Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We May Like Our Message, But Does Our Audience?

A recent Harvard Business Review blog post got me thinking about how others perceive us, how we think they can perceive us incorrectly, and how those misperceptions might be our own fault.

The post tells of how a successful research analyst who had lived by and succeeded with a set of values instilled by her father had a difficult time landing a new job after losing her old one. In her job interviews, she exuded a long-held confidence and decisiveness, thinking those qualities were a winning combination anywhere.

What she didn't anticipate was how her interviewers would see that. She discovered that her style was off-putting to some and a big reason she had a difficult time finding a new job.

To adjust, she did what every job seeker, sales representative, and even every journalist interviewer should do: Consider the conversation from the point of view of the other person. What are they looking for? What makes them open up and offer more information? Is there something in your manner, your tone, or your level of empathy that can get them to do what you would like them to do, such as hire you, buy from you, or give you valuable information?

For many of us who are passionate and driven, this is difficult to accomplish. But the most important communication comes in listening: how you process not only what is said, but how it's said, and what kind of body language a person emits during a conversation. Many people (and there really are many) depend too heavily on e-mail, texting, and instant messaging to communicate with others, even when they're within earshot. That can give you the courage you can't muster when it's time for a face-to-face conversation that's less than pleasant, but you tend to miss a lot that lies beyond the spoken word.

So, if you're wondering why you can't make it to the next step of the job search process, why you can't land a big sale, or why others question your motives, think about the message you're sending beyond your words.

And if you rely too much on your fingers to do your talking, step away from the keyboard and use your mouth once in a while.

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