Great Attitude + Applying Oneself = Job Offer

Regular readers of my blog will recall that from time to time I’m called on to facilitate a two-week intensive job search group. All the participants are unemployed social assistance recipients, and one week ago, such a class ended. I’ve got some promising and exciting news to share.

Although only 1 of the 9 I supported was employed at the end of the two weeks, I kept telling this group that many would be working in a short time – and they are proving me right. After just 4 days since the end (since today is the 5th day and it’s only 5 a.m.) there have been many interviews and several job offers produced.

One of these people I want to highlight for this blog because she experienced the joy of not just one interview yesterday but two, and came home to find a message on her machine that spoke of a job offer. But I get ahead of myself. If you are unemployed, I encourage you to read this and take some hope from her experience.

This lady first attended an initial mandatory presentation for those starting to receive social assistance. She arrived late that morning, something that did not endear her to me at the time, but she came up and apologized at the first break and said, “You don’t know me, but I’m not like that”. I respected her for that and I was impressed by the end because she listened, asked questions and was tuned in.

We then met next at a resume workshop where I was helping another facilitator, and I was directed to give her some 1:1 help. She and I had no other commitments for the day, so instead of leaving after a couple of hours like everyone else, she and I worked together for 4.5 hours. Do you know how much you can get out of that time if you really want it? I only offered extended help because she demonstrated a thirst for as much as I could give her.

Based on the two experiences above, I called her and invited her personally to join this intensive two-week job search group. She was so grateful, but concerned because she was just about to get her employment insurance, and that would mean a closure of her file, making her ineligible to attend. But because of her attitude, she was included as the funds weren’t in pay yet, and I advocated with her Caseworker to keep her file open until the end of the class which she did.

So during the two weeks, she soaked things up like a sponge, but more importantly, applied the ideas and suggestions presented. To give her credit – for credit it is – she worked hard at trying things that didn’t come naturally, and even when she questioned some advice, she nonetheless overcame her own objections and did what she was challenged with. So for example, she contacted a previous reference to confirm the person was still willing to vouch for her. You see she hadn’t thought this necessary as she had a written reference letter from the person but it was outdated by some 4 years. She called him though, and got the affirmation of support which in turn boosted her own confidence.

So with a solid resume and cover letter, she was applying for employment in earnest, and benefitted from the support of not only me, but her fellow participants who all challenged and supported each other respectfully. From this group she even obtained and distributed a contact list of those who willingly gave their confidential information to their fellow classmates; something by the way I cannot do for them for that very reason. So she initiated a support group for when the group dispersed after the two weeks.

But to the present. Two interviews yesterday and initially one of them wanted to see her at the same time she had another interview, so she told them up front about the prior interview and got one later in the day. After two solid interviews, one of which was a 3 person panel interview, she arrived home. And playing her messages, the first interview left a message informing her that pending a good reference check, they were offering her a job. Instead of calling them back right away, she called me. Why? To share her good news of course, and I suspect if truth be told, because she knows how much I was emotionally invested in her success and that of the whole group. How thoughtful!

Ah but as an Employment Counsellor, I soon was counselling again and asking about the 2nd interview, and asking if she had a preference for working at one or the other, and what the compensation was for each etc. I even suggested she might want to call the other employer back and alert them as a courtesy that another job offer has been made, and this in turn could possibly prompt them to present a competing job offer.

Today I’m meeting her first thing to get the details as she teased me with an email saying she has more great news to share.

For you who may be unemployed, take inspiration from her story. Apply yourself and create success with a great attitude and get support. And me? I’ll take her story as the perfect thing to blog about for my own milestone – blog number 500.

So What Is, “Active Listening”?

Although the term, ‘active listening’ is not new, unless you are familiar with it, you may not really fully understand or appreciate in full what it is and more importantly why it’s so important.

Active listening is a technique used in communication, especially by Counsellors and those who excel in interpersonal communications. The general premise is that you as the listener check on what you hear to the speaker; doing this by re-stating or paraphrasing what you have heard in words of your own. This confirms the accuracy of what was both said and heard, so both you and the other person have a shared understanding.

The value in this is that for the speaker, they can clarify anything misunderstood or not made clear, and ultimately feel they’ve been accurately heard in full and fully understood. You as the listener also are 100% clear that what you THINK you hear and understand is in fact what was really communicated. And it doesn’t stop at just the words spoken. The very best communicator’s and active listener’s pick up on the non-verbal communication going on which is added to the words they hear. If someone is almost lying down in their chair and propping up their head in their hands but is talking about really being enthusiastic in a slow, monotonous voice, the words and the observable body language don’t support each other, and the active listener would point this out and seek clarity.

So what’s this have to do with you personally? Well like driving a Forklift, mopping a floor, teaching a class or cooking a meal, active listening is a skill. And like any skill, you can have it or not, develop it or not, and ultimately use it or not. But unlike the other examples I mentioned in this paragraph, this skill is transferable and can applied in all interactions with literally everyone you meet, be it at home or work, social or professional gatherings.

Now think of job postings you’ve seen where it says you have to work well with other people. Working well with other people does not mean, “you do your job and shut up and let me do mine.” That’s a direct quote from someone I was discussing the idea of working well with others with not long ago. And like any other skill, the more you use it, the more comfortable you get with it, and the more natural it becomes.

If it helps to illustrate the opposite, think how often you are talking to someone in your own life and pick up signs that they are really listening or they are but don’t really get what you’re saying at all. “Ugh, you don’t understand! You never listen!” is the kind of thing you may recall people saying to you personally, and what they are saying communicating is that you really aren’t actively engaged in listening and sincerely don’t understand. The result is the other person leaves in frustration, and the message they take away is that you either don’t care enough to give them your full attention, or you didn’t really listen.

When listening to someone, a good idea is to minimize distractions so that the only communication you are engaged in at that time is the person speaking. Think of a Counsellor who closes their door to others, turns their chair away from the computer, pulling it up to a comfortable distance sitting facing their client, and leans slightly in so they are fully focused on the person they are seeing. That client gets the message very clearly, “I’m giving you my full attention and ready to listen.” I was out for dinner with four other people last weekend and in noisy restaurant it was impossible to participate much in a conversation going on at the other end of the table. I knew I was only catching bits and pieces, and felt frustrated in not giving my full attention to others when they were speaking – it was hard work!

And here’s the most significant thing to be gained from the practice of active listening. When someone knows they have been heard correctly and understood, they say more, and what they say is usually deeper, more meaningful, and ultimately more beneficial because the layer of trust has been reached. When someone says, “Wow, she’s good, she really listens”, what they are really saying is that the person is an effective active listener. But who says that?

You hear effective active listeners clarify often. “So what I hear you say is…” or “What you’re saying is important and I want to make sure I’ve got it right. You’re saying…” Now of course good listeners don’t want to interrupt and sound like they have hearing issues by constantly saying, “If I hear you correctly…” And a no-no for many people who are openly up is to say, “What you’re really trying to say is…” That projects you as some all-knowing superior being, and suggests the person isn’t expressing themselves well, and you may be right or wrong.

The next time you are having a conversation, really listen to the other person, minimize interruptions and give them your full attention. Check on what you’ve heard, and avoid the temptation of naturally forming what you want to say as soon as the other person gives you an opening. When you check on what you are hearing, you’ll have a solid contribution to add to the conversation.

Why A Perfect Job Becomes Stale (And It’s A Good Thing)

A phenomenon that happens often to many people I know may also have happened to you personally. This is when a job you once thought was the perfect job and you were thrilled to have it, becomes less appealing, less rewarding and sometimes downright boring. What went wrong?

In short the answer is nothing. In fact if anything, this can be wonderful news if you look at it from a different perspective, and I want to illustrate the positive side for those of you who might be feeling negative. You see what really has happened in the vast majority of instances is that the job itself hasn’t changed at all. However, with the passing of time from that first day you accepted this job as new, you have grown yourself. What was once new and challenging has become easy to do and the challenge has largely disappeared. And the challenge was your motivation.

So why is this a positive? Ah, well that’s because you my dear reader have improved in your abilities; your skills have significantly advanced to a degree where your mind is sending you a signal that it’s time for re-evaluation. You’ve heard that saying that it’s the journey not the destination that is important? You’re now the poster man or woman for that old adage. The journey to get where you are now was what you found stimulating and had you hungry to go to work everyday. But now, months or years later, you’re comfortable, complacent perhaps, and the job is not providing you with as much gratification because the journey is over; you’ve arrived.

This is precisely why people who often change jobs, or work from contract to contract are hard to fathom by those who stay in one job seemingly forever. Do you recall a generation of people who took a single job – maybe two at the very most for their entire lives? For those generations, it wasn’t cool to be so apparently self-absorbed in finding your job happiness, they worked to earn a living. But our generation and that of our children, is all about finding work that brings us meaning and fulfillment. When it wanes, look for another job and keep stimulated.

So in a practical sense, what to do? Well clearly, if you grow unhappy, you’ve ultimately got two simple choices – and it is simple. One you either accept your unhappiness and change nothing, or you change something and rediscover your joy and take on new challenges. Taking on new challenges could mean you look for a new job altogether with the same employer or a new one. But as many know, it can also mean having the same job title that you hold right now, but doing the job differently, more creatively, maybe with new responsibilities.

And this last option in a tight economy where you might be unwilling or scared to test the waters of job searching may be exactly what you need. The change in either option however has to start with you. (Well it doesn’t HAVE to start with you, it could be forced on you by your boss who isn’t happy with your performance, but let’s leave that one for another blog!) It is a fantastic time to listen to your mind and do a self inventory. By asking your colleagues, your boss, your subordinates, your peers and network of contacts, you should get an idea of how you are viewed by others. What do they value in you? What do you see as your own strengths and assets?

From that long list of skills and qualifications, what are those skills that you most want to use in the next couple of years? Nix a five-year plan…too long and too much could change. And think about what skills you have that are weak here too. Maybe you want to improve in certain areas.

Now armed with your skill inventory, think about where you get your buzz. What turns you on and gets you motivated to excel and fires your passion, your enthusiasm. Instead of looking for what you could do right now with ease, what would be challenging and just a bit difficult or require you to learn from someone else? This is the growth you might just be craving. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, but embrace that which is just a little out of your reach so when you achieve it and call it your own, you’ll feel great from reaching a new accomplishment.

Now it’s time to talk with your boss. Assuming you are performing your current job responsibilities to the satisfaction of the company, you’re looking to share your desire for new challenges, and want that person on board with your career development. It doesn’t mean you’ll be fired in the next two days just by having a conversation. My goodness if things are THAT bad, move on and stay mentally healthy!

This discussion with your boss shouldn’t be a one-time thing. Ask for 30 minutes or more and a few meetings. Your looking perhaps for their advice and counsel, and they’ll appreciate time to do some succession planning on their own if you move on via a promotion. You may find their flattered you’re seeking their mentorship. They may identify courses or training to acquire skills you’ll need to advance. You could also be given new assignments or co-author a new job description altogether.

As the ads say, “Stay thirsty my friends.”

Bear In Mind While Looking For The Perfect Job…

Ever noticed how some people seem to bounce from one job to another while others land in a job and remain for long stretches? Or how some are happy and content while others are not? Some are just lucky but most of the people who find real happiness in the work they do didn’t land there by accident.

There are many things you might want to honestly think about when looking for work, and it seems to me it might be a good idea to lay a few down as a refresher, although I’m sure you who read this will have ideas of your own to contribute, and that of course would benefit other readers should you choose to add a comment or two. Please do!

KNOW YOURSELF. You can look at almost any job advertisement these days and get a good idea of the skills required. If you want to be successful, you genuinely need to have those skills and enjoy using them. If you don’t, even should you make it through an interview and get the job, you won’t last long if you can’t deliver on a daily basis. Time will expose your weak skills.

GEOGRAPHY AND TRAVEL. I see people actually apply for jobs, get offered interviews and then turn them down because it’s too far to travel to. Why bother to apply in the first place? That’s wasted time and energy. Know your geographical limitations, how you are limited or not by your access to transportation.

MOTIVATION. What is your reason for wanting to work? Are you looking for a permanent long-term job? Maybe looking to work at four or five jobs over just a few years to find your likes and dislikes? Is money your sole motivator? Knowing why you are looking for work is so basic, most people overlook this and that’s a huge error. Why do you want to work at all?

SUPERVISION PREFERENCE. Many people don’t really factor in to their job search the kind of supervisor they work best under; until of course they have a really bad experience and then know to avoid someone just like them in the future. This is a great question for an interview as in, “What’s the leadership style of the person to whom I’d be reporting?” Of course supervisor’s change over time, but you’ll have an idea if you get offered the job.

PURPOSE. Some people need to have meaning in the work they do so at the end of the day they feel they’ve completed work of value. You won’t be happy over time if you take a job that you describe as meaningless or mind numbing to your family and friends.

THE SHORT-TERM FIX. Realize that you may want a quick, short-term job doing pretty much anything in some cases if you are trying to overcome a problem such as having been fired or getting something current on your resume. Short-term work, like contract or temporary work fills in gaps, and makes the question, “Why did you leave your last job?” easier to answer if your last job was a short-term fixed contract.

THE ‘FIT’. Sometimes harder to judge and requiring more advanced research, knowing if you will fit in with the atmosphere and climate is often a deal-maker or breaker. If you’re honest and genuine, but the culture of the workplace seems artificial and the people self-absorbed, you may have the qualifications on paper, but it will drive you insane working in that setting. How long will really you last?

FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES. If you have a child but are separated, you may find your mobility restricted by the courts and unable to accept a job and move to another country, another state or province, or even another town. You could have ailing parents to take care of restricting your ability to work certain shifts, or even full-time.

CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS. A criminal record can be restrictive to the point where you are perfect for the job in every way, but the record alone prevents the employer from hiring you. Get the pardon process started; as long as it may seem. Better yet, don’t do the crime in the first place. People in their 40’s and 50’s are losing out on jobs for what they call, “something stupid I did in my early 20’s.” Consider being entirely honest and upfront about your past in an interview. You have nothing to lose if they’ll do a search anyhow.

VALUE MATCHING. A sure way to last a long time is to find a job where the daily work and the values held by the company match your own. This is similar to having purpose in your work, but in this case the purpose is in harmony with what you really value as a person. If you value people, working with compassion, empathy and care, etc., you’ll thrive in employment with organizations who have these same words inscribed in their literature and in their daily culture. Companies build reputations just as people do, so check out a prospective employer’s reputation.

Know that if you are taking a job without thinking it through it might not work out well at all. Good advice is to make the most of every job you undertake be it long or short-term. Three jobs from now, you may find some interviewer asks you to talk about what you found rewarding in the job you are now considering accepting.

Anticipating Letdowns

On Friday of last week, I concluded an intense two-week job finding workshop with a group of job seekers. My goodness these people were so open to new ideas and more than willing to apply the concepts I shared! And by the final day, they were extremely pleased with themselves and how much they had learned. So why then did I, in the midst of their happiness and positive energy, get serious for a moment and give them a warning about this week?

The warning you see was about this morning; the Monday following the workshop where they’d wake up and have nowhere to go. There would be no get together with the others with whom they bonded so tightly after the two weeks. No one to commiserate with, share the good fortune of getting an interview, having had a great interview, or even getting a job offer. Well kind of; they did exchange contact numbers and emails on their own, so I hope it continues.

You see what I was doing last Friday was giving the group one last gift during our time together and that was foresight based on past experience. So imagine you’re unemployed and frustrated. Now multiply your anxiety of being out of work times the number of weeks, months and years in some cases. Now to combat that frustration you get some hope in the form of a workshop to re-energize your job search in a small group. One of the unexpected bonuses you experience is the support you get from fellow participants

And then, on the Monday morning following the two weeks, you wake up full of optimism, only to realize that this morning, you have nowhere to go, nothing to be taught, no inspiration to derive from learning something new, and no smiles to greet you. The thoughts may start to creep back in that mutter, “We told you so didn’t we? Yes, still unemployed and right back where you were. We warned you didn’t we? Let’s go back to bed and just feel sorry for ourselves”.

And hence the warning. You see with some tip-off of what may come this morning, it is hoped that should those thoughts creep in, a participant can say, “Aha! I was warned about thinking this way! Well, I HAVE more job searching skills than a few weeks ago, and I AM making progress, and I DO have to CONTINUE to use these new-found skills and the results WILL be different!”

The mind is such a powerful entity. When focused, engaged and determined, it can be a force that allows one to combat and overcome odds. It can also sustain a person through rough times. On the other hand, I’ve seen the sad state of too many whom the mind has hindered and it’s tragic.

So how then to combat the negative and continue to be optimistic? The secret really is to keep momentum going. In the case of the folks I’ve been working with the last couple of weeks, I’m meeting with each one of them this week for an hour. During that time, I’ll not only give them personal feedback, but I’ll check and see that they continue the momentum we established by continuing to use the tools provided while together. And then in two weeks time, those that wish will reassemble for an hour and a half to sit together and catch up. There will be no facilitation, but rather a meeting of equals just to sit around and talk about how things are progressing, share our news etc.

If you are a participant yourself in a workshop, it’s good advice to look just beyond the workshop and ask yourself how you will sustain the momentum and use the skills learned on your own. Sometimes it’s good to get the name and contact information of someone you meet in the group, who would be willing to meet at a cafĂ©, or just accept a phone call from you from time to time. No doubt that like you, there will be others who crave inclusion rather than isolation and would benefit from contact post group work.

If you facilitate workshops, you might want to do as I have done and alert your participants to the danger of complacency following the time together and the probability of negative thoughts that can kill momentum. For momentum is really what workshops provide. The technical knowledge changes from workshop to workshop, but every workshop in my opinion that brings people together seems to really be about imparting ideas and building momentum.

It was gratifying on the last day of the workshop to have one fellow announce he’d been offered and accepted a job. Several others by the last day also had been to interviews, or have interviews yet to come. The positive energy in the group was very real, and a few cried and shook hands or hugged on the last day overcome and surprised at their own emotional outpouring. Why? Emotional engagement and sincere appreciation for what they learned and how much they had invested themselves in the anticipation of ultimately gaining work and financial independence.

When you anticipate a letdown, it can help steel yourself against falling back into past habits brought on by reverting to a crippling mindset. Be positive, remind yourself of what you’ve learned, and continue to do on your own what you began in groups you attended – this is vital.

You CAN Get Interview Questions In Advance!

While I personally look forward to job interviews, many people I help do not. Usually it’s because the job interview is viewed by them, (and perhaps you?) as a process where you get grilled causing anxiety and stress. The questions are tough, hard to prepare for because you don’t know what they’ll ask, and the questions sometimes seem like they might really be asking something deeper.

Would it help you feel less stressed if you knew the questions you were going to be asked in advance? Would this help you prepare for that meeting more effectively? I’m betting many would gladly take a peek at the questions. I’m going to advise you that you can in fact determine many of the questions ahead of time.

Okay so right off the bat you will likely get some version of, “Tell me about yourself”. This is an open-ended, unstructured question on the surface which has some saying, “Where do I start?” Think about the job requirements. If the position calls for you to work independently and be innovative, what you should answer with is that you have determined over time that you work best when counted on to work alone, and you value creativity; new ways of doing things. Then give an example to back this up from your past.

The job posting itself is where you should begin prior to the interview. The skills and qualifications the employer is looking for will likely form the basis of many of the questions asked. Even when the job posting has numerous responsibilities, you should be able to pick out the core requirements. Those core or major job functions is what the interviewer will be wanting to determine if you can handle or not. How you PROVE you can handle them is by providing EXAMPLES from your past where you in fact performed those functions elsewhere, or used those skills.

When questions start off with, “Tell me about a time when you…” or, “Describe your experience with…” the interviewer is using behavioural based questions. You’d do very well to remind yourself that the best answer you can provide is one where you share a SPECIFIC event (something you’ve accomplished) – and the more specific you get, the better. Ensure your answer is all about YOU, and YOUR achievement.

To accomplish this, an international best practice in 2014 is to use the STAR format when answering questions. It will give your answer a structure, letting you know just how much to say, and when to stop rattling on. It’s an acronym for S(situation) T(task) A(action) R(result). So you tell a story or paint a picture for the interviewer that relates a situation you’ve experienced where you were tasked to perform something where a challenge or problem required you to take action, and this action produced a positive result. Use a search engine online and key in, “STAR Interview Method” for lots of videos on the subject.

Back to the questions themselves. Suppose the job posting says you must have strong interpersonal skills and be a team player. You should come prepared then with at least three solid examples in your mind of past experiences where you worked cooperatively and productively with other people. So you can anticipate a question like, “Describe a project where you worked with others”, or “Relate a time you dealt with someone who wasn’t pulling their weight”. Demonstrating your skills by way of an example is critical.

The question, “What is your weakness?” is usually found in the interview somewhere, but it’s camouflaged these days and comes in the form of questions like, “Tell us about a time you failed and what you did”, or “How well do you know yourself?” Don’t be afraid to share an area where you need to improve because you’ll come across as devious, boastful or downright deceitful if you say you have no areas in which to improve – no weaknesses. Give an answer that demonstrates from your past where you didn’t excel immediately, share what you learned through failing, and how moving forward you’re better and more valuable because of that experience. End on a positive.

Is it likely that someone going for a Customer Service job is going to be asked questions designed to get at their previous customer service experience? absolutely. So then come prepared with strong examples that prove your customer service skills. When answering, refer the interviewer back to your resume, name the jobs you had, the companies you worked for, and again use the STAR interview format to prove you have that skill.

In the past, interviewers used to ask hypothetical questions about what you would do if faced with a situation in the future. They hired people who made up great answers in the interview, but fired just as many in short order when they couldn’t deliver. That’s why interviewers now use behaviour-based interview questions, and they are designed to probe at your past behaviour. What you’ve done in the past is likely how you’ll perform in the future. Your past experiences then are the keys to your current success in getting through the interview.

The major questions you’ll be asked are in the job posting. If you need help with this process, ask a professional job coach or Employment Counsellor in your area for guidance.

All the very best!

Miscommunication And You

You could be in trouble; big time. And it gets worse. You may or may not be able to salvage your reputation and the relationships you’re so desperately trying to forge! How could this possibly have happened?

Unfortunately I see and hear this happening all too often. What am I even talking about? I’m talking about times when people open their mouth and say something with little real thought, and their words reveal their true nature. They may at the time feel they are speaking with someone who entirely agrees with their own point of view, but in reality, their viewpoint isn’t shared. If that view is so different that it crosses a line and becomes an offensive remark or so far removed from the second person’s value system, a wedge appears in the relationship than may never be repaired.

An example would be helpful. Not long ago, I was speaking with someone I’d just been introduced to at a social gathering. I work in the field of Social Services, and this other person works in Retail, although they had yet to discover my profession. As they were talking, they spoke about the, “lazy bums on welfare who don’t work and suck the system dry”. Then the person added, “You know what I’m saying, am I right?”

What these words actually illustrate so perfectly are two common huge mistakes. One, the comment labeling an entire population of people is offensive in its own right. Two, the last bit is an attempt by the speaker to pull you on board with their point of view which they assume you share, without giving you much of an option to differ.

The comment above, and others like it, actually reveal much more about the person talking than they do about the population being referred to. And the reality is that if that person who was talking to me valued a relationship moving forward with me, it would take an incredibly long time to change my belief that their core belief’s regarding those on welfare had changed. Just saying, “Sorry ’bout that. Don’t know where it came from…let’s start again”, isn’t going to always be acceptable.

That’s an example of words, but what about your actions? One’s actions say a great deal about you as well if not more. Suppose you were to ask someone for help with your resume. Rather than doing it for you, they invested a great deal of time and effort talking with you about revisions, grammar, spelling and format. All the while you sit there nodding and appearing to be on board with their ideas. You then meet weeks later and they ask to see your revised resume. What you show them however is almost the exact same resume you had to start with, not because you objected to their ideas, but you just liked it yourself.

In this scenario, you’re more than entitled to have your own resume contain whatever you want and look however you want – your name is on the top after all! However, by failing to implement the suggestions which you sought out in the first place, and I mean any of the suggestions, what you are really communicating may be that you are stubborn, inflexible, set in your ways, resistant to new ideas, and worst of all, dismissive of the help you sought. Are you likely to get further help from the person who invested so much time before? Unlikely. So don’t complain and seem shocked when your request for additional help goes unfulfilled.

So what is miscommunication? Miscommunication is when person A sends a message to person B, but the message sent is not received by person B as person A intended.

A simple example is person A says to person B, “Let’s go out for lunch tomorrow”. Person A only intends to share a meal with person B and nothing more. Person B on the other hand, starts wondering why person A wants to have lunch with them. Are they in trouble? What does person A want to talk about? Is person A attracted to them? So person A is just interested in having lunch with someone instead of eating alone at work, but person B is unsettled and nervous and wants to find out person A’s motive before agreeing or not. Miscommunication classic.

What can you do therefore to reduce the miscommunication in your own dealings with others? Well start with sending clear messages that reduce the chance of someone misinterpreting your intentions. Next you can check to ensure that the person you are speaking with actually receive the intended message.

Rephrasing or paraphrasing what you’ve just heard someone say, gives the person a chance to either correct your understanding or acknowledge that what they said was heard by you correctly. Good examples of this are when you might hear someone say to you, “So let me see if I heard you correctly. You’re saying…” or “Just let me check that I get what you’re saying”. Whenever you hear someone say these kinds of sentences, you’re hearing a good communicator in action.

This is a professional who is taking the words you have spoken, processing the idea in their brain and making sense of them in their own way. They value what you have said so much that it is important for them to check and ensure they have your full meaning correct. They actually are inviting you to clarify your meaning if they’ve got it wrong in any way.

Finding Things To Talk About With New People

One issue that comes up all the time is stress over the looming conversation when I’m speaking with people nervous when meeting people for the first time. “I don’t know what to say. What will I talk about?”

Mentally noting a thing or two ahead of time to get the ball rolling or keep a conversation going is one thing, but a fatal error too often made is trying to play out the entire conversation in your head ahead of time. Conversations are always between two or more people, so even in a 1:1 conversation, you’re only 50% responsible for adding to it and keeping things flowing. Playing it all out in your head is robbing the other person of their 50%.

And because you are talking about sentient beings, that it to say dealing with other who have brains of their own, they will undoubtedly contribute things which will take the conversation in places you may not be able to predict ahead of time anyhow. Of course for some this is again another point of stress. I can just hear them saying, “That’s what I’m afraid of! What if I don’t know what they are talking about?!” Being worried about not knowing every something on every subject that might come up is quite unreasonable, for no one does. But I agree if you feel anxious, that feeling is entirely valid for you.

let’s see if I can’t help you reduce that anxiety by looking at some of the things you can do. To prepare for conversations, consider the purpose of the meeting. Is it a social interaction where you will be drifting around a room and meeting a variety of people like at a party? The advantage of this is situation is that you can start-up many conversations with the same content. “Hello, I’m Julie, nice to meet you. My goodness we’ve had some unusual weather of late.”

And before going further, note that I chose the topic of the weather. Weather is often brought up early in a chat because it is – important point here – a shared experience. Finding shared experiences gives you something in common with the person you are speaking with. It rains on both of you, you both experience minus 34 degrees, or you both have to be aware of floods, fires or intense heat waves. So most people will express an opinion on that subject and it’s a safe bet they’ll do so.

Shared experiences can be found by listening to the radio and hearing about news. The Olympics is in the news today for another week, and people either have no interest, some interest or great interest in it. “Are you following the Olympics at all?”, you ask, and you’ve shifted the dialogue to them. Be it the Olympics, some international conflict, a local politician, favourite sports, music, a public figure in the news, all of these are topics you may share knowledge of with others.

Now let’s say it’s a work colleague you want to know better, but don’t know what to talk about. Well again, think of the purpose of the meeting. Why do you want to speak with them? Perhaps your goal is to find out about a project, get noticed or determine their view on some matter. Knowing your goal ahead of time keeps your objective in mind and will give you the cue to wrap up a chat and depart. In this dynamic, your shared experience is the job or employer you both work for. Or if a colleague from another company, maybe you are both from similar departments, and can talk about that.

Of course shared experiences is one side of the coin and then there’s the other side; where you each have little knowledge of the other. So I’m an Employment Counsellor in Social Services working for a Municipality, and I meet a self-employed Nursery Owner who has 400 acres of trees, bushes, shrubs and other plant life. Little in common. I now have the option to open with, “I understand you’re in the Horticulture field, I don’t know much about that I’m afraid. What’s it like?” People love talking about themselves usually, but even if they are modest, they’ll appreciate your interest in them.

Remember that conversations are dynamic; that is they ebb and flow back and forth and you aren’t responsible for it entirely on your own. That other person will contribute to it as well. And like you, they may be thinking, ‘Oh I hate these things! What on earth will we talk about?!” Sometimes, but not always, this is a topic that folks with poorly developed interpersonal skills dread. It seems so easy for others, and they get mad at themselves for being so awkward or clumsy that they can actually develop poor self-esteem. If it progresses, this can in turn lead to avoiding contact with new people, eventual isolation because of it, and then depression.

Bear in mind that everyone – yes everyone – has varying degrees of ease or anxiety in different situations. Someone really good at individual conversations at work may become privately anxious at a social party. A man at a social gathering who is the life of the party may be awkward and anxious when meeting people at work.

Like any other skill, interpersonal interaction; speaking with and listening to others can be learned. And when learning a new skill, you’ll have bumps in the early stages. That makes you normal.

Commenting After Reading Blogs And Threads

Over the weekend, I happened to turn to my blog and found a comment there that perplexed me from a visitor.

The article I had written was a recent one about how people used to job search years ago and how things have changed. Now I’ve had three types of comments in the past; those who responded positively and thanked or added their thoughts, those who intentionally spammed the piece hoping to have me visit their site and get trapped into buying something, and one that had issues with the piece written.

But over the weekend I had a different kind of comment and it was from a young lady who invited me, (and had I favourably accepted it) and others to read her piece all about job searching tips. I was surprised at the complete and total lack of feedback for good or ill on the piece itself I had penned. (well keyboarded actually, but that’s so less sexy!)

And so I imagined this young lady at a gathering of people, walking up to people she didn’t know and after hearing one person talk about whatever was on their mind, start talking herself in an attempt to get the rest of the group to talk about her too. What about the person who had previously been chatting. If you are going to go up to someone who is speaking, shouldn’t you at least say SOMETHING in response to what THEY have said?

On LinkedIn, as well as individual’s blogs, company websites, Facebook and other social media, there is often a space at the end of an article for people to add their comments. The author’s of those pages, and those that design them, put them there and look to them as sources of feedback on what they wrote. Personally, I find the feedback rewarding. Rewarding not so much in a pat-on-the-back, gee you’re terrific kind of way, but in a way that confirms I’ve struck a chord with a reader, got them to pause and think, maybe go so far as to share that thought with me, or lend another opinion, or add something relevant.

And the last thought there; ‘add something relevant’ is what differentiated this young lady’s comment from others I’d previously received. It was relevant. The link I checked out was another website of job tips. Why I wondered however, would I want to visit the site and then leave a positive comment about what I’d read however?

So I wrote an email to her and suggested that when visiting someone’s blog, (and the same applies to when reading someone’s piece on LinkedIn or their Facebook post), it’s only good manners to actually write something about the actual piece you just read. To do otherwise and hurl somebody off to your own site for self-promotion is in bad form.

Imagine you walk into a meeting of the book club at the library, (a public space) where someone is just presenting their thoughts on a book, and as they finish their words, you pipe up and hand out copies of your own book without even acknowledging anything the person just said. Same thing here.

So why am I bothering to write about this today? I’ll tell you this, it is not because I’m hurt or upset. No not really, because I’m not giving her that much influence over me to start my day with annoyance. I’m writing on this piece in with the hope of possibly – just possibly mind – having her or others like her read this and think for a moment. If you take a few seconds to say something – as little as two words such as, “Nice piece”, at least there is an acknowledgement. Then if you reference your own work, it is viewed as collaboration, not self-promotion.

This is quite different from the many readers who read an article and then click away without leaving the slightest hint of their visit. Hard to know really what might trigger someone to start reading something, be interested enough to read the whole thing and then just click to something else. Could be a short attention span, not wanting to disagree and start a lengthy debate, avoid the trap of being on someone’s mailing list – who knows?

So my advice today is that if you are reading something, it’s good form and proper manners to take the briefest of moments to either ‘like’ their piece or write a reply. It’s even acceptable to do neither really because there’s so much on the internet and move on. But what should be a practice to be discontinued is to discount others at the expense of promoting oneself.

If you find yourself wanting to promote yourself at a gathering of people, one of the best things you can do is start by listening to other people, and then ask them questions, reply with positive feedback or even debate assertions they make with courtesy and respect. Taking an interest in others gets people interested in you. The same thing applies on the internet, perhaps more so.

We Who Facilitate Workshops and Presentations

Do you facilitate workshops or instruct groups of people? Do you coach others individually? And finally, have you ever caught yourself disappointed with someone because they make mistakes or errors after you’ve shared some technique or lesson?

Ah if learning was truly linear and everyone had the capacity to fully grasp everything they are taught; and this includes you and me by the way.

I had the occasion this week to start working with a fresh group of job seekers. My approach with them on a daily basis has and continues to be, that I facilitate a group instruction session at the start of a day, and again at its end. During the rest of the day, my time is spent going from person to person and providing individual help. On Tuesday of this week, I decided I’d give a refresher on the idea of targeting the resume to specific jobs, and how essential it is to first read a posting and then craft your resume to match the qualifications and skills required by the company in order to be asked to an interview.

The people I’m working on behalf this week and next are a bright group; they are truly wonderful people as individuals and I have tremendous confidence in them. It was the following day, when I sat down with one of them for the first time and reviewed his resume which by this time he had completed. Together we took a posting he was interested in and we massaged that resume to align itself with the stated needs of the employer. And all the while, working one on one, he had more and more light bulb moments.

You see what he didn’t grasp fully the first time around in a group setting, he did connect with when looking at things a second time while getting personal help. And here, although I know many of you who instruct others are equally or more qualified than myself, I want to provide a gentle reminder. Just because we share our knowledge it doesn’t mean it necessarily is learned and retained.

And it’s not because we aren’t good or even great at facilitation. No it could just be simply that a person needs to hear something more than once, and receive that information in different ways, in order for the information to be truly learned. The gratification I personally derived from those a-ha moments however was invaluable. And you know it as well as I do don’t you? Those moments when someone who really wants to learn something really does and you are there to witness it.

We all learn differently. Another participant in my group is a literal learner. Things shared verbally are heard, but in order to retain them, she often says, “Can you say that again, exactly like you just said it a moment ago?” I can sometimes, and other times I can’t say it exactly but it’s close. And close for her style of learning isn’t good enough. That’s not a problem of hers you understand, it just means she’s learning differently. Whereas I’m sharing something by way of example, and want a concept learned, she learns best by having the specific example repeated verbatim. I’m concentrating on one thing, her another, and it’s just different.

If you are new to the role of Facilitator, be aware of your own expectations and how often those in your audiences will nod their heads in apparent understanding, but will not be able to apply those ideas in practice immediately. You might find yourself frustrated and say to yourself or your colleagues, “Ugh! They just don’t get it! I taught them this and it’s like they aren’t even listening!” Sorry, but this actually says more about your style of teaching and patience than it does about your audience. And yes I’ve made this mistake too in the past.

When facilitating, it’s critical to remember people learn differently. Some folks are visual learners, and if your lesson includes slides, Prezi’s and PowerPoints, they get it. Some need to take notes, while others just sit back and absorb. Some look like they are sleeping or doodling, but they may be conceptualizing, imagining, and trying to connect the abstract to their reality.

I’d suggest you would do well to create a climate when facilitating, whereby your group is entirely comfortable and has your permission to interrupt, question, ask for the pace to be varied, points re-explained and have the patience to provide examples when you are asked for them. At the outset, it’s always a good idea to remind your audience that their fellow participants will almost always learn in different but equally valid ways. This respect for each other extends to their learning style and retention.

And selfishly, as a Facilitator, you will learn as do I with each and every group, where your teaching style can be improved. If you are consciously aware of it, you’ll discover how to reach someone with a specific learning style who previously wasn’t aware what their learning style was. You then become a better Facilitator because you adjust and connect better with your audience.

Remember therefore that when your audience has nodding heads but glazed over eyes, it may be time to pause and consider alternative methods of communicating your points. This will ultimately make you a strong Facilitator who connects with your audience!