The Words Unspoken


I’m willing to bet this has happened to you; 5 or 10 minutes after you’ve finished a conversation with someone you recall something you had planned on saying. Or perhaps you think of something insightful and knock yourself for having missed that opportunity to say it. You stop yourself in your tracks and say, “Why didn’t I think of this at the time?”

This differs from the other times when we know exactly what it is that we want to say but for whatever reason we intentionally leave unspoken. It’s also quite different from the times when we blurt out something unintended or ill-advised and we say to ourselves, “Why on earth did I say that?”

In the situations above, whether it’s words we said and wished we could take back or words we’ve left unspoken, how we feel is similar in some respects. We might feel disappointed with ourselves, and depending on the situation and what was at stake, we can be downright mad at ourselves and say things like, “Ugh! I’m so stupid! I blew it!” And what did we blow exactly? Usually it’s an opportunity of some kind and something we’d really wanted and figure has passed us by; something we had only one shot at.

Job interviews are like this for example. You apply for a job and land the interview. The more you want the job the more you tend to see this as THE job; the big one. It would be perfect in so many ways like salary, location, advancement etc. but the best part is doing what you’d be great at and therefore love the work. With all those things aligning up this job was made for you! Now with all that accumulated stuff making this the ideal fit, you’re feeling the pressure rise to be perfect.

So what happens? You go in brimming with confidence and high expectations. The first little stumble – maybe a question that caught you off guard or a momentary blank – whatever it is becomes magnified in your eyes. Suddenly you feel things slipping away; the job of your dreams moving just out of reach and so you try harder to get to together. With that increased focus you hope to get a firm grip on things and you wish you could hit the pause button and freeze time long enough to recompose yourself; maybe even hit a rewind button and answer differently something you’ve said previously.

But time marches on doesn’t it? And so, you’re shaking hands walking away, the interview completed and you’re dazed wondering, “Where did my thoughts go? I had everything I wanted to say all ready?” If you’re really fortunate of course things didn’t go nearly as badly as you imagine they did and surprise, surprise you get a call offering you a second interview or even the job itself!

However, just as often, it didn’t turn out like you’d hoped because what you didn’t get out and express was key to marketing your strengths and strong suitability for the job. Sure it’s a moment of learning – if you learn from it. If you don’t learn from it, well, it’s really just a mistake.

So how do you go about ensuring that you don’t leave words unspoken? Excellent question! How fortuitous that you should ask now BEFORE the opportunity before you slips away.

Imagine first a personal conversation you are going to have with someone about an important issue. Whether it’s talking about sex with your son or daughter, speaking with your partner about selling your home, moving mom or dad into a long-term care facility etc. Now you wouldn’t just decide to ‘wing it’ and have a spontaneous chat over a meal. That ‘chat’ is going to be nipped in the bud because they aren’t ready for what you’re springing on them, and you won’t have prepared yourself to address the important things you want to bring up.

The best scenario is to plan in advance what your arguments are and to anticipate the counter arguments so you’re prepared. Of course you have to listen attentively to respond to things you didn’t anticipate as well. Your strength going in to these discussions is the homework you did ahead of time so you’ve got your facts ready; brochures for mom or dad about the home, a budget showing the numbers if you sell your house.

So leading up to the big conversation – aka the job interview – do your homework. Write down what qualifies you; both academic and experiential. Name the qualities you possess that make you an ideal fit with the values and goals of the new employer. Ensure you have tangible examples that prove you’ve done what you claim you have done. Please do yourself a favour and be as specific as you can when relating your past experiences; don’t generalize your past good works.

Jot down a word or two that will trigger your memory if you need to do so – so that even if you blank out for a second or so in the pressure of the moment, you can look down, see that word or phrase and remember what it is that you just have to say in order to make the strongest possible case for what it is you want.

Too many people unfortunately let opportunities to say what’s most important to them slip by and we don’t always get 2nd chances.

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