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Still Speaking Comma, United Church of Christ

A number of years ago, the United Church of Christ started a campaign called “Still Speaking” and it was inspired by a quote by Gracie Allen, who said “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” The concept here is that there’s a whole bunch more to be learned in this world, and those that say we’ve heard it all and the “truth has been told”, never to be challenge, are missing a lot.  I’m not a UCC member, but I always respected that church and what they were trying to do to bring a little balance to the radical evangelicals who have been telling everyone who can hear that they have the answers and people should not trust their own experiences. <off soapbox>

This idea has really struck with me in a career development sense, especially as it relates to networking and building relationships.  I like to tell my clients that they should try to have every conversation that they have with people end in a comma, not a period.  Commas signify that there will be things still to come.  Periods signify that things have ended.  The goal for all professional (as well as personal!) relationships is that there is a future to be had, and you need to keep engaged in the conversation.

This is especially true when people are looking for a job.  A common mistake that I see is that people use a lot of period-ending questions, like “Do you have a job opening?”.  Most likely, the answer will be “No” and that ends the conversation.  If instead, you asked a comma-ending question like “I’m looking to find out more about Company X.  Where would you recommend that I look, or who could I talk to who can lead me to more information?”  That type of question will keep the conversation going, as there are more options, and it can take you in many different directions.

I would say that this tactic could be more helpful in all of our conversations, as it gives some breathing room to the person being asked (no one likes to say No all the time!) and it forces the question asker to be open to information that might not be what was expected.

So, what is your best comma-ending question you’ve used?

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It’s past Memorial Day, so in these parts it means that summer is officially in session. I know that many people have a reading list for the summer. I have not been one of those people. I don’t tend to read books as a “start here, finish book, start the next” type of reader. I tend to pick up about four or five books and read them spottily and sometime finish them, sometimes not.

My bookshelf has been crammed with books that I thought would be great to read, but I’ve never gotten to them. In the quest to be more intentional and to actually do things that I say I want to do, I’ve decided to publish my summer reading list and write a review of each book after I’m finished. I don’t tend to read fiction and as you’ll see most of them have something to do with spiritual, career, or productivity matters (or all three at once!) I wish I liked to read fiction, but as you see they are all non-fiction

Here are the books that I’ve decided I want to try to finish this summer:

  • The War of Art by Steven Pressfield: This book has been suggested to me more times that I can imagine from so many people, and I understand this is about how we can be with our creative selves.
  • Transitions by William Bridges: Career development is all about changes, and this is the standard book in my field. I’ve never read it before, so this is sort of my “good medicine” that I really need to experience.

  • Embracing Your Inner Critic by Hal Stone & Sidra Stone: I, like so many, have some internal issues to work though, and this book was recommended by my friend Elsa (a mental health counselor) as a good resource for looking at this issue.
  • Planets in Work by Jamie Binder: Another recommendation from Elsa. I have been researching archetypes, and I’ve been looking at how those show up in astrological readings. This looks at how astrology could be used in career development decisions.
  • A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle: This book was given to me by Casey Miller and he read this many times on his cross country bike trip. I’ve seen videos of Tolle speaking, but never read any of his works. It’s about time.
  • Awakening in Time by Pamela Kristan: I was at a presentation Pam gave at the Theosophical Society of Boston, and Pam’s work has to do with the intersection of productivity and spirituality. As you can imagine, this is right up my alley. I had to see how I can incorporate her ideas into my work.
  • Living & Loving Well by Joseph Stuczynski: Joe presented at Easton Mountain a few years ago, and his work focuses on getting clear with our values in order to make good decisions in our lives, especially about our personal relationships. This is more of a workbook to clarify your goals, so this should be a quick win in getting it done!
  • Mastering Respectful Confrontation by Joe Weston: Joe is an amazing human being and presenter, and I have been to numerous workshops that he has done, and this book puts done in words what he preaches. Joe’s main concept is that the concept of power in our culture has gotten to be connected more with physical strength and power over others, and he bases his alternative vision on Easter philosophy as the power within and with other people, and how we can have conversations that empower everyone and don’t deny our own needs. This is great stuff!
  • Making It All Work by David Allen: I have been a “Getting Things Done” (GTD) fan for a number of years, as David Allen’s philosophy about personal productivity is all about how to free yourself from the stress of life and having a “mind like water” so that you can easily accomplish things in your life without fretting about them. I was lucky enough to attend a seminar last year that David personally taught, and Making It All Work is the continuation of those theories.
  • How to Eat, Move, and Be Healthy! by Paul Chek: In 2008, I was part of an online weight loss challenge through RealJock.com (which I won!) and DIAKADI Body was the exercise consultants on this. Though continuing to follow their great advice, I found out about Paul Chek’s work, which integrates the concepts of health, exercise, and nutrition with a more holistic & spiritual sense that really attracted me. I don’t know it so well, but have liked what I’ve seen.
  • Mindfulness by Ellen Langer: This book was given to me by my boss back in the early 1990’s, and while I’m obviously interested in it, I never finished this book that was one of the first on the subject. It’s time. Thanks Dave!
  • Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert: Dan’s research into what makes us really happy (as opposed to what we say makes us happy) has been really enlightening to me, as I work with people to get at the core of their happiness.
  • Eating Free: The Carb-Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Embrace Your Hunger, and Keep Weight Off for Good by Manuel Villacorta: In the aforementioned weight loss challenge, Manuel’s crew at MV Nutrition in San Francisco was invaluable to giving me the knowledge to eat better and lose weight. This is a new book that just came out last month, and again, I need to read it to remind myself of all the knowledge that I’ve learned (and maybe forgotten!) I highly, highly recommend that you pick up this book!

I might not get them all finished by Labor Day but it’s an intention (not at goal!).

So, what are you reading? Do you have any comments or experiences with any of these books?

Resumes can be a pain. People stress about writing them. Hiring managers are always trying to decypher them to figure out if the candidate has what they need. I say that most people seem to think that there is a secret formula to writing resumes that nobody will tell them about.

My simple answer is that you need to think about who is reading the resume and then write like your audience. It’s really that simple. Resumes are just the information the hiring manager might need to have in order to take the chance to bring you in and talk with you more about the position without wasting everyone’s time.

In order to do that, you have to give a clear picture (in words) of what you actually did. This might seem simple but so many people miss this. I read hundreds of resumes a month and I’ve found three words that are endemic on resumes that don’t do anything to bring that clarity. I cross them off almost every time I see them (granted, there are always exceptions).

Here they are.

  • Assisted: This can mean anything from “I got coffee” to “I did my boss’ job and didn’t get credit for it”. When I see it, I assume coffee, not executive. If I read this, I’m making up stories in my head about what you actually did. They may not be what you wanted me to think.
  • Helped: See above.
  • Worked: Were you in the fields or the mines? This brings visions of either someone under a vicious task master or someone just hanging out waiting for something to happen. Either scenario doesn’t encourage me to think of you as a self starter.

So, what can you say instead? Well, what did you actually do? If I were watching you while you were there, what would I see? Researched 5 new clients and wrote a summary for your boss? Reorganized the inventory system? Produced and assembled 100 press kits? Tell me that!

Using vague words like helped, assisted, and worked will put more questions into the reader’s mind than will do you good. Be clear and detail what you have done to your best story telling ability. If you can’t be clear on your resume, do I think you will speak clearly to me and my customers?

So, what did you actually do on that job?

20110913-092048.jpgAs I stated in my last post, most people don’t think about telling the stories of their lives in a compelling way that shows how what you’ve done makes a difference in the world. In this post, I’d like to give some help in how you can make your stories of your background more engaging to your target audience (You do have a target audience, right? It should be the hiring manager.)

Knowing my audience (namely you), I like to tell my stories in ways that you can relate to. As most people have had the experience of going to a movie, that’s the metaphor that I’m going to use. The job of the screenwriter is to write the story in a way that brings you in and keeps you engaged. That’s done in two ways:

First, when the movie starts, you (the viewer) are trying to figure out who the characters are, how they are related, where they are, what time period they are living in, etc. A good screenwriter supplies the CONTEXT in this first scene. It allows the viewer to relate the experiences of the characters to the viewer’s life.

  • You need to supply context of your background to the reader of your resume or the person you meet at a networking event (and especially in an interview). If you did something in a different city or in an obscure organization, you will need to supply the context so that the hiring manager will understand how what you did there relates to their needs. Easy ways to do that are with names they understand (such as “I worked in the Obama administration”. If you worked with Joe Bagadonuts and they don’t know Joe, it doesn’t help) and numbers (How many of those press releases did you write? How many people attended that event you organized?)

Second, imagine you’ve finished the movie and are walking home, and you can see the movie playing in your mind. You meet up with a friend and you tell the story again. If the screenplay was written well, you can do this.

  • You need your story to be VISUAL and REPEATABLE. Most people make their stories so boring and vague that people can’t see it. Imagine I were following you around with a video camera while you were doing your work. Would I see you “assisting the manager?”. That can mean just about anything. If you instead said that you “Compiled a report on the top 100 companies in the social media marketing field for inclusion in annual report”, that might get me to see a bit more of what you were doing.

When you start your job search, you are in charge of how you develop your character in the mind of the target audience. If you tell the story poorly, the audience will make up their own minds about who you are, and that might not be what you want them to think.

So, what story are you telling and are you the star of your own story?

20110908-095258.jpgI like to say that a major part of the job search process is storytelling. The exchange of ideas that happen in any search to find the right fit is going to involve stories from the point of view of the employer (e.g. Job descriptions, describing company culture, etc.) and the job searcher. You need to know what stories you want and need to tell (Hint: 5th grade science project is not a story you need to tell). You have many stories from you can tell, but you need to figure out which one are the important ones and then how to tell them in a compelling way.

I’ve found that although most of us have been listening to (and maybe telling) stories most of our lives, many people don’t know how to structure stories in a way that really is effective. I like to say that you should organize them in ways that people are familiar so that they don’t have to figure out the structure, but just focus on the content.

So, what form are people most familiar with across cultures?

Fairy Tales

Most fairy takes have a very basic structure that works well for job search purposes:

  1. Our Hero Enters the Scene: Usually there is a little back story to the story. What does the Hero see when entering? This is the Situation.
  2. Our Hero Has A Quest: Upon understanding the Situation, the Hero does something to change the situation. It can be a duel, a test, or something, but the Hero takes some Action to change the situation.
  3. Our Hero Leaves the Scene: Once done with the Action, the Situation has now changed. Hopefully it’s Happily ever after, but there is a Result.

When you are telling the story of any experience in your life, it’s as real as a fairy tale to the listener.  You have to let them know the Situation you walked into, what Action you took to change the situation, and what Result came from your action.  This is to show that you actually made a difference in your being there.

Hiring managers want to know how bringing you on can help them out, so you need to show that you’ve done this in the past.  If you can’t relate it to them, they won’t believe it. (Note: these stories will have to come across not only in your resume, but any online presence, your networking, your interviewing, etc.)

So, what stories do you have to tell, and is it something that will make a difference in my life?

I see a lot if people who send out volumes of resumes to posted jobs, and are frustrated that no one responds. “If they only realized how great I am!” I can hear them cry out in their souls. “Why don’t they give me a chance? I could be great!”

I’m here to explain the two main reasons why this doesn’t happen:

  • You are among hundreds of people who the hiring manager doesn’t know who haven’t explained clearly how you can help out relieve the hiring manager’s problems, and…
  • The hiring manager has no idea if you are a crazy maker, diva, problem child, etc. that will make the work environment a living hell for the duration if you’re hired.

This is not to say that you are any of the above, but the hiring manager wants to avoid that at all costs. (Think about the co-worker you have that drives you crazy and you wish would quit. Now imagine having to manage that person. You’re life would suck on so many levels.) If you’ve given me reason to know that you’re a capable and talented potential employee, then I’m more likely to take a chance on you.

How can you do that? Well, look at your own experience. When you have to make a decision on something that you are unsure of, what do you do?

Check your trusted references.

For you, that might be friends, certain magazines or websites that have good advice, etc. You need to find out where the hiring manager looks for references, and make sure you’re seen as competent there first before the hiring manager asks about you.

How to do that? Identify your targets first, do your research, and get out and talk to people. Much more effective than sitting in your pajamas and sending out dozens of resumes daily.

So, how are you getting known by the people who need to know you?

I think that a lot of us feel like “If people just knew the real me, they’d realize I’m a fraud”. Everyone seems to have that little voice in your head that says that you’re not good enough at (fill in the blank). I’ve definitely heard this voice too often.

It’s so surprising when I’ve talked with the most talented and creative clients and they too have this little voice. Given that reality, I’ve come to believe that it’s probably a more universal source. We’ve all got the voice, but it’s our unique version of it It’s like we’ve got a resident bodyguard whose job it is to point out to us at every step what might go wrong and protect us.

I’ve found it helpful to give this voice I name. I’ve named mine Gollum after the character in Lord of the Rings, as he seems to work out of a position if fear and secrecy. When he shows up, I can view him as another input, but one that I can easily acknowledge but not put too much faith in.

This shows up in job searchers in that many times they don’t speak well of themselves to others. This is the classic “bombing the interview” or missing the networking opportunity. They are listening and putting too much credence into their own personal Gollum that they don’t put themselves out there.

Thus is where my recommendation to ” fake it ’till you make it” comes it. I’m not talking about faking your competence at anything, but to fake your confidence. Nobody wants to be around someone who is nervous and twitching.  If you just act like you’re confident, your results will probably be better, and that will lead to more confidence. Hopefully, this cycle will continue and you will get more successes, which will lead to more confidence.

So, what kind of confidence do you need to fake?

As many of you know, I’m a single guy and have been for a few years.  I’ve been doing a lot of personal development work recently, and really feel pretty good about myself and what I’ve got to offer.  That said, I’ve been more strongly putting myself out there in the dating world.  As you can imagine, the world is quite different for a middle-aged gay man than it was in the late 1980’s when I was first looking for love.  Now, everything is online and you are presenting yourself and your features and benefits for all to see.  You can be screened out or screened in depending on how you present yourself.

One thing I feel pretty strongly about is presenting myself as closely as possible to who I am right now. I post my current age (if you aren’t interested in maturity and experience, fine), my physical size (this is what I’ve got; take it or leave it), and my current interests and how my personality comes through. Also, I want people to think that I look really good for my age, not that I look really old for 10 years younger than myself.

I am surprised that not everyone feels the same way.  When I’ve met guys, sometimes I’m surprised that what I’m presented with doesn’t match the information I was giving.

  • One guy posted that he was 53, but stated that he was actually 59 when we got together for dinner.
  • Another stated that he was 5’9″, but when I met him he was shorter than me (and I’m 5’7.5″!)
  • A third was very chatty in our messages going back and forth and showed a lot of enthusiasm in meeting, but when we did meet, I had to practically drag a conversation out of him.

I’m of the point that I feel good about myself and I’m looking for the right fit: a mature, intelligent, communicative, adventurous man who can be my partner in crime.  I know the criteria I’m looking for, and I’m willing to wait, but also willing to give a guy a chance if he doesn’t initially seem to have all the qualifications but looks promising.

As I’ve mentioned before, a job search is like dating.  You both are looking for the right one and everyone is awkward.  You want to present the best you have as truthfully as possible.  If you’ve got little lies here and there, they will be found out, and your reputation will take a nose dive.  If you’re willing to play fast and loose with your own information, they might not trust you with their business. If what you present (resume, cover letter, stories about yourself) don’t match what I get when I meet you, I will feel like it’s a waste of my time.  (That’s one reason I like to chat with guys a bit before agreeing to meet.  If you can’t hold up your end of a conversation virtually, you certainly can’t do it in person, and I hate wandering into that trap!)

The key here is that there is someone for everyone in the dating world and the job search.  It’s not automatic and people won’t fall out of the sky into your lap, so you have to be proactive to find a mate and find a job.  As I say, figure out where the people are that you want to be with, and go to those places and say you want to be there (and figure out what they want and if you have it or need to acquire it!)

So, are you presenting yourself truthfully, and do you know what others are looking for?

As anyone who follows my Twitter and Facebook accounts knows, I like to pass along interesting stories that relate to how people’s passion, career, and spirit intermingle. I figured that I would start sharing a weekly post with my favorites.  If I remain true to my plans, you should find a new Your Passion This Week posted every Monday.  Let me know what you think!

I’m writing this on my trusty iPhone on the way home from a great workshop lead by Joe Weston at Arlington Street Church in Boston. The topic was an overview of his Respectful Confrontation workshop that he will be leading in Watertown, Massachusetts this weekend. I’ve been to three of Joe’s shorter workshops over the past few years and was very excited that he will be presenting his training on how to successfully engage with others from an open-hearted position here locally.

The basic premise of Respectful Confrontation as I understand it is that most of the time people speak from a position if fear and reaction, and therefore are more likely to not be fully present to the situation and can make most communication breakdowns by not keeping engaged in relationship with the people the are talking to, but trying to break down the relationship. Respectful Confrontation looks to teach people how to speak from a perspective of personal power so that they can stay in engagement and improve relationships. The guideline for this is not the Western approach of brute force, but power from a martial arts perspective. Joe states that there are four aspects to personal power:

  1. Grounding: Knowing where you are and having your feet firmly on the ground.
  2. Focus: Being in control of your emotions and being present to others
  3. Strength: Knowing what you want and intentionally sending it forward into the world.
  4. Flexibility: Having the ability to change things as needed and responding to what the world brings to you.

I know that Joe can explain it much better, and this is just a small sample of what I got out of tonight. If you are interested, there are still openings in the program and there may be discounts available.  I’m more than willing to talk with you if you are interested.

So, how are you communicating, and what are you doing to improve it?

 

Ken Mattsson

Ken Mattsson

Ken Mattsson

I am a career consultant who specializes in the connection between what your spirit wants to do in the world, and how to marry that to the work that you do in order to support yourself. While I work with people in all fields, I specialize in working with "creative entrepreneurs" and the LGBT community.

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