gets across by tweaking as you go. Addressing his issues or concerns. Repositioning to fit his world view. Clarifying his standpoint.

When you have a message that’s crafted to your listener, it has such amazing impact. Your listener feels heard and understood. He believes the message is intended for him personally and is open to what you have to say. You have the floor.

Success lies not just in the message content itself but in how it is communicated.

If you want to be taken seriously, you can’t just say it. Prove it.

There is power in the written word. There is beauty, purpose and flow when you can connect the ideas in your mind with the words that come out of you so that others can see your vision or your purpose. But I also believe that words are not always enough.
When a service provider says to you that they possess a skill or expertise, do you rely on their words alone or do you seek evidence of that skill?
When a potential hire says that he is the best man for that job, do you trust in him implicitly or do you want him to prove to you that he is,  indeed, the best person for that role?
When a marketer pushes copy out on their website about how they can deliver compelling copy to convert site visitors into eager buyers, do you not seek evidence in their own copywriting that you can be converted yourself?
Words are not enough.
When you say that you have a skill, find a way to prove it, to exhibit it so that your reader or potential client is not left to guess or take you at your word. We are daily fighting a battle against all kinds of messages, peppered with superlatives and extreme positioning, messages that are driven home, with repetition and cunning. Are they indeed just a bunch of statements?
“I can do this.”
“I am the best at this.”
This is a message that focuses on what the message giver intends. But the person you should keep in mind is really the intended recipient.
As a recipient of any message, you are not interested in being sold to.
You want choice and you want to validate that choice.
You want integrity and an honest assessment, one that you can make yourself.
You want to make a decision on this on your own terms, not theirs.
And so, any message should focus on ensuring that :-
1. you can back up the claims you make;
2. you refrain from taking an extreme stand or using superlatives. It seems unnatural, creates far more in terms of expectations than you can probably meet and in truth, sets you up to fail;
3. the message is focused on what the reader/end user is interested in seeing, not what you are keen to position.
4. any positive feedback about your service/product, should come from a third party who has used the service/product, not you.
Keep this in mind when  :-
1. you craft your resume or send out a job application;
2. you create your website, blog or social presence;
3. contact or pitch someone;
4. want to offer your services/products to a person or the market in general.
The one thing you need to keep in mind : how best can I put forward a picture which supports what I am saying here? How best can I show them that I am the one that they should put their money down on?
It might, just might, change what you say. And how you say it.

Have you thought about the first impression you’ve created?

You make contact with people all the time. In the emails you write, in the phone calls you take or initiate and in random and not so random meetings, lunches, projects you are involved in.

When you meet someone for the first time, in person, on paper or over the phone, an impression of who you are is created. If you are mindful, you take care to craft an impression that is close to the one you seek to create of yourself.

If you are not, then what happens is that other people see someone that doesn’t match the perception you have of yourself.

When this perception mismatch happens, and it’s further compounded by things like differences in opinion, difficulties in communication, disagreements about issues, then this perception mismatch makes this a little more complicated than it already is.

What you need to keep in mind is that :-

  • the person you see yourself as is not always the same person that others perceive;
  • you may make clear what you think, feel and believe but that may or may not come across as such to others;
  • everyone sees things through the lens of their personal experience and their worldview. This is impacted by all the various situations and relationships they have been in, how they have managed these and how others have sought to manage them or the situation itself.
  • if you think carefully about the impression you’re trying to create, if there’s an end goal to your first contact, if you put yourself in the other person’s shoe – in short, if you have covered all the angles and generally been mindful about the process and end goal – you are sure to make a much better impression of yourself than if you had not done so.
  • this is further complicated by our digital footprint – the blog posts we write, the comments we place in forums, our facebook rants that we so openly share – and how these various little nuggets come together – whether we like it or know about it – to add more complexity to this issue.
  • there’s frequently only one good way to ensure that there’s a match between the impression you seek to create and the one you’ve actually created. And that is to simply ask the person directly what they thought.

Do you dare?

What will you discover?

Will you agree with what you discover?

What will you do about what you discover?

What’s obvious to me is not always obvious to you. So, where does that put me?

One of the major problems with communicating with other people is the fact that quite simply, you tend to see things from your perspective. Of course, that is natural. I don’t expect you to always be considering things from the view of others.
 
But consider for a minute if you did.
 
If you tried to see things from your listener’s perspective, it might help you to reposition what you had to say. It might help you realign views or even address misconceptions.
If you tried, at least your listener will see that you are considering their point of view and therefore, not get their back up against the wall.
 
The problem, as I am sure you have encountered, is that this is a lot harder than you think.
 
When you take the time to develop an opinion about something, when you feel strongly about an issue, it’s a lot harder to approach something on neutral ground. Communication in itself is fraught with many challenges. When you add in the varying contexts brought on by differences in culture, language, gender or age – and that is to name but a few – it’s almost a bomb waiting to go off.
 
I also suspect that with long term relationships of any kind, there is a certain expectation that has built up over the years, a kind of understanding of who each party is and what they are liable to say, or how they are likely to act in a given situation. To some extent, building up a profile like this takes time and makes it easier to communicate. But there are times when it’s possible that the persona you’ve created in your mind of the person you’re talking to, may be quite different to the actual person before you.

 
Hence, the need to really listen to what a person is saying. Over time, the conversations, behaviours, reactions of old, add on almost a filter to the person which makes it hard for you to really hear what is being said.
 

Frequently, I expect that most communications proceed smoothly when what you want and what I want, in terms of end objectives, are similar. It would be a case more of meeting individual needs as opposed to enhanced communication at play.

 
What works for me?
Repeating. If I am going to get things wrong, at least let me repeat what I believe is being said first.
Pausing. It works wonders to slow down the emotional kick you keep wanting to throw.
Slowing down my speech. It has the effect of calming me down and making me more aware of what I am saying, rather than just spitting it out.
Keeping quiet. Sometimes, if it doesn’t seem to work for you, it might for the other party. So, not a bad move either.
Airing it out. At other times, you just need to say what you need to say. So, do it.
Postponing it. The distance of time and space usually does work to give you a better perspective on things.

What to do when looking for a job

1. Adjust your expectations.
There are many under the misguided notion that all it takes to secure a job is send out a standardised (and might I add, boring application letter) across the board to every company they are interested in. Add on a 10 pager resume detailing every single transaction you’ve had impact on while articulating how you are a people person and love a challenge and… bob’s your uncle. But I believe that mediocre efforts will only result in mediocre results. Understand one thing : securing a job is a full time job. This simply means that the process should be treated with a level of respect.
 
Understand and accept that a certain amount of work needs to go into the process of establishing your presence, presenting yourself as credible while enabling people to verify what you’ve said about yourself and find something unique about what you have to offer. Certainly, it isnt’ something that can be done once – this takes time. Think of it as a process of refinement as you go along…. refining your application process, refining your brand promise, and refining your relationships and tools.
 
Understand that you cannot expect significant result from the start … but that a start is exactly what is needed to begin this journey.
 
2. Tap on your network but be selective about who and how.
Networking is a tricky game. While you do want to maximise the relationships you have, you also need to provide value. Give before you get. Be transparent, tell people what you want.
 
Your actions and words speak about you – what you say and what you don’t say, have an impact on others. When you send out a generic email to all and sundry and ask for their help to secure a position or to put the word out, how would that speak to you, if you were to receive that email? You want to ensure as many people as possible know about you and make an effort where they can but it is far more effective to make an impactful point with a handful of people than to send something out to the entire network that is only bound to be deleted on receipt. Personalise your communication, especially when you are asking for a favour – let the recipient feel and believe, as he should rightly feel, that you are indeed talking to him, as opposed to sending out 260 emails of similar content. Spread yourself across all channels – social media, email, face to face, social interactions and over the phone.
 
3. Give before you get.
I mentioned this in point two and it’s worthy of singular mention. If you give before you get, you make an impact for who you are and what you’ve done. These are good ways to make an impact.
 
If you do so, you’ve cleared a major hurdle – what’s in it for the other person to stop and go out of his way to assist?
If you do so, you’ve moved beyond ‘me, myself and I’ and that’s never a bad thing.
 
4. Be careful about the communication process, content and language.
Look at the entire thread of how you are putting yourself out there –
  • what is the process?
  • is it the most effective?
  • how can this be viewed negatively against me?
  • is it a suitable channel?
  • what is my primary message and is it likely that my message will come across as I intend it to?
  • what kind of language am I using – formal and staid, too informal and sloppy, careless, rigid, humorous, insensitive?
5. Aim for consistency.
What you present in your application letter must match the other products in your process.
 
Do the resume, application letter, voice on the phone, blog posts, and social media rants all present a consistent picture of who you are?
 
Whether you agree that these should all match up or be cross-referenced, some employers are drawing references from a myriad number of sources to build a picture of who you are. They’d like to cross reference this against the picture you paint of yourself. Do you know, with certainty, whether there are inconsistencies and if so, what are you doing to address these?
 
6. Think. Really think about what kind of person you’d likely want to employ.
I can guarantee this : if you spend the time to really think about the kind of person you’d employ – their work ethic, flair for risk, entrepreneurial spirit, ambition level, how sociable they are, how they interact – lead others and are led by, how they communicate, how they add value – if you spend the time to think of even four or five of these elements and then get started ensuring that you yourself can embody some of these traits, you’re well on your way to greater employability. In a nutshell : try to see things from the employer’s point of view.
 
7. Deal with your issues. Period.
Take a good hard look at your last three jobs. Ask yourself why you left/were fired or asked to leave/moved sideways. Look at the timeframe between the jobs held.
 
Consider the similarities in role and organisation between the three jobs and then consider what made each distinct. Are you able to identify the issues you brought to the table with each job? Even if the fault lies with someone else, or management or the company as a whole, consider what you did imperfectly and what you could have done better. Do you see similarities in these issues raised between all the jobs you held? Do you have the maturity to really see what you’ve done wrong in each of these jobs? And once you’ve had the time to assess this, consider whether firstly, there’s anything you can do now to address those issues and secondly, what’s holding you back from doing something about it?
 
Deal with the issues… your issues. It will mean you don’t have them cropping up, with the only distinction being a change in your management team at every turn.
 
I am sure if you want to be honest with yourself, if you want to take a look at what went wrong, you will find the answers you seek. And your handling the issues will mean closure and growth for you.

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