Shhh! Be Quiet!!

I have 4 kids, the youngest is an infant and the oldest will be 9 on Halloween (more about her tomorrow). And we like to play games – hide-and-go-seek is the favorite (with sardines and candle tag close behind). Usually when I go hide my 2 1/2 year old wants to tag along with me, I guess because I’m such a great hider. Or perhaps because she doesn’t want to hide for a long time all alone.

I like hiding with her, but after a few minutes she gets a little silly and starts making noises. And these noises are usually what brings the person looking for us right to us. Or it could be all the “SHHHH!” whispering that I do trying to get her to quiet down. Nonetheless, her little noises bring the game to an end pretty quick.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with a job search? Or, with networking? Actually, a lot! Here’s another little story.

Many years ago I was an IT Manager looking for some programming interns. I had a budget to hire 3, which made the interviewing a little easier. There was one in particular that was just incredible. He dressed and spoke like a CEO, but had a great tech background. We were all so impressed with him that he was at the top of the list. And he accepted the job (its a funny story about the other two, maybe I’ll blog on that some day) … we were thrilled because he was perfect!

Well, until he started working. He was a good worker, and very talented, but when he wasn’t working he was … chatting. He chatted with everyone – the other team members, the ladies in accounting, even the CFO. He chatted on the clock and off the clock. He came in my office one day and ate 1/2 of my M&Ms (I guess he didn’t have breakfast) and he chatted with me (part of which was to the back of my head while I just said things like “oh”). He was a fun guy, and quite interesting, but he didn’t know when to stop chatting – and it was really affecting the entire office.

As the semester neared completion I had to make a decision on which of the three guys to offer a full-time job to. Guess what? It wasn’t this CEO-guy. He had talked his way out of the job, post interview. I’m not sure what we talked about in the exit interview, and if I were a better boss I would have laid it on the table for him. I doubt I did – I was pretty young. But the simple fact is, he lost the game because he couldn’t be quiet when he should have been.

Now, I’m not saying that you should always be quiet. Here are some of my personal suggestions for this wierd art of communication, especially as you are developing a relationship with people:

  1. RESPECT other people’s time. Don’t push your way into their schedule and disrupt their plans. If they like you they’ll ask you to come back, or move the schedule on their own. But if you ask for 5 minutes, don’t take more. The best way to transition out of that is, with a few seconds left to go, say: “You know, my time is up, I really appreciate your time and wonder if we could get together again to finish up. How about lunch tomorrow?” (and of course, this means you buy because you brought it up ;))
  2. Have substance. It is okay to share trivial stuff that you may think is boring. Most people will take interest in your personal life, especially as you develop an intimate relationship with them. But you can’t always talk about trivial stuff. You need to bring value to the conversation. You need to have substance. Become a subject matter expert (SME) in your own domain. I’m not saying become a know-it-all! I’m saying, know what experts say, and what observers think (I’m sure you can find a few blogs to see what people think). The point is, when you have something significant to add to the conversation you bring more value to the relationship.
  3. Respect other people’s perspectives. Communicating isn’t a contest to see who is smarter, or more whitty. It is about being in a conversation and building a relationship. If they start to talk about something that does not interest you, get interested right away! Nothing is worse than talking to someone about something when the glaze over. While you might not be interested in the history of Native American indians, or the state of drunk driving in our country, or something else that you really haven’t given much thought to, this is prime time to learn about the person you are taliking with, where they come from and what their interests are.
  4. Be gracious. No one likes talking with a sourpuss, or a grump. Once the conversation is over they probably aren’t going to be anxious to get back with you again. I’m not saying be fake, or overly excited, but be nice and pleasant.
  5. Shhh! Shhhhh! Don’t take over the entire conversation. This is especially critical when (a) you first meet the person, or (b) they are not shy (read: they want to talk also!). Just like my little girl, and that guy that I didn’t hire full-time, you may lose the game by not knowing when to be quiet. You may have heard that thing about “you have 2 ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you talk.”

This obviously applies in a new meeting environment (at a networking meeting, or when a friend introduces you, etc.), in an interview, and in casual every day living.

I know this may seem like common sense. But too many people talk themselves out of a relationship. You can ask a buddy if you are like this but I doubt you’ll get a good honest response (depending on how good the buddy is). A great book to pick up on this is “how to win friends and influence people”… that book just doesn’t get old!

Finally, I hope that folks that know me aren’t shaking their heads thinking “hello, practice what you preach!”