Ever had the experience where you’re explaining a concept that is well-known to you but as you talk you look out on a sea of blank faces nodding their heads up and down politely? They don’t really understand your message but don’t want to appear thick and they don’t have the assertiveness to ask you to explain it further? I’ve had that experience myself and want to share with you what’s going on so you can become more effective.
By way of illustration, one of the workshops that I regularly lead is called, ‘Resume Writing”, and to no surprise, it’s for people who want to leave with a strong resume that they can use to better compete for employment with. The message I want to communicate is that targeting your resume to a specific job that matches the employers stated needs stands a better chance of landing you an interview than a generic resume that is to be copied 20 times and fanned out to many employers.
I know therefore that taking the time to align my resume each and every time for a job – even a job with an identical title, is time well spent in the end, resulting in fewer applications. However, I could often see that some people had doubt on their faces, and here was the crux of their argument. They had words like, “hard-working, honest, dependable” and “reliable” on their resumes. To them, these were universal qualities that all employers wanted so why not leave them on every resume? My challenge then, was to find a way of explaining to them in a way they could comprehend, the benefit of what I was suggesting. The answer was really in finding a shared experience that proved my point.
So right in the middle of my visual presentation on the subject of targeting your resume, seemingly from out of nowhere, comes a picture of a thick slice of homemade apple pie. Yep, apple pie. And here’s what I say to those in that workshop. “Suppose mom wants to make an apple pie, so she sends you down to the store with the money to buy some apples. However, you come home with the most fabulous peaches anyone has ever seen. Although they are great peaches, mom wanted apples, and there’s no apple pie tonight”. And all of a sudden it clicks, and people say, “Oh I see, okay I get it”. And they do. They get it so much that now they look at their stated qualifications on their resume say, “Peaches”, to “hard-working, honest, dependable” and “reliable”. These are great qualities, but not the ones the employer stated on the posting that they are looking for.
The ‘Shared Experience tool’ is really all about searching for some past experience that you and another person both share, and by finding this in the past, you can both move forward with a new concept or understanding building off that experience. In the case of a resume, the apples wanted are the stated qualifications in the posting, and the apples delivered are the qualifications you choose to include on your resume. It’ all about matching up.
Now this isn’t only about resume building. That’s only one example of where this concept might be applicable. Finding a shared past experience may also help someone grasp any new concept. Unfortunately I’ve seen situations in the past where someone asked for clarification only to have the other person repeat exactly what they just said, only louder. The problem isn’t that the person is deaf who is trying to understand, the problem is that the person initiating the message hasn’t found a way to communicate it in a meaningful way to the receiver. So the person receiving the message does their best to grasp what they are being told, but it may not be what was intended and the result is miscommunication.
If you want to communicate effectively, you have to do more than present information in a way you alone understand it. It becomes critical to try a variety of angles, use analogies that are meaningful and shared by your audience. Sometimes you’ll hit it spot on, and other times you’ll miss. When you miss, best to pause and together find a shared past experience that you can take as your starting point and building on that, move to an understanding of the current understanding to achieve a desired result.
In my own case, yesterday I blogged about what you might take from a professional athlete in helping you with your own job search. If you can identify with the preparation that athletes take to do their jobs well, this shared understanding can help you relate to your own job search efforts. If you don’t have a shared understanding with athletes, the analogy doesn’t work for you, and another past experience would be a better fit. The challenge is therefore not with the person who is receiving the message but with me the person initiating a thought and passing on advice. And it’s my job therefore to use a broad number of experiences that connect with readers.
Consider too that in a job interview, the goal of the interviewee is to communicate in a meaningful way to the interviewer, how their past experience is relevant to the job at hand. Best to take along some apples to that interview.
Something to think about as you move forward and interact with others today and everyday.