Monthly Archives: October 2013

Talking Points and Listening Points

Everyone has heard of an elevator speech.  That’s the imagined scenario where you get on an elevator with your prospective employer (or if you are an entrepreneur, your prospective angel investor or lender) and make your powerful and concise case for what you hope will be a brighter future for you or your fledgling enterprise.

Whether you call what you say your elevator speech or your talking points, remember that conversations often lead to relationships, though speeches may lead to applause.  I’d rather have a friendship than a standing ovation anytime.

I am a fan of talking points; if I don’t have them, I quickly go off the script and into the weeds.  I tend to get excited when I get an idea in my head and I tend to be forceful and enthusiastic when I hear my excellent case.  There is only one big problem:

If you are doing the talking (or in my case, if I am), you/I can’t hear the questions, comments, ideas, or feedback—or even the request for clarification—offered by another.  The questions signal interest, conditions, engagement, or acknowledgment, and almost always are important to building a relationship, even in the apocryphal elevator.

If I recognized my future on a ground floor elevator headed upward with me, I’d start by asking a question. 

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?  Are you headed up to the Industry Conference also, by any chance?”  Because a conversation usually begins with a question, not a statement.

“Aren’t you Jane Smith?  I read the article you wrote in Career Development Digest. Brilliant point you made, about elevator speeches being oddly out of place in elevators.”  Because you know this person’s work, admire it, and it makes sense to confirm your suspicions that this is actually who you think it is.  Otherwise you might be arguably presumptuous, or thought to be a stalker. 

“I have some questions about my career direction and the advice I’ve been getting.  I wonder if I could get your thoughts on some of my ideas.”  It’s a good idea to ask permission to approach anyone, even if you have been introduced by a mutual friend, or especially if you have been introduced by a friend. 

Listen for interest, or the opposite, dismissal.

Whenever you wander or venture into a conversation, there is some risk that you will not be accepted exactly the way you want to be.  If you manage your risk, you will find that a slower pace, casual manner, and more curiosity than determination will ultimately get you closer to what you want—a relationship with a new friend or acquaintance. 

If you are speechifying about yourself, you will not hear opportunity when another offers it.  It sounds like this:

“I am so busy right now.  Could I introduce you to someone else in my company, or could I call you when things slow down a bit?”  The answer is yes, of course.  And then you follow up.  This is not rejection. . . . that is, it isn’t rejection until you try to argue that you only need a half an hour. 

“Have you tested your theory?  I am concerned that you may not have considered the other possibility.”  This is when you stop talking and listen for as long as the other person keeps talking.  Then you ask another question.

“Who are you again?  How do I know you?  Why are you calling me?”  Scary, yes, but questions in need of answers, to an opportunist.  You should definitely have good answers, and then some important questions of your own.

Listen for clues, understanding, and warmth.  Listen for understanding.  Listen for clues to next steps. 

Come to each opportunity with both talking points and listening points.  If you only consider what you will tell, you may never get to the right question.



Moving from the Past to the Future

There isn’t much point in trying to bring your old comfort zone with you as you head for your future.  It doesn’t travel well; it acts like an anchor tied to your bumper clunking along for the ride and occasionally digging in and stopping you cold. 

Bestselling author William Bridges has studied and written about life’s transitions extensively, and if you have specific concerns or difficulty coping with the confusion of change, we recommend Transitions for its ease of reading and positive, accessible ideas.  Bridges writes: 

“Every transition begins with an ending.  We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new—not just outwardly, but inwardly, where we keep our connections to the people and places that act as definitions of who we are. . . No wonder that those tribal rites of passage in which the group facilitates a person’s transition from one life-phase to the next often contain rituals for clearing the mind of old memories and information.”[1]

It’s really important to say good-bye to your past. Once you have come to a decision to move on, move forward, make whatever changes you choose to make, you enter what Bridges calls “the neutral zone,” which he describes in Transitions:

“For many people the experience of the neutral zone is essentially one of emptiness in which the old reality looks transparent and nothing feels solid any more.”

I believe that the neutral zone comes about—whether you enter it or it enters your consciousness—when you don’t have a current or useful plan for your future and your past and present aren’t working for you anymore.  And you know it.  You are, as they say, “over it.”  All that there is left to do is to find your way forward to a place where there is some hope, spontaneity, excitement. 

If you aren’t over it, if you are still clinging to a belief that the past is the present, I’m not sure why you are reading this—who are you kidding? Hanging on to a dead end job or career is a lot like hanging on to an old relationship—you don’t really want it, but you don’t want a big nothing in its place either.  And you can’t see that the old relationship is somewhat worse than none at all—believing it will change is an obstacle that will keep you from getting something that will make you happy.  The only thing you can really change is yourself.

And, saying goodbye to the past doesn’t mean you have to go anywhere—you can stay right where you are, and go into planning mode for your next adventure, gig, or job—or promotion if you plan to keep your career in the same organization. 

Plans generate energy.  Possibilities come alive and potential is revealed that can spark enough excitement to keep the present interesting, something that you have to do in order to perform well enough to deserve and earn the future you want.  So in saying goodbye to your past, you aren’t leaving anything but your identification with your old comfort zone and some of the beliefs you had about how things were going to work out—maybe your old plans, for example, or old realities that don’t work anymore.

Once you are aware of the incongruity between what you want to be doing and what you are doing, it becomes very hard to sustain the balance.  Acknowledge that the fit is no longer there and create agreement between the old you and the new you that something has to change.  All that you are changing is the way you look at where you are right now.  

Here are the rules for achieving that state of placid maturity and motivation while staying in your job until you find the blissful perfect one you want: 

Drop the drama.  It will not do you a bit of good and it obscures your purpose.  Workplaces are about the work, not about you, your needs, or your expectations.  I once worked with a client who was very charismatic, animated, and funny.  She had a knack for drawing attention, and when she was in a good mood, it was a good thing.  But when she was not happy, no one was happy; she could cloak a room in black despair in a heartbeat.  The point is to be leaderly.  Righteous indignation and stomping of feet only have a place when the organization—not you—has been wronged.

Play it straight.  Self-indulgent politicking will cost you opportunity.  Go figure.  The first time someone realizes that you withheld information, recruited a follower to your unhappy point of view, stole a client, sneaked out to lunch with a competitor, or played a dirty trick, your future has changed, whatever it might have been.  Power players are high stakes risk manipulators with a different game plan than the one they let you see.  

Don’t discuss your emotions.  Telling people how you feel is kind of manipulative, since there is nothing they can do about it and it isn’t their job to do anything about it anyway.  No one but your parents will forgive for going through a phase at your age.  Everyone is a potential ally; none will be favorably impressed by your anger or confusion.  No exceptions. 

Control your behavior.  Fake it until you make it.  Even if it takes every ounce of your being, assume the behaviors of a calm and motivated person.  Do not start calling people to tell them how wrong the company, board, boss, or HR Department are, and what terrible things are about to befall them. 

If you follow these five rules, you will have accomplished something important.  You will feel good, not bad, because you will have supervised yourself through a difficult time and taken control of the one thing you can always control—yourself.  Achieving self discipline is mastery of an important tool in your career toolkit, a subtle achievement, but an achievement, make no mistake.

[1] Bridges, William, Transitions, Addison Wesley Publishing Company, 1980, p.13,14; citing Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation, trans. Willard Trask, (New York, Harper and Row, 1965), p. 31.