You don’t really have to be super popular in school to make it in this world. In fact, I’m probably telling you nothing new when I say this. And of course you’d say ‘well, ya. In fact quite the opposite. Most people who were super popular in school end up being losers in life because they were handed everything in school, and never had to work for anything. Ok, that’s a little extreme.
Nevertheless, this post isn’t really about the karma that people get after high school. It is, however, about making friends in the corporate world. It’s about making waves. It’s about inadvertently pissing off people when you’re trying too hard to prove your worth. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you to keep your head down. I’m not telling you to NOT make waves in an organization. If we have the capacity to influence the organization for the better, we have a duty to do so. But there is an art to it. Reputation, rapport and relationship takes time to build. They’re like plants. You don’t grow a tree faster by drowning it in water and light. In fact, you’ll kill it. But nurse it with time, a balance of sunlight and shade, and with just the right amount of fertilizer, you’ll have yourself a lovely tree in due time. Everything is a delicate balance. Everything takes time.
But, Cat, some people just come in and take over. Some are loud, vocal, extroverted, even dominating in nature. Does it mean that influencing people is easy for them? At the surface, it might seem that way. However, often the same dominating personalities find that where they once thought they had support, actually had a hand in eventually turfing them out of the organization. I’ve seen this happen first hand to many people I’ve known. On the other hand, people who have the longest and most successful careers are those who make everyone feel good when they are around them. They are folks whom we are comfortable being around. They don’t make us feel small and insignificant. No. The greats are those where we feel like we want to do better, and often do. This is called leadership. It can be found in any position, regardless of job title. It applies to long time veterans to an organization or to the newbie in the company who’s trying to prove himself.
Let’s talk about the newbie for a moment. So you got a new job. So you want to prove yourself. I get it. We all do. Especially as a contractor and consultant, customer service is important to the value that I can provide to my clients. There are certain things, though, that I’ve witnessed first hand, these few weeks, that turn the new guy into the butt of everyone’s jokes. Soon you won’t be the new guy anymore. The novelty and tolerance will have worn off. Then you’re just the idiot. Here are some golden oldies with which you may want to be familiar as you earn your keep at your new company.
CC’ing Everyone and their Dog on Everything
Yes, i get that you want people to notice what you do. There was subtle ways to do this. But even so, you might be surprised to know that if you do good work, more than likely, people will notice. You’ll build that reputation. Contrary to popular belief, word spreads when you’re the one who gets stuff done with little fanfare. People love working with effective people! No drama. Just results.
In the project world, your performance is reflected in your most recent assignment (or project). People will notice you. They’ll start to ask for you. So chill. You don’t have to include everyone in your every correspondence. Not everyone in the freaking department has to witness your entire email thread from your original request, including the back and forth “Sure Thing”.
Seriously, dude. Don’t fricking CC the world on your emails. No one cares. And they hate your spam. They think you’re annoying because of it. Just today, i had to highlight a series of 8 responses in which I was cc’d because I can’t be bothered to sift through the non-value added pleasantries.
It might be borderline ok if the original email includes everyone. But after that, you’re treading on thin ice. What you should be doing is including only the people who are pertinent to the discussion at hand. By including everyone in every single response, you’re training them to ignore you.
CC’ing People’s Bosses
Let me tell you something about the CC line on an email. It’s actually pretty powerful. It’s not just about including people in an email thread for information purposes. It’s also a weapon. CC’ing someone’s superior especially in follow up to an original request is like tattling on them when they haven’t yet responded. Even if it wasn’t your intention… even if you really truly did feel the need to include their superiors in your reminders for why they hadn’t responded to your beck and call, resist the urge. No. Eliminate the urge. Ain’t no one got time for that. (Insert auto-tune here.) You’re not building allies this way. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Let’s say that your intention was truly noble… that you really just wanted to remind them to fulfill your request. Contact them directly. Pick up the phone and call them. Better yet, stop by their desk with something sweet like a cupcake. Incidentally, if you are to do this, make sure you know of any dietary restrictions. A cupcake gift to a celiac is a death threat, unless it’s gluten-free, of course. In my post How to Harness the Secret Goodwill of Food, I discuss at length of the secret of food, and how you can harness its power to build allies (and get out of trouble.) As Dale Carnegie pointed out in the first lesson of his timeless classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” If you want honey, don’t kick over the beehive.
Speaking out in Meetings for the Sake of Being Heard
This is my personal pet peeve. Well… no. let’s get real. All of these are. Honestly, you guys, we already know that most meetings are already unnecessary, or way too long. No one needs to add to it for the sake of hearing their own voice. If you’re not adding to my life, shut up. I don’t care. It’s the same for everyone else in the room. If you have something value added to say, by all means. Otherwise, keep your pie-hole shut, so we can move on with life and do something productive. Speaking for the sake of being heard surprisingly has the opposite effect. It teaches people to tune you out. When you really need to say something of importance, it’s that much harder to capture people’s attention, because you’ve spent the last few months training them to ignore you.
Droning on After You’ve Made Your Point
In my post What You and a Goldfish Have in Common, I wrote that people have an average attention span of 8 seconds, thanks to our ADD digital world. Once you’ve got your point across, shut up. No one needs to hear the same argument four times over. Once you’ve sold, stop selling. Here’s what we should all keep in mind. Sunbeams are hottest when they are shortest. You got 8 seconds to make your point, and keep their attention. After that, everyone mentally checks out, or turns to something else inside their head.
Fighting for Last Word
This is purely an ego thing. I remember back a few years ago at another client, one of the more senior directors took the team out for dinner at fancy restaurant. There was an open bar. At the end of the night, many a drink was had, and the director took the opportunity to conclude the evening with a speech. After he made his closing remarks, one guy’s wife piped up and added one more concluding sentence. Surprised, the director added one more remark to reign it back in. Again, she piped up. This repeated another 4 – 5 times. The director was clearly getting annoyed, and finally her husband shushed her. How embarrassing. The moral of the story is that it will serve you well to know your place in the pecking order. When you are a guest at someone else’s party, you don’t get to make the closing remark. That’s the host’s job. Same goes for the boardroom. As the newbie, or if you’re attending another team’s meeting you don’t get to make closing remarks. The honour goes to the chair of the meeting, or the most senior person there. That’s just respect.
Listen and Observe First. Find the Points of Power
Speaking of respect: In every organization, every team, there is a hierarchy. There is a food chain. To be oblivious to this food chain is a big fat rookie error. Any time you enter a new client, you’ll find that the superstars sense where the power lies. Whenever you set foot in a new organization, be observant. Be quiet. Listen. Watch. See where the balance of power exists. It’s not necessarily aligned with positional hierarchy. Most of the time it is, but if you shut your trap and open your eyes and ears, you’ll clue into the inner dynamics of the team. Why do this? Why be quiet? Why can’t I just set the expectation and throw my weight around like it’s my entitlement?
Here’s why. Sooner or later, you’ll need the support of certain individuals. If you blindly throw your weight around, you might find that come the time when you need support to push through an initiative, you’ll find an empty room.
When People Say They Won’t Get Offended, Don’t Believe Them
It’s a lie. The truth is that everyone gets offended. People who say they won’t get offended are enticing you to spill your guts. Then they most certainly get offended. They might not voice it. But you can tell from their body language that they are become super-defensive. The Chinese have a saying: “Yut been gay shut, si ma nan jui,” which translates to “once a word has left your lips, 4 horses cannot catch it.” Once those words left your mouth, you can’t take them back. Ever. Oh, you can dig. You can try. But the damage is done. The message here is to always err on the side of diplomacy.
You know what? Don’t take my word for it. Go ahead. Be that bull. Why not? You can take them on. Throw your weight around. Don’t stop and take a look at what you did to the china shop. Now think of all the wasted opportunities you could have had to build your network. So there. Smarten up. You still have a chance to redeem yourself.
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