Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Make a good first impression BEFORE the first impression

When you meet new people, many factors will affect the impression they form of you. How you handle yourself during the negotiations or discussions, your overall appearance, and whether you really did use your hands to eat that spaghetti at lunch. All of these things will contribute to the lasting impression you make. But, before things even get started, you can give a first first impression with the manner in which you introduce yourself.

Most folks want to know that the person they’re about to work with is friendly, open, and a general team player. They want to see that, although you take your work seriously, you don’t mind taking yourself a little more lightly when needed. You can get this across in the few moments before the meeting even begins.

For example, what’s the very first thing you say as you shake hands? One of the folks you meet is going to say, “Hi, I’m John Doe,” and you’ll reply with, “And I’m Sam Smith.” And then you say, “Nice to meet you.” Which is great – except for that you don’t remember that you actually met John Doe once, at some other meeting or conference a year or two back. John recalls your meeting clearly, but to you he just wasn’t that memorable. Whoops.

Many years ago, I noticed that David Letterman always greeted his talk show guests with a friendly, “Nice to see ya.” I realized that he had devised a foolproof way to say “hi” without any implication of whether or not he had met that guest before. I adopted the trick immediately.

Secondly, don’t rush to jam your business card into the other folks’ hands. Watch for clues from the other guys on when/if cards are going to be exchanged and follow their lead. If you’re about to sit down with some folks from the far east, there will probably be a very formal exchange ceremony you’ll follow. But if it’s a few “kids” in jeans from Silicon Valley, maybe not so much. Thrusting the card into their hands would only be a sign of formality they wouldn’t need to experience.

Once the meeting begins, you have your next chance to make that early first impression. Folks will probably go around the table introducing themselves and their responsibilities. Again, if you’re meeting with high-level government officials or something, you’ll have to serve up a good degree of formality in your spiel. But, in most situations, you’ll be able to dial down on the officialism.

Instead of introducing yourself with, “…and I’m the Senior Executive Manager of the customer services team”, try something lighter like, “… and I lead the customer services team”, or even, “… and I try to keep up with and take the credit for the cool stuff that my customer services team does.” They’ll know what you mean, and in one breath you’ll get across all those points about being friendly, open, a team player, and capable of a little jocularity. They will also see that you consider yourself to be on equal footing with your team members and that you know that your job is to let them achieve their maximum effectiveness.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

More bossy goodness

Just a few last ideas to lessen the chance that your boss will want to kill you.

Be Positive

It’s so easy to be negative. We all have a tendency to immediately try to find fault with someone’s ideas. When presented with a “Can you do this?” kind of thing, our brains jump into a mode of finding every obstacle that would be in the way and blurting them all out to everyone. Maybe it’s that we don’t like change, maybe we’re covering our butts, who knows. But, the negative tendency is there.

Trust me when I tell you that your boss doesn’t want to hear all the reasons you can’t get something done. He wants to get stuff done. Actually, he wants you to get stuff done. He wants you to find a way.

Responding with, “We could never get that done with all this other stuff going on!” is not the way to go. There’s plenty of opportunity for a dose of reality – later. Start out by being positive. “Yeah! I like that! We can do that!” After all, you can “do” almost anything – assuming you’re given the additional budget, people, time, or whatever’s needed. I mean, you’re not going to be asked to do something without getting the resources to do it (either fresh or transferring in from somewhere else) or without having your priorities rearranged to accommodate it.

You can be positive to start with, then you can turn the conversation, gently, back to how you can. “Okay, let’s examine what it’s gonna take to make this happen.” At this point, just be realistic. “Can we put project X on the back burner to get to this now?” Or maybe, “I think if we shifted a couple of guys over from project X we could handle this.” Whatever it will take. Just start making suggestions to move things forward.

In the end, the “what it’s gonna take” part will amount to exactly the same regardless of whether you start positive or negative. The difference is that, rather than your boss (and everyone else) feeling like you’re coming at the task from a negative point of view, they’ll see that you’re trying to be positive about it and actually get it done. If the “what’s it gonna take” part ends up adding up to too much to make the idea practical, then everyone will see that together and it wasn’t you nixing the idea from the get-go.

In Boss We Trust

Simply stated, you have to always believe that your boss is doing his best to represent you and your needs – even when that might not be apparent. You have to assume that he’s fighting for you and your team, even if he’s not winning some of those battles. He may have been given marching orders to follow, and he's not going to look like a weakling with “Sorry... this wasn’t my decision” kind of statements. But you have to trust that he did his best for you.

At that point, when you haven’t gotten the answer you wanted, the absolute worst thing you can do is to start hammering him over how displeased you are. He knows. And he’s counting on you to not only be a good citizen, but to understand that he did what he could, even though he’s not saying it. Showing that kind of trust and respect will make him fight harder for you in the future.

Lookin’ Good

In general, always consider how anything you do will make your boss look. Whether in a meeting, an email, a presentation, or a hallway conversation, will he be proud of your actions? Are you making him look foolish? Are you crediting him as the source for much of your great outcomes? Remember that even if he wasn’t in agreement with you on whatever path turned out to be successful, he gave you the freedom and the trust to pursue it. That’s worth crediting.

Remember, the better the light you cast on your boss, the better his chances for advancement, and the better the chances of you moving up into his position!