One Key Communication Trait, Two Sides, as Seen Through Sherlock

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ImageI love the BBC show Sherlock. Besides the fact that it stars the incredibly talented Benedict Cumberbatch, it is a fantastic modern interpretation of Conan Doyle’s original works. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have done a phenomenal job with the writing and cinematography style of the series.

Incidentally, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson serve as a fantastic example of insightfulness, a key trait in strong communicators. Where they differ, in on what part of the trait they exhibit

Sherlock: Sherlock is knowledge. The man knows practically everything (or at least everything useful to him… trifles like the earth revolving around the sun don’t concern his work as a consulting detective and are forgotten). In addition to knowing practically everything of use, he perceives details of a scene down to the minutest of details. It’s what makes him so good at his work – the ability to not only pick out the faintest of details, but see how that detail is connected to ten others and how together, they create a whole picture.

This perceptive however does not extend to Sherlock’s relations with people unfortunately. He so brilliant, but utterly inept at human interactions. While his ability to read people purely from an academic perspective, knowing when to speak and when to remain quiet is something he is incapable of. For example, this scene.

… He simply doesn’t realize (or chooses not to realize) he should remain quiet and keep his observations to himself

That being said, being able to read people and pick out specific details is crucial in communication. If I noticed a quarter of what Sherlock does, I would feel quite observant.

 

John: What Sherlock lacks in the humanity/ sincerity aspects of insightfulness, John makes up for. He may not pick out minutia the same way as Sherlock, but John picks out people and truly cares deeply for those around him. Sherlock expresses this quality very well here. Without John, Sherlock would be a far darker individual and not at all caring of those around him.

John has empathy in spades, something else vital to productive communication, the ability to stand in another’s shoes.

 

JohnLock: What stands out in Sherlock is how well Sherlock and John go together. They truly are best friends, even if Sherlock seems a bit distant or disinterested at times. In the world of fan fiction, they are often referred to as JohnLock, and many interesting (and often beyond PG-13) stories have been written about their relationship. But take this name, JohnLock, as s combination of their respective insightful traits, and we get a far fuller version of the term. In some ways, Sherlock and John are just two sides of the same coin. Where Sherlock has perceptions into the world around him and people’s habits, John notices the person themselves and really cares about them. Both parts are necessary for good communication. Noticing everything as Sherlock does, without a human filter will quickly distance you from others, breaking more connections than it creates. It’s no good being the most perceptive person in the room if your ability to effectively relate knowledge to those around you is lacking. The same can be said for John (although he certainly is perceptive as well). Being all feeling, we may have the best of intentions but end up completely off base without the needed information.

So strive to be perceptive and read the world around you, just not at the expense of reducing those in it to just another observation. And watch Sherlock. It’s truly a fantastic show. And on Netflix.

3 Takeaways from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Part 5”

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ImageAt the beginning of the year, my dad suggested I read Part 5 of Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The fifth habit is “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” With the amount of driving I was doing, he was kind enough to buy me the audiobook, which I ended up listening to all in one session. Granted, it was short (only an hour long) but Covey also makes a whole bunch of great points, all of which are incredibly applicable to better interacting with others. I would highly suggest reading the book, or listening to it via Audible. I would recommend the Audible version as it splices in various talks Covey gives on the subject as well, so there’s more applications.

After listening to it again, I’ve pulled out three main takeaways for myself (though there are loads more!) that are highlighted below.

 

  1. A key in understanding is to diagnose before prescribing

This is a no brainer when you think about it, but I really liked the image. No doctor goes into a patient and provides a solution or medication before first diagnosing the problem; that would just be silly and possibly create further complications. Applying this to communication just makes sense, but we seldom follow it. Oftentimes, we go into conversations with people ready to give advice or find a solution, not having heard what is wrong at all.

 

  1. Stop approaching things autobiographically

“No one has ever been there, everyone’s life is so singular and unique.” Covey says this as a reiteration that one of the biggest obstacles to communication is our tendency to use our experiences with others. It’s certainly an understandable framework to be in. Operation outside of personal experiences is hard to do. We naturally gravitate towards finding connections and relating ourselves to others, and understandably so. But unless we have a large emotional bank account with someone, we haven’t earned the right to speak into their lives yet, so we need to listen in order to get to a place where someone wants to hear/ learn from our experiences.

 

  1. Act as a translator

This was a total light bulb statement for me in explaining how to empathetically listen to people. When operating as a translator, you aren’t translating a conversation word for word, but listening to what someone has said, pulling the feeling and general sentiment out of it, and then expressing that sentiment. This is what we should be trying to do when truly listening to someone – working to pull out the feeling behind the words rather than just going off the words themselves. So much of communication is non-verbal and comes through eyes, body language, tone etc that many times the actual meaning of a statement isn’t in the words said, but the delivery.

 

Overall, the key is in the motive behind the interaction. Are we looking out for the person’s wellbeing or trying to provide solutions? Covey acknowledges that empathetic listening takes a lot of time, but it saves it down the road by helping relationships rather than just pushing through them. I would highly suggest reading/ listening to this part of the book yourself, I know I will be again.

Things my Dog has Taught Me About Job Searching: Be Positive and Incessant

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ImageThat adorable dog looking up at you is Ed. He’s pretty darn cute, eh? Ed has been a part of our family for 5 years now and he’s the absolute best. So sweet and quirky… it would be a much lonelier and quieter place without him. He’s essentially my mom’s shadow – following her everywhere throughout the day, getting into the middle of whatever she (or anyone else for that matter) is doing just because he wants to be a part of it all.

Not surprisingly this extends to food. Ed will sit and just watch as you work on preparing whatever is set for the meal; hoping, dreaming of some of it falling to the ground where I’m sure he would quickly swoop in to get it. “Today is gonna be the day!” is the voiceover we most often give him as he sits watching expectantly.

A few weeks ago I was home making dinner with my dad. Ed was posted up as per usual staring incredibly intently at our work. Trainer Pete (dad) and I were talking about school and my job search… how I really need to keep at it, just put myself out there etc. Ed is still sitting, waiting.

Then Trainer Pete made a really great point. “You know Chelsea, you need to be a lot like Ed in this job hunt. You should be waking up every day thinking that ‘today is gonna be the day’ I find a job, nail an interview, whatever it is you are working on to continue pursuing your career.”

Wow. Profound stuff from the dog. Who would have thought? My dad made a great point though. In order to be most successful in our interactions, in these job searches, we need to be optimistic. That “Today is gonna be the day.” How else do we expect to come across as confident and capable? If the thought process is negative, if it’s “I’m not qualified,” “They aren’t going to like me,” “This job is going to be a dead end too…” etc. then the way we present ourselves and come across is going to be negative too. How can we expect others to believe in us enough to hire us if we don’t think they should?

No, the mentality needs to be “Today is gonna be the day!”

“Today is gonna be the day I give such a great interview they know right then and there I’m the one.”

“Today is gonna be the day I find 5 awesome jobs I can’t wait to apply for.”

“Today is gonna be the day I write an incredibly creative, kick butt cover letter that gets me in the door for an interview with my dream job.”

On top of being incredibly optimistic, Ed is constant. He will sit, hoping for food, for every meal without fail. That is how we should be in our job searches. Keep at it until you get the result you want, or are asked to stop by whatever company it is you want to work for. Tenacity and dedication are important. Unless you are told to stop calling, writing, emailing… keep at it! Sometimes even after you’ve been asked to stop as well (also like Ed). The squeaky wheel gets the grease is how the saying goes for a reason. Be the squeaky wheel. Be the Ed in your job search. Never stopping, always hopeful. Because, if it is REALLY the job you want, why wouldn’t you put your all into it until it is achieved and realized?

Whatever it is, large goal or small, go about it with the mentality that “Today is gonna be the day,” and I guarantee it will be much more easily (or at least energetically/ enjoyably) accomplished.

 

 

As a side note: Ed’s patient sitting normally leads to some food “accidentally” falling on the ground for his enjoyment. He’s quite non-discretionary in preferences. I guess even broccoli is more appealing than dried kibble. Image

 

 

5 Steps to Communicate Better in Interviews for New Job Seekers: Part 5

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ImageSo the big interview has happened, you’ve ended the call, shut down Skype, or left the building. Now what? The interview isn’t over. Your interaction with your (hopefully) future employer isn’t done yet. There has been no acceptance or rejection yet. (And even once that happens, you should still be asking for feedback, regardless of the result, so you can continue to grow. None of us are perfect)

What’s next? The final tip I have for job seekers is FOLLOW UP.

Notice that it’s bolded and underlined. It’s a big deal. Follow up shows you really care, that you value the time of those involved and that you are serious about the position. It shows professionalism and initiative as well as a certain level of maturity. It says you understand that work doesn’t always end once you’re off the clock. It’s ongoing. Additionally, it helps further build connections. So what does follow up mean? I’ve broken down some different ways to continue engaging with a company after your interview.

 

The importance of “thank you”

This could probably be a post in and of itself; probably will be down the road. Thank you is a big deal. Not just a thank you as you leave (although I certainly hope that happened), but a note or email after the fact. Perhaps even both. Some people would say email or handwritten is fine. Both are good, you should certainly thank your interviewer for their time, but I personally would advocate for the handwritten, snail-mailed note. Sure, it takes more time and effort than email, but that’s the point. Not only is mail fun to get, but we get so little of it nowadays (other than the incessant credit card offers and catalogues amiright????). Outside of it coming across as more thoughtful, thank you notes aren’t nearly as common, and they’re tangible. Meaning it takes more effort to get rid of them than the delete button on a computer and they usually look nicer. Both qualities that make them stick around longer, perhaps on a desk where it will serve as a reminder to whomever you sent it to. So take the time. Pay the 49 cents for postage. Write thanks yous.

 

Pick up the phone

… And follow up with a call. Phone calls are harder to ignore than emails. Again, it’s also more personal, and shows you care enough to not just email, but to call. If the thought of having to talk to the people responsible for your career’s future intimidates you, a great initial tactic is to call after hours, when you can be fairly certain no one will pick up on the other end, and leave a message. This gives you the chance to rehearse what you will say, and deliver your appreciation for the opportunity, inquiry on the position’s status, etc uninterrupted.

 

Reference specifics from the interview

If during your interview you found some common interest with whomever you were speaking (which as a side note, you should… a little Facebook or Linkedin lookup is a good way to find conversation points, or be more relatable), follow up with a reference to it however you end up getting in touch. For example, if in an interview I discover a shared interest in say, fitness, sending over an email with a link to some new workout trend we’d discussed and its benefits/ risks is a fine way to continue the conversation. Finding ways to be useful or helpful is a sure way to improve your chances with a position. Having the usefulness based on your interview conversation just shows you were attentive during the process, even to topics not directly related to the position.

 

Connect on Social Media

This is something that should be done prior to an interview, as part of the research process, but the engagement should continue once the interview ends. If a company has a Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin profile, follow them. If they have a company blog, read some of the articles. If there is something that stands out, comment on the post or share it via your social network. Not only will this give you valuable insight into the company, but it shows you’ve done your homework beyond just looking at the company website.

 

There you have it. Follow up. Just do it. It’s common courtesy, shows maturity and investment and is just plain the right thing to do. Follow up can be the make or break in who to hire. Think about it… if you had two candidates that stacked up the same on paper, and both interviewed well; but one bothered to thank you for your time, spoke to you about yours and the company’s interests, and kept the conversation going… who would you pick?

5 Steps to Communicate Better in Interviews for New Job Seekers: Part 4

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ImageGoing hand in hand with practicing for interviews, is feedback. Oftentimes, we spend so much time, working so intently to perfectly prepare for an opportunity, that we are too close to the project to see things that could use tweaking or changing altogether. This is why feedback is so important in the interview process.

It’s not an easy thing to do – being open to criticism. Especially with something that is supposed to represent and sell you. Sometimes it is hard to separate ourselves from the work we’ve done, but that is exactly what we need to do. If you are truly pursuing a position that capitalizes on your unique skill set, you will be good at it. The delivery to get you there may just need a bit of tweaking.

So ask for feedback. But how? And when? I would suggest trying out mock interviews with as many people as possible. Have friends act as the interviewer and take notes on what you could work on for your reference.

Better than friends, would be to ask some (probably older) more experienced people you respect and know have years of experience on you for insight. They’ve been through this before – probably on both sides of the process – and are usually happy to help. Most will welcome the opportunity to continue paying forward the same kindness someone showed them early on when they were just starting out. The benefit of these people not being friends (per se) is that they are less likely to sugarcoat things, and will have some more constructive feedback a lot of the time.

The final place to DEFINITELY ask for feedback is after interviews. This is (at least for me) the most daunting of all. I just spent the last 30 minutes to an hour trying to stay focused and say the right thing. The last thing I want at the end of an interview is to hear all their thoughts on my delivery. But it’s incredibly important. Not only are your interviewers a completely objective critic, meaning they will provide you the most honest and industry specific feedback, but asking for feedback at the end of an interview is in many ways an extension of the interview itself. Asking for feedback shows a willingness to grow, the ability to take criticism, and an investment in whomever you are speaking with that says you value their opinion.

So what should we ask to get good feedback? Well, you could just ask how you did, or for feedback. Instead of being general in your request, I would try some the following;

  • Is there anything I need to work on?
  • What from our meeting has stood out to you?
  •  Is there anything I can communicate/ explain better?

There are plenty of different ways to phrase those 3 questions, so find what sounds best to you, or branch out, but be specific in your request, to help avoid vague responses or platitudes.

 

To Recap

  • Feedback is super important for personal growth
  • Be open to criticism, know it is not a criticism of you as a person, but of your delivery
  • Ask friends, respected mentors, and others in your field for input
  • Most importantly, ask for feedback at the end of interviews
  • Be specific in your questions so that the responses are constructive

5 Steps to Communicate Better in Interviews for New Job Seekers: Part 3

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A man telling a joke to himself in the mirror (Erin Patrice O'Brien | Getty images )

Once we’ve identified our strengths/ weaknesses and framed them as part of an overall story, it’s time to move on to steps 3 and 4: practice and feedback. These two are a bit interchangeable as they build off each other. You practice, ask for feedback, tweak some things, practice some more, ask for more feedback…

So let’s start with practice for this post.
It’s a big deal. Good preparation can make or break interviews. Speaking as someone who can converse pretty easily, I definitely thought I would be fine entering my first few interviews with little prior preparation. I figured it would be more natural, being off the cuff with my answers. I could not have been more wrong.m overly committed to humility in all circumstances) all adds up, making even the most extroverted and conversational of us stumble.

So practice, practice, practice!

I’ve broken it down into a 3 key points below.

 

  • Don’t have an entire script

This is tempting to do. But will probably trip you up just as much as not practicing would. You can’t anticipate every way an interview may go. If you’re relying on a fully rehearsed script, an unexpected turn could really throw you off your game. Instead, have some main points down, know how different parts of your story are connected, and just get comfortable talking about yourself. When you practice, don’t run through the same thing in the same order every time, mix it up so that you are comfortable talking from any part of the overall story in a coherent manner.

  • Make a list of words/ phrases to avoid

There are good ways and bad ways to spin everything. The way we talk about things matters, especially in interviews. So have an idea of ways to say things. For example, I work at Ian’s Pizza. Now, Ian’s is fantastic and I love my job. They’re known as the late night food of Madison. This means for my shifts starting at 10pm, that the majority of customers I deal with are drunk, stumbling people who are slurring their words and make crass comments (not everyone, but a lot of the communication skills I’ve learned have come from moments dealing with this profile of person). Now, that probably (read: isn’t) the way I should present my job in an interview. Usually, I frame it something like this, “I serve a post bar crowd, thinking on my feet to deliver great customer service no matter what occurs.” Sounds a lot better, right? It shows I can speak tactfully on issues and frame things in a positive rather than a negative light to an interviewer who can infer what I’m really saying from that response.
So think of ways to positively frame responses. Avoid slang phrases. On the flipside, don’t try to work in a bunch of fancy language you wouldn’t normally use. Just as bad as coming across too casual, is appearing aloof.

  • Be conscious of your habits

Do you constantly say “um?” Talk a lot with your hands? Or maybe not at all? Slouch? Personally, I don’t do a good job maintaining eye contact. These are things to be aware of. Don’t over analyze them and spend a bunch of time stressing about it, this awareness isn’t meant to make you awkwardly self-conscious. But it is important. Which is why it is a part of practice. If you are able to make yourself aware of these habits, you can work to correct them so that come interview time, they are no longer the norm. I’d ask people to tell you what they notice as often other are a far better judge than we are ourselves.

 

The bottom line with these pointers isn’t to achieve perfection, but to make us more comfortable at go time. It’s just like that piano piece we had in middle school or the penalty shot we have in some sport. If we didn’t put in the hours on the backend, our nerves tend to get the better of us when it’s time to perform. Practice helps alleviate that stress. So why wouldn’t we put in the time?

5 Steps to Communicate Better in Interviews: Part 2

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ImageIn the last post, we started talking about the importance of good communication when applying for a position and addressed the first step in communicating better: breaking down our abilities.

Once we have this list of unique gifting, strengths, average skills, and weaknesses; we can create the basis for the entire application: our personal story.

We all love stories and storytelling. Many people have suggested it’s something innate within all of us. Given the choice between being pulled into a world through a thought out plot to understand an issue or being presented with solely the facts of the same issue; I’ll pick the story most every time. It’s why we call them news STORIES, and why artfully crafted pieces with a human element hold much more traction with audiences than do cold, hard facts.

Why should your cover letter or interview be any different? Many of the same principals of a good story translate to us personally, and can therefore be used to better communicate in the job hunt. Let’s look at some common characteristics of stories we can translate to our next application:

Overall Theme: Every story has an over-arching theme. We are no different. For some, it may be that they have always wanted to do “x” and everything in their life has in some way contributed to that goal. For others, it may be the journey of discovery that led them to the career they are now pursuing. For me, it all stems from what I would say is a unique gifting. My complete commitment to my clients’ success is the driving force behind everything I do. Whatever you decide your theme is, make sure it continually relates back to the role you are applying for. Although this is a story, it isn’t our whole life story. Just the clips that relate to the job we want.

Plot: Your story should have a beginning, middle, and end. There should be a logical progression to how things unfold. Whether this is chronological, by importance, by relevance or some other format is up to you – just be sure it is clear the direction you are traveling.

Characters: For our purposes, this refers more to examples than specific people. Obviously you are the main character of this narrative, and perhaps there are one or two others in there as well. (mentors, a great previous boss, coach, etc. if applicable). However, there are other characters as well in a less literal sense. Those strengths you outlined earlier, they should have specific examples of times when you put them to use. These previous experiences or events are not unlike characters in a story – both carry out actions in some way or another.

Conflict: Stories have conflicts that need resolving. Yours is no different. While I wouldn’t suggest making a shortcoming or an area of weakness the focus, you should be prepared with a time where you dropped the ball, or an area you believe you could do better in. This is a question that is often asked by interviewers and how you respond is important. When this question comes up, you should have an answer ready – one that paints you in a positive light overall, and plays into the overall theme of your story. The focus should not be on the problem or deficiency, but the way you handled it or are working to improve.

Once you have that list of abilities outlined, turn it into your story, catered to wherever you are applying. Make sure it’s personal and really speaks to who you are as a person. We all would much rather hear about a person that statistics. A person is someone I can relate to, and can see a place for in a company. Statistics are just facts about any number of workers, there is nothing memorable about them.