I wanted to share 10 useful things I have learnt over the past few decades and that I think are really important if you want to be successful. Some are fairly common sense, others less so, but they have all served me well and might come in handy in your next requirements gathering session, client meeting or job interview.
1. Don’t just be on time, be early
Always try to be five or ten minutes early. It makes a good impression and gives you time to scope out your surroundings, for example an unfamiliar building or meeting room. You’ll have time to pop to the bathroom, or grab a drink of water and go through your notes again. And most importantly, if you end up running late you will end up being “just” on time.
2. Adopt the other person’s body language and demeanour
It is also an old psychological trick to get someone to like you subconsciously by mirroring their body language. Practice this in a social setting first: if they cross their arms, you cross your arms. If they lean back and keep their right hand on the table, you do the same thing only with your left. You’ll be surprised how quickly it makes other people warm to you without them even realising why. The reason this works is because it makes people think that you “get them” and relax.
3. The Jedi mind trick
This is a useful trick if you are facing an especially erratic or otherwise bad conversation partner and you want to throw them off their game (say someone is having a go at you, or you are at the brunt of an unstoppable tirade). You know that if you interrupt them it will be interpreted as rude and just escalate the situation. Simply unnerve the other person by looking up at their hairline every so often.
Again this is an old psychological trick, and it can really throw the other person off. Glance up at their hairline every so often to make them wonder if there’s something there. Don’t do it too often or too long or intense enough to cause them to actually ask you about it. Just for a fraction of a second. It sends the subconscious message that you are distracted by something in their physical appearance they cannot see themselves without a mirror. They will become uneasy and want to cut short the conversation they are having with you.
4. Always be prepared
Before any meeting or discussion, anticipate the opposing side’s criticisms by playing devil’s advocate. Why could your approach fail? Have you considered the impact this could have on operations/costs/time involved? What about a more simple, more common sense approach? What is your Plan B, C, D, E, F, …
In a job interview, anticipate difficult questions about gaps in your employment history, or questions about why you left your last job. If you consider all possible arguments or questions in advance you a) won’t be thrown off by hearing them said during a high pressure situation, and b) you’ll have a chance to come up with arguments for your side in advance.
5. When nervous, talk at half the speed
If you are giving a presentation or holding a speech, it is common to talk really fast in an effort to “just get it over with”. But it ends up sounding rushed and you can stumble over your words, lose your place and stutter. Make a conscious effort to talk at exactly 50% the speed you normally would. Not only will it relax you and make you sound more comprehensible, the speed you actually end up talking at is closer to normal speed that you think when your mind is going at 100mph.
6. When extra super nervous, chew gum
There’s a weird primal signal that is sent to your “lizard brain” when you chew. In simplistic terms, “if I’m eating then everything must be alright” is what your nervous system infers and it can end up relaxing you before a job interview, speech or presentation. Just make sure you swallow the gum before you start talking. The only thing less attractive than a candidate who continues to chew gum like some kind of urban cowboy during an interview is someone who thinks they are stealthily hiding the gum between their cheek and their teeth. (HINT: we can still see it!!)
7. Don’t be egotistic
A very hard lesson for everyone to learn is that the universe doesn’t revolve around you. Most people’s first instinct when they are told something is to see how that information applies to them and their life. If you can overcome the first instinct of “what does that mean for me/my career/my job?” and concentrate on how something affects those around you, you will make a huge step towards being more empathetic, and ultimately better liked.
8. Be more open-minded
When most people are given a new piece of information they take a second, compare it to the information they already have, and if it matches what they already know they will agree and say that it is true. If it doesn’t match what they know to be true they will reject it as false. Either outcome means nothing new was learnt.
This type of mindset can make you very inflexible and stop you from gaining new insights. Learn to be more open-minded and ask for further information to help you understand what you can’t comprehend. You will not only learn something new and broaden your horizons, you will also become more mature in the way you interact with your colleagues and other people (and most importantly you will be perceived as such as well).
9. Admit when you don’t know the answer
There is nothing worse than someone who pretends to know the answer to a question when they don’t. You only end up looking stupid, either you will come across as totally unconvincing because you will give off the aura of someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about, or you will be found out eventually and get blamed for spreading misinformation.
In the business world it is actually refreshing to hear people say “I don’t know – but I can find out!”. One of the many talents needed in consulting is people and stakeholder management. If you have the type of personality who can talk to people, or you know how or where to find the information you need, you are already 80% there when it comes to succeeding. Nobody knows everything, so do yourself and others a favour and drop the mindset of “I must know everything”.
10. Be yourself
There is a reason you were hired, and not somebody else. A varied background, a fresh new mindset, an intriguing career background or a different way of looking at the world are all assets that you should use to your advantage. Don’t pretend to be who you think someone else wants, you will fail miserably and be unhappy the whole time. Why would you want to fade into the background and be just like everyone else (and thus forgettable) when you can be yourself (which is easier), make a lasting impression (“Who solved the problem?” – “The guy who always wears a bow tie!”) and use the different talents you bring to the table to your and everyone else’s advantage.
Someone who spent the last 20 years working in Financial Services might never have been able to look at a problem from the same perspective as the guy with the law degree, or the girl who competes in curling at Olympic level and is great at team work.
What do you think? What useful tips and tricks can you pass on to newbs? Leave a comment below and subscribe for more musings!