How to Make Your Point: Stop Talking Sooner

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Nothing ruins a point like taking too long to make it.  I’m very guilty of this so here’s my simple fix: I’m trying to talk less.    To stop talking sooner.  To quickly say what I mean and to say it better.  It’s not because I don’t feel good about how I acquit myself it’s that I seem to be incapable of answering questions succinctly.

The problem is that when you go on and on, the message gets lost.  In my case, people tend to tell me that they perceived me as competent, confident, and intelligent, but that they sort of missed my point.  This is the good news and the bad news.  Good news is I am being seen exactly the way I want people to see me, I’m communicating my brand well.  Bad news is, I’m not being heard for what I’m saying!  Good information is getting totally lost in rhetorical flourish and tangential indulgence, and that is a big problem.

If any us of want to be heard, we have to be good at saying what we mean.  So, here are my new tactics for answering better when people ask me a question.

1. Restate the question (naturally, not like you’re writing a short answer essay)

2. Pause at the end of each sentence to give the asker a chance to participate in the discussion.

3. Check for understanding if you think you’re getting off track

4. If you feel you are getting off topic, you probably are, so JUST STOP TALKING.  The other person will either ask a follow up question, or they will run with what you said.

I’ll check back in soon and let you know how these are working for me!

The Easiest Philosophy of all Time: JBN

It’s easy, popular, and fits on one of those oblong bumper stickers:  JBN – Just Be Nice.  Be nice to yourself, be nice to other people, when it’s time you stand up for yourself do it in a respectful manner, and play by the rules.  JBN.

That’s it. That’s the entire philosophy that gets me from day to day and job to job in my working life. Just be nice. Obviously I’m not always right on the money here, I have bad days like anybody else does, and I am a girl from Southern California so I obviously know my way around a mean-girl moment, but I do my very best to be nice and apologize when I’ve been nasty (which despite my efforts still happens more often than I’m comfortable with).  Of course I will gladly elaborate ….

Well meaning friends and advisors have often told me to look out for myself because people were going to try to hold me back.  I appreciate that they want me to succeed, but I struggle with the idea of a world out to get me.  I also disagree that looking “out” is the always the way to go.

When looking out for oneself, it’s easy to miss what’s going on with the people working around you, and it is also easy to make the assumption that you need to take constant action to avoid the evil that others have in store for you.  While bad people do exist, and while you should always avoid putting yourself in a dangerous situation, or one that doesn’t feel right (more on that in another post), I find that I do better when I look “in” for my own actions, instead of “out” for my own interests.

I find that looking “in” tends to lead me to consider fairness and manners.   My father is a big fan of Miss Manners, and manners generally, so at every possible moment during my childhood he encouraged me to consider them – even if it meant giving up a win or a starring moment, to ensure that I gave things that merited attention their proper due.  Thank you notes, for example, are not an outdated tradition reserved only for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, they are an important proof that you appreciate someone spending their money on you, and a reminder to yourself that you don’t take that for granted.  And just look at the apology:  Apologies are not a rhetorical device to get you off the hook, they are important tools to acknowledge that you may have been wrong/unkind/rude etc., and which may cause you to feel some discomfort before forgiveness comes around.

The deep understanding of the importance of traditional manners, and the role they play in our development as business people has been a tremendous boon to me in my career.  I’ll tell you my “Thank You Note Story” some other time, it’s one of my greatest hits.

And so we come back to my strategy – which I try to allow to guide my actions and reactions, and which protects me from many sticky situations that are easily avoidable by stepping up before things get bad.  Just Be Nice.  People are usually not out to get you, and if they are it has to do with them and not with you – by being nice to everyone else around that meanie giving you a hard time, you will make a larger and longer lasting postivie impression than you would have if you went to war.

Write it on a sticky note that you can see when you look up from your computer and consult it every time you’re about to answer an email that had a nasty tone, or when you’re on the phone with someone exasperating.  Look at it when you’re gossiping with your colleagues (which is fun and addictive and awful), and try your best to live by it…

 

Just Be Nice.

 

 

 

What My Brand is About (these days)

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You need a brand because you have one anyway.  Not having a brand just means that you aren’t driving the way you’re being perceived.  Recently, a girl I used to work with asked me what my “secret” was and why I keep getting promoted while she (and so many others) seem to be stuck in their entry level positions for years just getting more frustrated.  Obviously there’s no one thing, but here’s how the conversation started:

Me: I work hard to maintain my brand
Her: You mean you work hard, period
Me: Of course, but also, I work hard to be the things I want my brand to be
Her: What are you, Coke?

I swear to god it was one of those moments where I couldn’t believe I got such a great lay-up…

Yes!  I’m like Coke.  People know what to expect behind my label, they know it’ll be the same ‘product’ every time, and I’m loud and proud about the good things that I try to do outside of the office.  It’s not that different from Coke at all!  Behind their red label is the same taste, every time.  No matter which store I go to, or where I order it, it will always be the same formula, and they make huge noise around their good works that go beyond massive product sales.  

The sad truth about navigating the corporate world is that we are all products – the hard part is finding a way not to feel used for the product you are giving in return for your income, and instead feel like you are contributing to your organization.  This is the ONLY way I found to mentally survive my first five years in corporate America. 

My brand is about competence, intelligence, exuberance, and helpfulness.  I’ll explain…

Competence is something I try to build and embody by having as many skills as possible and then executing as quickly and accurately as possible whenever those skills are needed.  

Intelligence is something I try to demonstrate by choosing the words that say exactly what I mean, avoiding swearing in professional life (and personal, but nobody’s perfect), and then I try to build it by reading.  Reading books, reading the news, reading my emails closely to make sure I know what the sender was trying to say to avoid looking stupid in my response, and yes – reading DListed for celebrity gossip because I love that garbage. All of it gives you more to talk about with more types of people.

Exuberance – sometimes bites me and gets me labeled “loud,” or “annoying,” but it’s at the core of who I am.  I am thrilled to be alive, and grateful to be employed, so I try to act like it!

Helpfulness – Everyone comes to my cube with questions.  It’s not my job, and it takes time I don’t always have, but it makes me feel good to help, and since I usually know the answers or where to look for the answers, it supports my brand elements of competence and intelligence.  Added bonus?  It makes people like you when you help them.  

I don’t fire on all cylinders all the time, and I’m definitely not perfect, but I try to keep these four things in the back of my mind like a mantra to keep me on track. 

OH, and when I screw up?  I admit it IMMEDIATELY and apologize if needed.  

Why the Past Matters in Creating Your Brand

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Well hey.  Look at that, you’re reading my writing!  At some point I thought that was all I’d ever want or need after university.  As it turned out, rent, food, healthcare, and tickets back to California twice a year also turned out to be things I wanted and needed.  That’s how I ended up working at a fortune 500 technology company as a retail clerk.  And then as corporate store support.  And then as a B2B rep.  And now in marketing.  It’s been a journey that began the moment I picked up the phone for my first phone interview, and which I almost derailed without even knowing it on many many occasions, at many many Manhattan bars those first two years working in the city.

The thing about building your brand is that everything that happens to you matters.  What happened to you to make you who you are, how you deal with those things and how you communicate their impact on you (and to whom), and whether or not you learned from them matters.  It drives me crazy when some hip, enlightened New Yorker tries to explain to me how they’ve “left all the negativity behind them” and they are starting fresh.  We don’t start fresh – we walk around with all of our stories rattling around inside of our heads like beta-fish, they fight for attention and sometimes eat each other leaving behind murky confusion and bits of the loser.

So why the enormous Tortoise in the picture?  Because its so easy – especially as a go getting twenty-something, to forget that the things we are doing now are the story of us next year.  The choices we make today will be the choices we have to live with tomorrow, and the people we give our time to will not only impact us, we become associated with them in the minds of everyone who knew us then.  Will you give yourself weight to carry around?  Or build an exoskeleton that will protect you from harm?  That tortoise will live to be over 100 years old, and carries enormous weight, that also serves as awesome built in protection.  He doesn’t turn so well, but he can motor pretty good when it’s time to eat.  Moral of the story: your actions in navigating the corporate world, regardless of your goals, need to be about making choices now that will give you options later.