Extreme Anxiety And Meeting People


Whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, content in your role at work or looking to make a change, you’ll find that having positive, working relationships with others can open opportunities which you’d otherwise miss. For many of us, establishing relationships with others is easily done, as is maintaining and growing those relationships.

On the other hand, there are a great many for whom the idea of striking up a relationship with someone they don’t know is stressful. They’re fraught with anxiety about what to say, how to get started, wondering what to talk about and how to keep a conversation going, knowing when and how to end it and move to another etc. Just thinking about talking, communicating, listening, smiling, interacting and – ah, it’s just so exhausting!

Whoa…let’s take a few deep breaths, relax and start slow. The thing about communicating with others is that it seems incredibly simple when we look around us and see people engaged in conversations. It is after all, just talking, listening to the other person, responding, listening again; an exchange of both hearing what is being said and responding. It all seems so effortless and easy.

If you wonder why some find it so hard to do, think back to a time in your life when you were trying to get up the courage to speak to someone you had some strong feelings for. Perhaps you wanted to ask them out on a date, find out if they felt the same way about you that you felt about them. Just asking them straight out however – while the most obvious way to get the information you’re looking for, was not how you went about it. You worked up the courage to approach them and made some small talk, dancing all around what you really wanted until the time seemed right to bring up the topic of a date, grabbing a beverage etc. Remember that anxiety? Remember the angst of wondering why talking to THIS person seemed so much more effort even though your motivation was high?

Well, now imagine how intense and on edge a person might feel if they experienced the same level of anxiety at the prospect of starting a conversation with just about everyone they come into contact with. Feeling such pressure and stress with respect to engaging in conversations with people throughout your day would be exhausting. And these are what many of us might consider every day commonplace conversations we’re talking about here. Now, if we throw in the odd conversation where there’s more on the line, such as a job interview, professionally networking, approaching a Receptionist at a company we’d like to work with etc., you can see how that anxiety is ramped up tremendously. What’s hard anyways just got a whole lot tougher.

Like I said, take a moment and breathe deeply. In and out; inhale, exhale. Again.

Okay, so let’s talk – you read, I’ll write. This conversing thing is a skill like any other and some do it better than others. It’s not a fault of yours if it doesn’t come easy. Let’s look at these conversations and how to get started.

First of all, it might be best to practice interacting with others with a short conversation in mind, and one we can walk away from at any point without being too awkward. You don’t want to practice on an important conversation. Let’s even suppose we don’t have a friend to practice with.

Can I suggest you start with a quick conversation – just for practice – and we then build on our growing confidence over time to longer conversations. One possible place to start is a convenience store. You can look through the window and pick a time when the person there is by themselves. Where you’d normally go in, get your item, pay for it and leave fast, this time your objective is to actually say something. It will be brief, it will be over fast and you can leave, get outside, breath and recover.

Okay, so picture the interaction before you enter. Not the way it’s gone before but like this. You walk in, get what you want and approach the counter. Place your item on the counter and say, “Hi”. As an employee they might ask you if you want a lottery ticket or if you found everything you wanted; every store is similar but different. Think about what they said and say, “No thank you, just this.” If you can, look at them while you say it, give them your money, get your change and leave. Add a goodbye if you want.

This is extremely basic for many people but a anxiety-filled interaction for others. If you can put a series of these short exchanges together with people you don’t know, you are laying a foundation for interacting with others when there is more at stake. Returning to the same employee on different days will help you feel more comfortable too, and you will have days when you things go well and maybe a day or two where you feel you haven’t made progress. That’s to be expected when trying to overcome a challenge.

You may want to try other brief encounters such as saying good morning to a Bus Driver, wishing a Bank Teller a nice day or just looking at someone you pass on the street in the eyes without saying a word. Small steps.

Job Advice: Less Computer Time


Sitting in front of a computer screen for days or weeks on end, searching job postings and applying for the occasional one with your standard resume is not the best way to go about looking for work. It’s not that looking for jobs online and applying for the odd one here and there isn’t a good activity, it’s just there’s so much more you could and should be doing to find work.

I’ve come to believe from the many conversations I’ve had with job seekers, that many do sit for hours each day, scanning their favourite job posting websites. There’s a certain irony that while they wonder why their job search isn’t successful, they keep returning to this daily routine, repeating the same behaviour that isn’t generating results. Not only is this hard to understand therefore, there are real dangers to be aware of if you’ve fallen into this pattern of behaviour.

One key danger is the solitary nature of the online job search. When it’s you and a computer screen for hours, day after day, week after week, your human interaction is restricted. About the best you can expect is a computer-generated, auto-reply from employers confirming receipt of your resume. Well, and there’s the also the computer-generated pop ups that suggest you upload your resume to the job search website so you can be notified of jobs matching your recent searches.

This lack of human interaction can prohibit the development of your people skills; and it’s these interpersonal skills that are so vitally important when you find yourself taking a phone call or being granted an interview. A prolonged job search when you only go about it 2 feet away from a computer monitor also means you have to be fairly sedentary. In other words, you’re not as physically active as is healthy. This is even more the case if, when you do set aside the computer, you pick up the remote and sit for a few more hours watching television,  troll the internet or playing a video game etc.

Eroding your people skills through lack of use can and often does increase your anxiety when you do get into situations requiring social skills. Your lack of practice might even develop quickly into panic attacks, and you’re left thinking, “When and how did I suddenly find just talking to people so nerve-wracking?”

One odd reality I’ve noticed is that today more people carry a cell phone with them than ever before. Yet, the functionality of the phone feature is not one they often use. The device is used far more for texting, using apps to interact with others by tapping on ‘like’ buttons or using handy pop up auto-generated prompts so you don’t even have to think about what to say anymore, just tap one of the word bites offered up.

Ask a job seeker to make a call to a potential employer, a reference, a contact in their network and often the reply is, “I don’t really like talking on the phone.” Unless pushed, many will do their best to put off phoning anyone but a friend. An email is far preferable than potentially talking to the same person live on the phone.

This skill of communicating effectively in a dialogue was originally thought of as being enhanced when our world shrunk with the wide-spread use of personal computers, cell phones. Some of the most prolific communicators on the web are in fact largely one-way communicators when you stop and realize much of their presence is in sending out blogs, posts and carefully edited articles. Their thousands of followers may comment and reply to comments by other followers, but real dialogue between the follower and the originator of the post is scant at best, and often non-existent.

Now to you. When did you last get out and go talk in person with someone in an effort to gather more information that would help you eventually land an interview or job? You know, dropping by a potential employer to pick up a full job description, a quarterly or annual report? When was the last time you introduced yourself to a stranger and initiated your pitch? If it’s been a while, does the prospect intimidate you? How then are you going to fare when you do land the interview you’ve been hoping for? My guess is that those dormant people skills are going to be rusty at best and you’ll wish (too late unfortunately), things went better than they did.

Pick up the phone and make some calls. What’s the worse that can happen? Cold calling is more than just phoning to see if someone is hiring. Talk with the people who have agreed to be your references. Tell them how you’re faring, and how you genuinely appreciate their support. Maybe ask if they have any leads, offer to buy them a beverage and catch up for 15 minutes during their work day.

Call someone who does what you want to do and ask for a 20 minute chat to better understand their role from the inside. Get advice on how to get in, ask them about their job and what they find interesting and rewarding. Get into a few workshops or networking events to mingle and practice conversing.

A lot of jobs are never even posted on the web – anywhere on the web. They have fewer applicants too because of it.

Eventually, You HAVE To Talk To People


Typically you’ll find I go out of my way to help people cut their anxieties when it comes to the job search process. The title of today’s blog however, has likely raised the stress meter for a few people who struggle with holding conversations.

Yes, there are a lot of people who have difficulty interacting with others; which ramps up even higher than normal when the conversation is expected to be a lengthy one and about them personally. “I don’t like talking about myself”, is a common opening statement I hear often with people who find the interviews and conversations associated with looking for work to be so intimidating.

Now some are great at texting and email. Here at a keyboard, they are more at ease communicating. If they had their way, they’d apply for jobs and be hired based on the qualifications and skills highlighted in their resumes without having to go through the in-person interview.  While some of these types are looking for jobs where they have extremely little interaction with other employees and the public, there are others who will do well once they get hired, become familiar with their new settings and co-workers, and only then do they communicate easier.

Can you feel empathy for such people? I mean, it’s hard to fully grasp what it must be like to have such an acute anxiety about talking to others. Most people I know find job interviews stressful, but job interviews aren’t something we go through every single day of our lives. Face-to-face conversations on the other hand, well, most of us have these many time a day, each and every day. Constantly being in a state of anxiety and heightened stress has to be taxing on both the mind and the body.

Every now and then I’ll hear from someone who was so debilitated on a given day with the fear of being in a conversation that they skipped their job interview altogether. Even though they both want a job and need the income, the barrier of talking to someone they don’t know for 45 minutes to an hour where they are expected to do a lot of the talking just became greater than the desired outcome; a job offer.

It’s not unheard of for some of these people to become physically ill and throw up before job interviews. Their stomachs are churn, their skin becomes tingly and they sweat heavily. The palms get clammy and simple things like eye contact and saying, “Hello” become major challenges.

There is no quick fix I could pass on here in a blog. However, there are some ideas and strategies that tend to help which I can recommend. For starters it can help to look at a job and deconstruct the interaction you’ll have with others. For example, you might balk at the idea of being a Cashier. All those people lining up to interact with you all day long! However, when you break things down, much of your conversation with any one of them will likely be a brief greeting, asking if they want a bag for their purchases, and telling them the total due. Many customers aren’t going to expect or really want much more than that. So while you might be meeting people all day, you’ll only have short, scripted conversations with any one of them.

Looking at a factory job or on an assembly line, your interactions are likely to be restricted to those on your immediate team and perhaps the Security Guard who lets you in and says goodbye to you on your way out. Focus on your work and you might find you fit in rather well, even though there are people around you who are busy doing their jobs.

It can also help sometimes to clue others in to your anxiety. Telling an interviewer that you’ve come to realize that your best work is done independently, and that you like to keep to yourself doesn’t mean you’ll always get shown the door. There are many jobs where the most desirable employee is one who can focus on their work and go for extended periods without the distraction of conversing with others.

Thinking of the above, it raises the important point of making sure you’re going for the right kind of fit when looking for work. This isn’t true just for those with conversation anxieties, but for everybody. In this case, you may do well in a job where you control your surroundings. Take the Potter working with clay in a workshop, a farmer working in a vast field, a Conservationist working in a forest, a Fish and Wildlife Biologist working in a wetlands.

Just walk down any street these days and you see people with ear buds listening to music or podcasts who in so doing, shut out others around them and send the message that they don’t wish to be disturbed. Technology might be tolerated or even encouraged in some jobs if it helps you do your work better.

Of course, sooner of later you do have to talk to people; we all do. One thing to try is short conversations in small doses, where over time you increase your confidence and reduce your fears. Little things like saying, ”hello” to people you pass on the street instead of silently walking by. It might not sound like much, but it’s a small step.

Networking: Get The Conversations Started


Network they say; meet some people, reach out and start a conversation.

What would I talk about? How would I begin? Why would they want to talk with me? Who would I start with? How do I network? Where do I go to meet the people I should be talking to? When is the best time to get networking?

Whoa hold on a second! Good questions! In fact these are the typical questions many people ask when the subject of networking comes up. The word networking has been around for some time but even longer is the activity itself. People have done it for thousands of years – maybe you yourself – without even knowing you were. So it’s peculiar in a way that when someone says, “You should network more”, a lot of people roll their eyes, sigh the big sigh and then say they don’t really know how to network. It’s like upon hearing the word, ‘network’, they focus on the last syllable only; ‘work’.  And don’t we all just love that!

If networking is all about having conversations with people you share some common interests with, then you’d think this should be relatively easy. If for example you’re a model train enthusiast and there’s a model show coming to your community, you could plan on attending and strike up some conversations with others in attendance with your common love of trains as the subject. That doesn’t sound too difficult. They might share information you don’t know, introduce you to some new product line or better yet, introduce you to another person with whom you could start a conversation with, and voilà, your network has grown by one.

It’s important to understand that networking isn’t only about what you could get out of a conversation. True networking is also what you can add to the other person’s knowledge. In other words, while it may be obvious what you could get from the person, what have you got to offer in return? What’s in it for them to have a chat with you?

This is where many people fail to network effectively and for two reasons: 1) they don’t know what they have to offer and 2) they may not be good at what we refer to as schmoozing. Schmoozing? You know, chit-chat, hobnobbing, chatting, conversing, making small talk. Just the thought of it can give some folks anxiety and force a retreat.

Hold on though. Remember in that model train show scenario? There’s your common interest. You’ve got a ready-made topic of conversation and it’s a safe bet that striking up a talk with someone about trains will get the conversation going. You don’t need – nor should you – plan the entire conversation out ahead of time. The other person will add their own thoughts to the talk and it may go in a direction other than what you had planned ahead of time based on their interests too.

What’s good to have ahead of time is a goal for your talk. Are you wondering how you might get involved as an Exhibitor the next time the show chugs into town, are you after a hard to find caboose, looking for a job as an Event Organizer etc. Sometimes you can just come right out and be direct, get your answer and move on. Other times, you’d be better to start the dialogue, set up a relationship first, and then proceed to see if there is anything you can give to the other enthusiast. Maybe you know someone with a large collection of trains who came about theirs through an inheritance, and they want to unload them.

Once you’ve established a conversation, you will likely feel much more comfortable getting around to what you’re really after. By delaying your real motive until you’ve talked a bit, you may be surprised to find that the other person is more receptive to helping you out than they would have had you just walked up and said, “I’m looking for a job as an Event Organizer. Hiring?” Far too direct, too much all about you and your needs and there’s no real reason for the other person to feel in any way connected to you to help you out.

When it comes to moving ahead with your job search, career advancement, employment exploration and your career journey the advice is the same. It might not seem initially very productive, but having conversations with a variety of people is an excellent way to go about this process. When introducing yourself, look for the common point of interest. Check out their online profile if you don’t know them, look for causes they care about, positions they’ve held, companies they’ve worked for. Your looking for an opening; one thing you could use to get the conversation going.

When a conversation starts it may not always move the way you anticipated. There may be times you get nowhere or you could hit the jackpot and start a long-term relationship built on your opening remarks that makes a good impression on the other person. More often than not, you won’t be best friends, but you could very well help each other out, give and take information and find your relationship becomes mutually beneficial.

Don’t start your conversation with, “Hiring?” This is only about you; you’re direct but offer no reason for them to help you out. Maybe, “I see we both have a passion for trains.”

 

Not A ‘People’ Person?


The gift of gab,  a born charmer, a real people person; some people are described this way. Whether they are surrounded by friends, co-workers or being introduced to others for the first time, they just have a natural ease with engaging themselves in conversations. They make it look so easy and for them, well…it is.

However for many, it’s a struggle to mix and mingle with others. When preparing to go anywhere where a gathering of people is expected their anxiety rises. For some reason, very competent individuals who have particular talents and expertise may have poorly developed interpersonal skills. The lack of these skills, or their under-development could adversely affect an individual’s ability to meet the right people or impress them enough when they do meet them to be considered for promotions or special projects as they arise.

If you are the kind of person as described above, you may desperately wish you had better people skills but have a greater fear of what it will take to improve in this area. Like it is with anything you wish to improve or learn, it does take some effort; and you may have some setbacks along the way where things don’t go smoothly. Don’t give up trying though; the payoff is increased self-confidence and a comfort level you don’t currently have in both social and professional situations.

Let’s look at a few things you could do. For starters, when you’re about to meet people for the first time, remind yourself that they don’t know you until you are introduced. Therefore, they don’t know the lack of comfort you are experiencing either. For all they know, you may be quite comfortable and at ease with holding your own in a conversation. Use this to your advantage.

Planning on keeping conversations short with any one person is another way to go about gaining some assertiveness by building on small successes. If you envision meeting someone and having a 10 minute one-to-one chat, the anxiety you could work up fretting about how to fill a 10 minute conversation may stop you before you even say hello. So reframe that conversation into a polite but short introduction.

One thing it is very important not to overlook is that a conversation is a two-way exchange. You are only 50% responsible for the dialogue and don’t have to talk the entire time. Some people make this mistake; do all the talking and exhaust both themselves and the person listening as they move from topic to topic until they are out of things to talk about. While it may appear to you as an onlooker that this kind of person has great people skills, in fact they don’t. They are talking for the sake of hearing themselves and not really engaging in true conversation.

This brings us to listening skills. Whomever it is you are going to chat with provides you with both words to listen to and thoughts to respond to. Listening attentively to whatever someone else is saying gives you things to consider and then respond to. You can’t anticipate and plan what to say until the other person gives you the information to respond to. Overly anxious and nervous people are often so busy thinking of what to say next they fail to pay attention to what the other person is talking about.

Take a deep breath or two and slow down the pace of the words coming out of your mouth. When we get anxious or nervous, or even excitable, there can be a tendency to speak quicker, making our voice tremble and the words harder to understand. Slow things down, speak clearly and you may find you engage more with the conversation as it ebbs and flows back and forth.

Asking open-ended questions of those you meet rather than yes/no questions is also helpful in shifting what to say to the other people you are chatting with. Just one or two of these questions is enough to get things started and then as mentioned above, you can demonstrate your listening skills by responding to what you hear.

Can you really ever become comfortable; really comfortable engaging in conversation with others if you’re not a people person? Like any skill, interpersonal skills can be improved upon. If you are expecting however to change your entire personality; going from say an introvert to an extrovert, not only is this probably not going to happen, you shouldn’t feel compelled to have to. Many people who are naturally shy or introverted can and do have sufficient people skills to engage with those around them.

It is not necessary that you transform into a naturally gifted public speaker or the life of the party. Turn down the pressure you perceive to be that kind of person. You are best to be true to yourself; be authentic and just work to develop in this area as someone else might work on areas they too wish to improve in.

Consider starting with people you meet in brief moments throughout your day. Be it the Bus Driver, a Server, a Cashier at the grocery store; a short conversation and a smile in these situations can give you the confidence you need to engage with others. Remind yourself too of what’s the worse that could happen with that store Cashier? You leave.

Interpersonal skills; people skills; worth paying attention to and developing.

 

 

 

 

Get Yourself A Counsellor


Today I’d like to make a case for seeking out professional counselling help; and with an opening like this, it’s more than possible I’ve already lost a significant number of readers. Why? I feel it’s because some readers may not want to read about the topic as it would force them to think of their own challenges. Other readers will feel they’ve got no issues to share; and certainly not with a Mental Health Counsellor. Then there’s the stigma isn’t there; some readers wouldn’t want someone to walk by and catch them reading an article urging people to visit a Counsellor. In short, people have various reasons for not seeing or speaking with a Counsellor to unload.

If you’re still reading, I congratulate you and I thank you. I thank you not so much for reading my piece, but more for reading what may be helpful to you. It could be that this is the piece that gets you thinking for the first time about seeing a Counsellor, or perhaps this is the piece that finally gets you to take action after having thought about it and read about it for a long time. Either way or for any other reason, thanks for reading on.

First of all, I’m not a Mental Health Counsellor; I’m an Employment Counsellor so I’m not drumming up business for myself. Whereas I help guide people to finding employment, a Mental Health, Family or Individual Counsellor provides help to those who are experiencing a wide range of issues that keep them from moving forward; who struggle dealing with things arising from everyday living.

If you feel weighed down dealing with what’s on your mind; you find it increasingly difficult to fit in when it comes to family, work or social situations or you’re just not coping with things the way you once did, it might be a good idea to speak with someone and work through things so you can get on with life and enjoy things as you perhaps once did.

Counselling is confidential and that’s an important thing to know and remember. When you share what’s on your mind, what you talk about goes nowhere beyond you and the Counsellor. If you decide what you’re sharing should in fact be shared with someone else in whole or in part, you make that call. Ethically, morally and contractually, Counsellors don’t tell others what you say, so the more you open up, the more they can help. You can start by sharing the smaller stuff on your mind or delve right into the major things that you’re trying to cope with.

You may imagine as you go about your day that you alone have somehow come to the point where you’ve got more than your share of problems. How did it get to this point? Why does everyone I talk to seem to have it together except me? What did I do to deserve this? Why only me? Why can’t I handle things anymore? Why am I so sad all the time or suddenly start crying for no apparent reason?

These questions – and many more like them – are examples of the kind of questions other people are asking of themselves; questions you may believe you alone are struggling to answer. You’re not alone in asking these however, you’re surrounded by people throughout your day that may be thinking and asking themselves the exact same things. As you look at other people and think to yourself, “not them”, they might be surprised to learn of your struggling too.

Still reading? Good. If you decide to give a Counsellor a try, you should know you can seek out a male or female Counsellor. Depending on what you want to talk about, you might be best with a specialist such as an Addictions Counsellor, or you might look for a Mental Health Counsellor and see if they recommend someone highly trained in what you disclose or meet with you on an ongoing basis.

One thing you should definitely know is that the stigma about seeing a Counsellor has changed and continues to change. While there will always be naysayers who look down on people who see a Counsellor, more and more people have come to view those who seek out support and help  from a Counsellor as courageous, strong and wise. It’s true! When you need your brakes looked at you go to a professional; if you suspect you’ve got a cavity, you see a professional. Seeing a Counsellor to regain and improve your mental health and talk about things that are troubling you is no different.

So how long does it take and how much will it cost? Good questions. It takes as long as it takes because you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to counselling services. You’ll know when you’re once again comfortable and able to deal with things alone. As for cost, these services could actually be entirely free. Many organizations have counselling fees and services built right into their benefit plans. If you’re on social assistance and money is an issue, you should consider asking for the availability of counselling from the person you interact with there. Finally, if you do pay for services, view this as an investment in yourself the way you would anything else you do to feel good.

Counselling may be what you need both personally and professionally to get or hold onto employment.

“Um, Ah, If I Wrote Like I Talk, Then Like, Ah…”


Can you imagine how painful it would if we had to communicate in writing the words we actually speak? Come to think of it, this might be precisely how educators go about transforming the horrendous language skills some people have.

I was conducting a mock interview not long ago with a person who was pretty sure their interview skills were top-notch. While they had great content to share from their present and past to prove they had the experience to compete for employment, what they also had was a constant use of the words, ‘like’, ‘um’ and ‘ah’. At one point, I actually realized I had shifted from evaluating the strength of their answer to counting the number of times they used these three words.

So why do people consciously or unconsciously overuse these words? I believe the words, ‘um’ and ‘ah’ are used most often to hold the speakers place in the conversation, while their brain accesses memory files and arranges their thoughts in a meaningful way so that when the spoken words are uttered, it sounds coherent. It’s as if the person is saying, “I’ve got something else I want to add, just give me a moment to organize things in the way I want to share them; here it comes…right, I’m ready.”

Every now and then this kind of behaviour creates for the speaker a real unexpected problem. The overuse of, ‘um’ and ‘ah’ can cause a person to finish a thought and then the mouth almost instinctively throws in one last, ‘um’. The listener’s interest is piqued as the speaker has something further to add, so they themselves go silent and wait with anticipation to whatever is about to be said. The problem? The speaker who uttered the dreaded ‘um’ has nothing further to add whatsoever, and so lamely says something like, “Ah, it’s okay.”

What I find most interesting myself as someone who is often on the receiving end, is that the speakers either know they have this habit as others have mentioned it to them, or they are completely oblivious to this habit. They may say therefore, “I know, I know it’s a bad habit; everybody tells me!” Or they say, “Really? Wow! I had no idea!”

Here’s the thing about your language skills: you communicate much more than words alone. When you listen to someone, words combine with tone, body language, voice intensity, vocabulary, facial expression, eye contact etc.; all of which strengthen or detract from the content of the message you are delivering. If for example someone says, “Help me please, I’m desperate” and has a strained expression, their words are barely audible but intense and their eyes a wide and fixed on ours, – we do not doubt their plea. However, were they to say, “Help me please, I’m desperate” while shrugging their shoulders, grinning ear to ear and the words uttered in a mocked tone, then we might be left with an impression they aren’t really serious.

It’s the same when we overuse the word, ‘like’. “Could you like, help me, ’cause like, I’m – you know – like, desperate.” Is the visualization in your head right now of the person uttering this sentence a young, poorly educated female? If I told you it was really a university educated senior management person in the commodities sector would that image seem genuine? No probably not. So how we communicate does conjure up things we associate with people who talk a certain way.

Therefore others who hear us make assumptions about our education level, our professionalism, our income level, our intelligence; all from our vocabulary. Lest you think that it is wrong of people to make all these assumptions and judge you based on these alone, don’t exclude yourself from judging others based on the same criteria. As we listen to others speak, our minds take in all this data and access past memories and experiences we have had dealing with others who have appeared to us to be similar. In a matter of seconds, we think, slang = casual, overuse of ‘like’ = valley girl, overuse of ‘um’ and ‘ah’ = slow thinker. Of course these associations might not match your own experience, but they might match other people; people who are interviewing you for a job, or deciding whether or not they can help you in some way.

One way to change how you are perceived if you wish to do so in the first place of course, is to simply pause and be silent instead of using the dreaded, ‘um’ or ‘ah’. Silence is actually very effective when used in speech as it shows you are reflective.

If something is similar to something else, by all means say that this thing is like that thing in a comparative sense. However saying, “This apple is like amazing!” isn’t any more effective than just saying, “This apple is amazing!” The word, ‘like’ in this sense is unnecessary and inappropriate. Do yourself a favour and stop overusing it and using it in the wrong context.

The wonderful thing about your language skills is that unlike so many barriers to employment or promotions is language is entirely within your control to use and improve. Not only should you choose your words wisely, you can improve your skills in this area as you can with any other skill.

Then, you’d be like, totally amazing.

As A Client, How Do YOU View Meetings?


I am fortunate to count among my readers a broad cross-section of professionals, some unemployed and looking, or in school preparing to launch themselves into the field of their studies.

My appeal in this post is to actually speak directly to you who are clients receiving some kind of support and guidance, where you are sometimes told or asked to meet with a representative of an organization. This kind of meeting may be mandatory or optional, and you may look forward to it while others might see it as an intrusion; the price you pay for financial, spiritual or social support.

These meetings are wonderful opportunities for you to take advantage of. While the person you are meeting with might have their own agenda, such as updating your computer file every few months, you should recognize this as a chance for you to ask some questions of your own, find out what more the person you are meeting might be able to offer you or possibly help you do for yourself.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who come to such meetings without having done much thinking about its purpose; who sit in chairs provided, answer all the questions put to them, then get up and leave not having really engaged themselves in the process. What a shame!

As an Employment Counsellor, I often meet with clients 1:1 following various employment-related workshops I facilitate. This is a great time to give a person feedback on what I’ve observed, listen to the person talk about their goals for employment or schooling, and based on what I hear offer some suggestions. If however, it turns out that the person I’m meeting with limits themselves to short responses to questions I ask, asks no questions of their own, that meeting is going to be short and unproductive.

You see, you might want to get out of such meetings as fast as you can; viewing such face-to-face encounters as a wasted part of your day, having to travel there and back home, and for what? Just to go over the same old questions and give the same old answers? If that’s how you see things, then I guess you can be forgiven for not wanting to be there in the first place.

However, I wish that you could be a silent observer and watch some other clients in the same position as you as they go through the same meeting process with the same employee. You see, these folks come in willing to participate in the discussion; they want the opportunity to share what’s going on in their personal lives. This information is often valuable to the person listening; as a trained professional will be able to figure out what services, training opportunities or even what money might be available to help the person achieve their goals based on what they’ve shared.

So for example, if someone wanted to look for a job waiting on tables and serving alcohol but couldn’t afford the money to get the training in responsible alcohol service, the person hosting the meeting might have the funds to release so they could get the training, or know where to access it. If however the client says nothing, no help can be suggested, and the person’s goal is still only a wish.

Just yesterday I had two meetings I’d like to contrast as examples. One meeting was with a mature man who knows the construction industry. Being around 50, he sees himself working for 10 – 15 years but is trying to figure out what to do as he only knows construction and the body is making it harder to continue doing labour. So we addressed some options and he left with a plan.

The 2nd client showed up with her grandson and really just saw the meeting as a ‘where do I sign the required forms’ session. She was very nice, but there was no meaningful conversation to be had when the young pre-schooler was present and so actively robbing us both of a productive discussion. Was that her plan? I doubt it, but the entire meeting was less than 10 minutes. The conversation with the man? It lasted just over an hour, and he was surprised it went by so fast.

These are the chances and opportunities which you only get so often. How you view that meeting you must or could attend largely affects the outcome and whether you walk away feeling it was productive or not. I would encourage you to share your thoughts, your ideas, your problems and challenges. Be open and honest, listen to feedback and if you feel yourself being dismissed earlier than you’d like, arrange another meeting, or ask for more time. Some of my best discussions with clients actually happen when the client emails me ahead of time with questions they’d like answers to at our meeting, or things they’d like to discuss. That’s great! I’m always impressed and our time is much more valuable.

Truth is, this is YOUR meeting. You should take advantage of it. Will it be just a formality so you can go on with the day or will you really get involved in YOUR plan moving forward.

Now I really believe that as an adult, you are responsible for your own actions. You can choose your level of engagement or separation from the process, just understand the opportunities before you and the consequences of each choice.

Conversations With Young Adults


If I were in the position of being a Professor in a University or College, or if I found myself commanding the attention of any young people in fact, I’d tell them that above all the other skills they could master, communicating effectively through conversation would top my list.

The stereotypical young person is pretty savvy with most forms of electronic devices; they use cellphones with ease, have I-pods and or I-pads, tweet their friends, and are knowledgeable when it comes to using various apps. However, put away the electronics, turn off the phones and start a real conversation and often a weakness arises.

Now to be fair, what I’m saying doesn’t apply to every young adult I know. But with some, once past the surface issues such as the weather, health, recent school performance and known personal interests, I’ve observed a lack of comfort engaging in meaningful conversation. I can read the expression on their faces as they blankly look off to the left or right, the tight forced smiles which come as they strive to survive a conversation as if they are being interrogated.

Maybe it’s the intimidation factor of being young and talking with older people in general. Is it having a lack of things to talk about or not knowing what to share or ask? I do give young people credit for being information smart. Once a topic is introduced that they have discussed in school for example, they can readily give you their own take on what was presented and what they think of it. In fact, these moments wash over them like a wave of relief when they can share what they know.

Conversation fundamentally is a two-way interaction. If one person is doing most or all of the answering and one is doing most or all of the questioning, it’s trying on both people; the one to keep coming up with questions and the other to keep answering. There are some things one can do to improve the flow of conversation.

For starters, create an atmosphere or environment where questions and conversation in general is encouraged and safe. If you were hosting a University placement student, you’d do well to introduce them to everyone, and to have told everyone prior to their arrival who they are and to have encouraged everyone to welcome them and make them feel comfortable. It’s hard enough on anyone when you meet many people at once. Having one person specifically prepared to play host also gives the student someone to adhere to and look for support and guidance from.

As a young adult, it’s also good practice to keep up on some current affairs in the news. Being ‘in the know’ about some major news story can readily give you the feeling of inclusion; you’re able to participate from a position of knowledge in a conversation. If you don’t know what’s being discussed, you are again in the position of being informed or taught, and that separates you again from those around you.

Sometimes when I’m sitting with young adults in my workplace, I’ll ask them a question such as, “What would you like to ask me? – no question is too bold or off the table.” This allows them to ask anything, go anywhere, and because the invitation has been extended, the conversation begins. Sometimes it’s a tried and true, rehearsed kind of question like, “How did you get started?” Fair enough. Their young, I was once young and in their shoes, wondering at that time how to get started myself. Be prepared to answer or volunteer this information for a young person.

People generally like to talk about themselves, what interests them and share things they find interesting. One thing a young person can do – all of us in fact – is consciously make an effort to ask about the person we are talking with. If you turn all your conversations back to you and how you are doing, what you are feeling and what you hope to do etc., that gets tiring real fast. It’s important to ask about others, how they are doing, feeling and what they are up to.

You can and should practice just talking. Get beyond one syllable answers and really engage in conversation. Every parent can probably identify with the teen/young adult where the conversation goes like this:
“Did you have a nice day today?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Learn anything new?”
“Not really.”
“How are things generally?”
“Fine. I’m going to my room.”

Come to think of it, we can probably remember being on the other end of that conversation too if we are old enough. That wasn’t so much a conversation as it was a mandatory daily interrogation where both parties go through the motions; the parent struggling to engage, the teen or young adult seeking to disengage at the first opportunity without being overtly rude. Neither leaves feeling entirely satisfied.

The world of work demands verbal communication skills. Few people can just turn the art of being a true conversationalist at will like a light switch. You’re going to need to speak with co-workers, clients, customers, your boss, folks in other departments, on the phone, in-person. People skills take time to truly master and the sooner you start, the more you enhance the skill – as with any skill.

Love to hear your thoughts on this.

Who Can I Network With?


Networking; everybody promotes it these days as something people looking for work or looking to advance in their work should do. “But how do I get going? What do I say? I don’t even know what networking really is in the first place!”

Networking is having conversations with people about topics that go beyond the original reason for speaking. By way of example, you go in and buy a hammer at the hardware store and talk about two or three different styles before buying one. Essentially the clerk interviewed you to determine what your needs are, but then the sale was made and you walked out. No networking happened even though you talked to each other. Now you go back and buy a tape measure. Again he asks a few things:

“What do you need it for and how long?”
“I’m helping a neighbour frame his basement and 45′ should do it.”
“Done this kind of thing before or first time?”
“Oh yes. I’m a framer by trade; looking for full-time work actually, having recently moved to this area.”
“I might know a guy. Many contractors buy their supplies here. You should leave me your name and number.”
“I’ll do better than that. I’m just a few doors down, I’ll bring you back a resume to pass on if that’s okay.”
“Sure thing. My name is Nick. You ask for me.”

The original reason for the conversation was to buy a tape measure but you can see the conversation expanded and soon it had moved beyond a tape measure and the opportunity to talk about work and job searching was seized. Networking; a conversation where the topic went beyond the original reason for speaking.

Fair enough but who to network with? Could I suggest the answer is everybody? One of my co-workers shared a tool she came across some time ago. It’s called a FRANK list. Under each of the 5 letters in the word, “FRANK” there is a column for you to write down people you know who are a good fit in the column. ‘F’ is for Friends, ‘R’ is for Relatives, ‘A is for Acquaintances, ‘N’ is for Neighbours, and the ‘K’ is for Kids.

For the purposes of this exercise, you would write down everyone you know who should fall into one of the categories. Your Dentist, the Dental Receptionist, the Bus Driver on your route, he kid who delivers the papers, the guy at the hardware store, your mom and dad, former teachers, the neighbour two units down, EVERYBODY. At this stage what you don’t do, is mentally rule out people you know but don’t want to talk to. So yes, your ex-spouse goes down, the brother you don’t talk to, the guy who picks up your garbage etc. This is a brainstorming exercise after all at this point.

Now the natural instinct when you are out of work is to tell as few people as necessary. We don’t want our shame or unemployed status to be shared with everyone out of a sense of personal pride, but the second we get a job, we’ll be telling everyone the good news! How ironic. Ironic? Why is that ironic? It’ ironic because right now would actually be the ideal time to tell all those people we’re looking for work and put our resume in all those people’s hands! In other words, because we never know exactly where our next job will come from, it could very well come directly or indirectly from one of the people we currently know. If they don’t know we are even looking for work or what work we are looking for, how could they possibly think of us when opportunities arise that they hear of?

Now in the case of the paper boy who I mentioned earlier, ‘kids’ is the final column and I want to clarify how that column works. Don’t think for a minute I’m going to take my newspaper with my left hand and with my right hand give him my resume and say, “Hey kid, know anyone who’s hiring a Framer?” That’s funny.

Here’s what I did just two weeks ago however. I actually came home just in time to catch the new newspaper boy walking up my driveway with the paper. He introduced himself as Jack, and Jack’s mom was pulling the wagon as she walked him around on his initial delivery route. After saying hello to Jack and showing him where I’d like him to put my paper, I walked down the driveway, introduced myself to his mom, and found out they live a block over from me. Then I pulled out a business card of mine and handed it to her. Jack came and got the next paper and walked to the next house while we too chatted about what she did and my job.

Now just imagine that scene if I was looking for work. I’d be seizing that chance to tell the woman what I was looking for in terms of a job, and instead of my business card, I’d be putting a resume in her hands and asking her to keep me in mind if she hears of anything be it an actual job or a lead. And I’d be friendly, smiling, and trying to make a good impression on the paper boy’s mom. How do I know her husband isn’t a contractor, or she herself isn’t a contractor? Bet you hadn’t thought of that possibility!