10 Tips for Winning at Office Politics

January 14, 2014

If you hope to succeed as a professional communicator, you must spend up to half your time engaged in office politics.

California State University, Northridge - http://blogs.csun.edu/faculty-development/naturally-biased-brains-building-inclusion-in-the-workplace/

I didn’t say it was your fault.
I said I was blaming you. *

I recently gave that advice to a starry-eyed idealist new to her job. That was not what she wanted to hear, though. As a young professional, she dreamed of rising above the political fray and focusing on pure communications. (Oh, what they don’t teach you in school!)

Success in communications requires that you be a savvy politician. Politics, by my definition, is amoral. In other words, it’s neither good nor bad. Politics is how things get done. When you engage in workplace politics, you can either build or you can destroy. Your choice.

Here are several ways I attempt to use office politics to help me succeed as a marketing communications professional:

  1. Create necessary alliances. Business thrives on partnerships and collaboration. I always want to work on important projects that are much bigger than I can accomplish on my own. Success requires that we align our resources and work together to create the synergy to get the job done.
  2. Think win-win. If one of us loses, we all lose. I look for ways to help others succeed, though I’m not shy about establishing boundaries and defining what a win looks like on my side of the equation.
  3. Focus on projects worth doing. I’m only human and can never accomplish everything. Therefore, I must prioritize my work. Negotiating during the prioritization process is very important. Call it politics, if you like, but I try to build a consensus among my co-workers and especially my boss regarding what projects are most important. Read the rest of this entry »
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10 Things Networkers Did that Impressed Me

December 19, 2013

During the past five years I’ve been fortunate enough to meet with hundreds of job seekers and others interested in networking. I value these interactions, and will almost always accept a networking request.

As I think back on those interactions, though, some individuals I met with were more memorable. I best remember those who did the following things:

  1. They had a purpose for meeting. Knowing why provided purpose and focus for our conversations. Of course, I never expected anyone to develop a detailed, comprehensive agenda before they requested an appointment. Just hearing them say, “I’m in a job search and want to brainstorm ideas” was a great starting point.
  2. They did not do all the talking. Occasionally, I’ve done all the listening, never having the opportunity to add any value to the conversation. In those rare cases, I just assumed the other person needed moral support as they unloaded their burdens in a stream of consciousness.
  3. They did not expect me to do all the talking. I never do well when the onus is left entirely upon me to do all the talking. I’ll do what I can to make a conversation lively, but let’s not forget that one hand clapping makes no sound. Read the rest of this entry »

When Does a Cliché Become a Cliché?

April 28, 2013

At the end of a long day filled with horrific TV news saturation, I tweeted,

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the phrase “our thoughts and our prayers.” When does it become a cliché?

“It doesn’t (become a cliché),” said the first person to respond. “Provided it’s said with sincerity, it’s the right thing to say.” Within minutes I received several similar replies. “Only when it is insincere,” said one. “When we stop feeling it,” said another.

For the record, I never questioned the sincerity of the public officials who expressed those sentiments. Public Information Officers are trained, after all, to offer statements, and I believed the array of spokespeople were truly sincere in what they said.

Yet, throughout the day, I heard the phrase “our thoughts and our prayers” so many times that it began to sound trite and canned. When the same words or phrases are repeated often enough, they sound like clichés, at least to me. Perhaps they were not clichés when they initially rolled from the mouths of various speakers, but they likely sounded that way when they hit the ears of the listeners.

A cliché sincerely expressed is still a cliché. For example, I’ve interviewed many job applicants who were sincere in the answers they gave. Their responses sounded trivial, though, because they used the exact same words to tell me the exact same things other candidates were saying. Sure, the interviewees were sincere, yet they failed to stand out because they relied too heavily upon worn clichés.

So when does a cliché become a cliché? Is the answer determined by the sincerity of the speaker? Or, could oft-repeated phrases automatically become clichés when the listener has heard them so many times they lose their original punch?

Canned phrases, sanitized talking points and clichés do not get the job done. Spokespeople need to find new ways to keep their messages fresh and relevant. They should speak from the heart and express sincerity in their own unique voice, avoiding the exact same phrases others rotely repeat.

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Seven Tips on How To Be Interested

April 22, 2013

Be interested, not interesting. That, in a nutshell, is the key to establishing rapport when networking with others.

Being interested, though, is easier said than done. How does one demonstrate genuine interest? Here are some ideas I use:

  1. Approach the unknown with a sense of adventure. Step into conversations with an expectation of discovery. I anticipate that my questions will lead to hidden treasures.
  2. Cultivate your curiosity. The more I learn about someone or something, the more I realize how much I actually do not know. That awareness lays the foundation for an ongoing journey fueled by an insatiable curiosity.
  3. Ask good follow-up questions. It requires little creativity to ask good first questions. We can demonstrate our interest, however, when we follow up with questions that drill deeper. Ask the other person a series of questions beginning with “Why?” and then prompt the person with, “Tell me more.”
  4. Encourage someone to connect the dots. I invite the other person to help me align separate pieces of information. As we talk, we build upon what we’ve already discussed, connecting the dots through a game of “if/then.” (If _________, then how does that fit with _________?)
  5. Ask open-ended questions. In the early stages of a conversation, it’s helpful to warm things up by asking “yes or no” questions. We show interest, though, when we move to open-ended questions that require a more thoughtful answer. As we invite others to elaborate and share more, we show a deeper level of interest.
  6. Reciprocate sharing. Interest is also demonstrated through a volley of shared information. I try to make conversations interactive, sharing my own vulnerability as I invite others to do likewise. The best conversations are two way, relying upon the ebb and flow of interactive communications.
  7. Express gratitude. I’m always thankful for the newfound knowledge and understanding I gain from others. I always try to find creative ways to thank the other person for being open and transparent. In so doing, I imply my continued interest and I invite additional sharing.

We cannot fake being interested in others. We can, however, develop genuine interest by nurturing our innate curiosity. Being interested is a cultivated mindset, a way of life.

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Be Interested, Not Interesting

April 14, 2013

Do you cringe at the concept of networking?

Many hate the idea because they are afraid of what others will think about them. They lack confidence in their ability to say the right things or make the right impression.

A well-networked woman once shared with me the key to her networking success:  Be interested, not interesting.

That’s pretty simple! We can succeed by being genuinely interested in others and what they have to say. Our self-imposed angst of networking evaporates when the focus shifts from ourselves to the person on the other side of the table.

My greatest networking success has come as I’ve relinquished the idea that I’m trying to impress someone. I’ve learned to approach networking with a blend of humility and curiosity. First, I acknowledge that every person has something unique to say. I also understand that I can learn and grown from what that person has to share.

I’ve grown to love networking because I can have substantive conversations with some truly inspiring, intriguing and innovative people. I’m not trying to impress upon them that I’m an interesting person. Rather, I’m genuinely interested in them, their knowledge and their ideas.

To anyone trying to network more effectively, to anyone hoping to become a better conversationalist or to anyone preparing for an upcoming job interview, here’s the best advice I can give you:

Be interested, not interesting.

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What They Did Right AFTER the Interview

June 27, 2012

As a hiring manager, I looked at more than a hundred resumes this month. I talked with so many people that I had trouble keeping everyone straight.

I even interviewed a handful of highly-qualified candidates. While those interviews were energetic and invigorating, the substance of what we talked about began to fade in the days following the interviews.

The most impressive candidates were those who did everything they could to keep their memory alive. Here are some of the specific things they did right after the interview:

  1. While the memory of our conversations were still fresh in my mind, they quickly followed up with emails and handwritten notes.
  2. They reiterated their enthusiasm. As an interviewer, I often wonder what the candidate thought about the job after our conversation. Sometimes people become less interested as they learn more about a specific job, so it’s always nice to be reassured that their interest has continued to grow.
  3. They reminded me how their qualifications matched my needs. They refreshed my memory by giving specific reasons why they would be the ideal fit for my job opening. Read the rest of this entry »

What They Did Right DURING the Interview

June 25, 2012

A week after interviewing candidates for a job opening, I noticed that some individuals were more memorable. I recalled the substance of some conversations better than others.

Several candidates were able to effectively differentiate themselves because of what they did during the interview. Here are some of the ways they separated themselves from the rest of the pack:

They were appropriately REACTIVE.

The best conversations came when candidates were not focused on providing the “right answers.” Rather, they responded to my questions by providing genuine, authentic and transparent answers. They demonstrated they were reactive in the following ways:

  1. They allowed me to set the pace of the conversation. They would slow down to elaborate when I requested more information. They would also pick up the pace when they sensed they had shared adequate information.
  2. They responded to my questions without rambling with answers to questions I did not ask. They listened carefully to what I asked and then reacted by providing thoughtful, transparent answers.
  3. They reacted to my body language or looked for other clues to make sure they were getting their message across. At times, they even asked for immediate feedback to ensure that they had appropriately addressed the questions I asked. Read the rest of this entry »

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