Employee : Are you Too Nice?

Two Roads
TWO ROADS IN A WOOD

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both…

…. I took the one not too nice,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost (modified)

Have you been trying to be a nice person at work? Have all your attempts at being nice made you feel miserable? Perhaps you might consider being “polite” instead. This subtle shift can make all the difference to your future.

Being Nice has its pluses. Nice people are an asset to the organisation. They are well liked and are fun to have around. They are accommodating, helpful and Easy to work with. But Too often we find the nice employee gets passed up for promotions.

Does that surprise you?

Russ Edelman in his book Nice Guys can get the Corner office Says that Being too nice impedes career growth. According to him Nice people are so caught up in pleasing others and getting others approval that they don’t stand up for themselves. If you are a nice person, which most of us are, this insight can hurt.

Right from a very young age we are taught not to fight, not to confront, not to be blunt in voicing our opinions, not to hurt others. We are taught to be sensitive to the people around us. That is a very good thing. Thanks to this grooming we are tuned into other people’s feelings being careful not to cause them any kind of discomfort. In the process some of us overlook our own discomfort. And, in a work place this kind of orientation can at times lead us astray.

For instance it can promote conflict avoidance when practical solutions need to be ironed out by confronting the problem. Avoiding Face – offs at all cost leads to a refusal to address important disagreements in a straightforward manner which would help in improving performance.

Being nice is good but there is a point beyond which the rules of diminishing returns take over. If we were to plot the relationship between being Nice and performance it would be an inverted U. Beyond a point being nice becomes a problem.

 

inverted U

  • In trying to be Nice people suppress their view points to go with the flow even if they are strongly opposed to the view. The organisation misses out on valuable inputs and eventually suffers.
  • Out of deference to others nice people end up saying yes to everything and get taken advantage of.
  • Nice people feel awkward in accepting their rightful credit. A nice person believes he is being humble but not valuing your own work has its pitfalls. You miss out on your rightful credit and the just rewards.

To succeed at Work and avoid these eventualities there is one primary tenet which  people having a “Nice Guy” syndrome need to keep in mind.

  • Business is competitive. It is a place where people come together to work and they also compete. “Competition” is an intrinsic part of business. Performance counts. There will be winners and there will be losers. We need to decide with which crowd we might want to throw our lot in.

At the workplace the urge to be Nice needs to be balanced with the requirements of achieving results both individual and organisational. Nice people need to realize the importance of speaking up when they perceive that actions are not taking them towards agreed upon goals. Working in an organisation means times when we work with compromises, it involves mutual give and take. But win-win on paper should also be win-win in reality , Nice types should not allow themselves to be shortchanged.

So how do we move away from this self-defeating tendency ?

To start with it requires a mental shift from “nice” to “polite”.  That means we stay kind and considerate to our office colleagues but are clear about our boundaries. It means we are do not hesitate to speak up.

This mental shift would not be easy for the Nice and sensitive souls but it can be done. It will require practice. Here is how –

Know what you want. Have a clarity on your goals. This will ensure that you get to prioritize your results over others needs and requests. Getting clarity about your goals and internalizing the same would take time. But it will help in setting your boundaries.

Acknowledge Anxiety. When you anticipate others discomfort you might turn anxious. Acknowledge the anxiety and Let it be. Face your fears and move on.

Fake it till you make it: As Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook in her book LeanIn says – sometimes you can’t wait for everything to be feel right. You might not feel confident but Just go ahead and fake it. Fake assertiveness speak up even if you don’t feel like it. See what happens.

If being Too Nice is an issue that is affecting your work it would need more attention. Start reading on this topic and enroll for workshops on assertiveness training. You could even get a coach to help you out.

_____________________________________________________________________________

The difference is too nice – where ends the Virtue, and begins the vice.

Alexander Pope

Prakash Francis is a Talent expert based in Bangalore. 

 

 

Interview: How not to Suck when asked “Do You Have any Questions”

6a0133f30ae399970b014e88179ee5970d-piTowards the end of interviews it is the norm for the interviewer to ask “Do you have any questions?”. The common response from candidates is a “ No, not right now” or something to that effect.

Per-se there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that answer. It seems to be polite, courteous and modest. All good traits to display.

But think about it, why wouldn’t you have any questions?.

You will spend a chunk of your waking time at this place if things work out. Would’nt it be good to have complete clarity on what you will be doing, how you will be doing and maybe even why?

It is an opportunity. Take it.

So, lets get into the details of the Why, What and How to respond to the query “ Do you have any questions”

Lets start with Why?

Why you should have questions to Ask? The benefits are multiple, and the three most important ones are –

  1. These questions help to build clarity on your role, the company, and your boss.Interview is a 2 way process. As you are being interviewed you have an opportunity to evaluate the company environment, and the work. These questions will help you do just and put you in a position to take a more informed decision.
  2. Building rapport with the interviewer is a major objective for any candidate. Rapport happens with engaging conversations and the right questions asked sincerely are the lubricants to ensure a smooth conversation.
  3. The third point is a by-product. Relevant questions will mark you out as a well-prepared and keen candidate, who has done his homework.

Those are the 3 key reasons as to why you should use the opportunity to Ask. Now lets move on to the what?.

What to Ask?

Once there is clarity about the objective of asking questions – deciding on what to ask becomes simple. These questions fall into 3 broad categories

  • Role related.
    • Ask questions to get clarity about the role in case there are areas that you feel have not been thoroughly covered in the earlier part of interview. Sample questions could be –
      • Can you share more about the day to day responsibilities of the position?
      • If I am hired, what would be expected of me in the first 90 days? ..
  • Culture related.
    • We spend a majority of our waking hours at work. You are more likely to enjoy your time at the workplace if you fit into the workculture. You are likely to develop better relationships and be more productive at work. A few sample questions are –
    • Can you share your thoughts about the company culture?
    • What is the culture like?
    • What do you enjoy most about working here?
  • Boss/hiring manager related
    • These would be questions relating to your prospective Boss’s working style, how does he prefer his reports whether email or face to face, or phone. How often does he prefer being reported to. Is he a micromanager or a hands-off chief . A straightforward question to ask would be –
    • How would you describe your working style?

And as he responds you could ask questions to probe further.

These are just a few sample questions to ask, they are not an exhaustive list. You will find enough resources on line which provide such lists. The thing is that with a clear understanding of why you are asking – the what to Ask becomes easy. Infact the best questions come to you as you answer the questions the interviewer asks. So when a question pops up, jot it down in a pad to ask at the end.

What not to Ask?

Just like there are questions that are good to ask, there are also questions to avoid asking. This would be –

  • Question relating to Personal topics, family or last working assignment.
  • Queries about happy hours, non- work activities, lunch and vacation times.
  • Salary is a topic which is best left to the interviewer to bring up.
  • Filler questions. Avoid asking questions for which you can get the response by Googling.
  • Lastly avoid too many questions. And what is too many? If the interviewer is getting restless or is subtly giving indications of the interview being, take the hint. At best 2-3 well thought out questions should be good enough.

That brings us to the How?.

How to Ask?

Let the questions be open ended. For example you could phrase the questions as .. “Can you tell me about …?, “How would you describe ….?. Framing the question in such a manner makes it easier to probe further, thus opening up the conversation. Avoid yes and no questions.

Further, open ended questions set you up for follow up questions. Based on the interviewers response these help you to dig deeper. Follow-up questions give us greater insight, letting us form a clear opinion.

A key aspect about asking questions is waiting for response. A thing to remember is that it is not just about asking questions it is about building conversations. Let the interviewer take his time in responding. Don’t interject or try to fill in the silence in anyway. Get comfortable with silences. And don’t interrupt when the interviewer is speaking. For one it interrupts his train of thought and the other it is disrespectful. Not quite your objective.  deer-in-headlights

Moral of the story is when asked “Do you have any Questions” – don’t be like a dear caught in the headlights. Be prepared with a list and ask 2 to 3 relevant questions. Art of the Ask is in engaging the other person in this case the interviewer. It is about building rapport and getting clarity.

Prakash Francis is a Talent Acquisition expert based in Bangalore.

Interview Question:What is your greatest Weakness?

I have come to learn there is a virtuous cycle to transparency and a very vicious cycle of obfuscation.

Jeff Weiner (CEO Linkedin) 

The question “what is your greatest weakness” continues to be one that stresses and stumps candidates. Sort of putting them between the devil and the deep blue sea. On the one hand you do not want to appear insincere, on the other you are not in a position to highlight something that could be red flag for the interviewer.Strengths and Weaknesses - Internal Part of a SWOT Analysis

You might wonder why ask such a question – and make candidates uncomfortable?

The reason is simple. It is to find out how aware you are about your weaknesses and strengths. Further, it gives an indication about how open you might be to receive some constructive feedback. This question in a way helps in developing clarity about your fit for the role.

There are multiple ways to handle this question and the online sources have a number of them listed out. But most of the listed advice is cute to say the least. One often quoted suggestion is to turn a strength into a weakness – I am a perfectionist. The problem is that the interviewer is likely to have read the same blogs, and he is going to know where you are coming from. This kind of response makes you appear evasive, and raises a red flag on your honesty.

Instead consider scenario shared below. Note how this candidate tackles the question in an open, transparent manner.

Interviewer: Ravi, can you tell us about your greatest weakness?

Ravi(candidate) : Sir, I assume you mean with respect to the job I am interviewing for.  

Interviewer: Yes, You are right.

Ravi: I feel I need to work on my organizing ability and productivity. Let me explain. I have a good record at my work so far. I have consistently achieved or surpassed the numbers and have been commended for the same. I have excellent ability to approach and persuade prospects and clients. I am good at asking questions and am good at follow-up. But where I fall short is in not being completely organised. I can be better at managing my time and in organizing myself in a manner that I my productivity improves and I am able to achieve much more. 

Interviewer: Mr. Ravi, does that mean you are saying that you are not productive enough.

Ravi: No that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that with my existing skills I am good on the job considering my overall performance – but I can do a lot more. But to move ahead in my career –I need to work on my ability to organize myself, so that I can handle greater responsibilities with ease.

Interviewer: If you are good on the job and that is shown by your performance results that means it is your strength. We would like to see an example of your failing.

Ravi: I see where you are getting at. But thing is that I do not like to fail so I try to anticipate such situations and prepare myself accordingly. Based on self evaluation I realize that – if I do not work on my skills of organizing I will have challenges while taking up greater responsibilities and work loads. Hence I am preparing myself accordingly – by reading books on the topic and enrolling for courses.

I hope I have answered to your satisfaction , I would appreciate if you could share your thoughts on areas that I could improve upon.

This is one way to handle the question. Have a frank discussion about your weaknesses.Inability to stay organized is a weakness – yet it is a weakness a number of candidates struggle with especially in the early years. The other thing is that the candidate is open about how he is tackling the situation and his keenness to improve himself.

This answer displays

  1. the candidates thought clarity,
  2. Self awareness
  3. Willingness to work on himself.

All attributes of a positive, career focused candidate.

The writer is a Talent Acquisition Expert based in Bangalore.

 

 

The Secret to a Great First Impression

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

First impressions are not about you!

They are about the person you are trying to engage with.

And as to the question  ” How to make a great First first impression?” the Best response is “Don’t try to impress.”

Engage the person and get interested in him/her.

Trying to impress will get you the opposite result of what you desire.

When we go to social events we come across some people who appear fake. These people are worried about impressing you rather than being genuinely interested in you. It is a turn-off.

On the other hand, what about people we do like. People whom we like to speak to, to engage with? What is it about these people that we get impressed with?

In my opinion, it has a lot to do with being natural, being comfortable in our own skin. Being genuine.

Broadly the traits that lead us to get impressed can be classified into two categories :

  1. Non Verbal
  2. Verbal

These two aspects form the microcosm of our impact on people when we meet them for the first time.

Non Verbal

The cornerstones of good Non-Verbal engagement are –

Eye-contact

They say Eye contact begets eye contact. Typically people are comfortable in holding our gaze for 2-3 seconds but with mutual consent this gaze gets prolonged. Scientifically it is proven that there is a neurological connect, during good eye contact, ( activation of mirror neurons), which creates a bond. This ability to maintain a good eye contact has a huge impact on how we are perceived by others. Good eye contact paves the way for the next key factor of Non Verbal impact The smile.

jackma-kcxG--621x414@LiveMint

Smile

The transition from an eye-contact to a smile takes just a few milli-seconds. First the eye contact , followed by a smile then perhaps an imperceptible nod. The smile here refers to a “genuine” smile. A smile that involves all the muscles around the mouth and the eye. Infact scientists even have a name for this smile , it is called the ” Duchenne” smile after the neurologist who goes by the same name.

Both eye contact and the smile do not involve a tactile touch. The next cornerstone of non Verbal engagement involves a physical touch, that is the Handshake.

Handshake

The rules for a good handshake are simple. A firm clasp, a gentle shake and a confident stance. The duration would not be more than 3-4 seconds. Again it is based on mutual consent. More than 6-7 seconds and things can get weird. Mentioning your name during the handshake leads to better name retention.

These are the fundamentals for good non – verbal engagement and this entire routine (Eye-contact , Smile and Handshake)would take less than 10 seconds. These 10 seconds pave the way for the next stage which is the “Conversation”.

Conversations are the “Building Blocks” of a relationship. Infact they are the life blood of healthy relationships. Business or personal. While the Eye-contact , Smile and the Handshake help in creating the initial “impression” it is the actual conversations that will determine what impression you leave the person with.

Having a good engaging conversation is not about being witty, or in cracking jokes. If it comes naturally to you well and good. Else stay clear. Don’t try to be funny.

Engaging in conversations is as simple as showing genuine interest in what the other person has to say and in response, sharing your thoughts in a positive, non-intrusive manner. It is all about giving the other person the “Gift of your Attention”.

There is a ton of literature online about how to become a good conversationalist. The advice revolves around asking questions, active listening, nodding your head appropriately etc. Perfect advice no doubt. But if it doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t do it. People see through the fake stuff. Often we fall into the trap of showing these outward signs of listening to the person, while actually we are thinking about what to say next. We get in to an auto mode. That ultimately kills conversations.

The key to good memorable conversations is to stay true to yourself and be genuinely interested in the other person. It is about how you make the other person feel. Because that is what they are going to remember. Nothing is worse than a person realizing that he was speaking to a wall.

Incase you are not interested in what he/she has to say – politely dis-engage. Move onto the person you find interesting to talk to.

Best way to get better at conversations is to have more of them.

I am reminded of an old story of a wise man named Chidananda.

Chidananda was a great writer and once he was called to speak about writing to a bunch of college students. He went on stage and asked “How many of you really want to be writers”?

All hands went up.

“In that case” he said “ I suggest you all must go home and write”

With that he left.

So, if you want to genuinely engage with people for the first time or the nth time – meet more people and start having more conversations.

I do the same.

Prakash Francis is a Talent Acquisition Expert based in Bangalore.    

 

 

 

Interviews:Five steps to an effective close.

This is not the END
This is not even the beginning of the END!
If anything, it is the END of the Beginning!
Winston Churchill

INTERVIEW CLOSE

Endings are important whether to a War or to a novel. Great endings lead to great New beginnings so, It makes sense to make them memorable.The same goes for Interviews too.

But, when it comes to closing interviews, candidates too often end in a jiffy with a smile and thank you. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t propose that they stop being gracious to the interviewer or for that matter stop smiling. No! of course not. But, there is room to do a lot more than that.

This is a key moment of Interviewer “Face Time”. Why would you want to waste it?.

Ask any Toastmaster, he will tell you the importance of a great opening and a great close. That’s because the audience remembers what came first and what came last, they forget the rest.  As an interviewee you can take advantage of this human frailty to leave an impact on your audience ( the interviewer) by crafting a memorable close.

How can you do that?

Here is a simple Five step process to close any interview with impact.

Step-1. Summarize. Provide the interviewer with a synopsis of your experience. Recap, re-state, recount why you feel you are the best fit for the job. For example – “As an experienced finance professional having worked extensively on international taxation, I have proven ability in building and leading teams and developing effective solutions for tax automation. As such I hold a sincere interest in joining your team”. Highlight how your skills and experience fit with the job reqs and work environment.

Step-2. Express Interest. Continuing with the last point re-express interest in the job. Emphasize by stating how exciting the position sounds and how you look forward to work with the team. Demonstrate knowledge about the company products and services and focus on its positive reputation. Leave the interviewer with the impression that you this company is your FIRST CHOICE.

Step-3.Concerns. Now to tackle the unspoken anxieties of the interviewer. Silent concerns are a hurdle standing in way of you getting the job. Here is an example of easing an interviewers concern by proactively bringing up the topic – If I were in your place I might wonder as to why I would leave, own house and family and move to a different location. I would like to clarify the reasons for this move …. This clears the air and creates room for a healthy discussion which other-wise might remain a nagging thought in the interviewers mind.

The above three steps will set you up for a classy ending to your interview. The next two will pave the way for a smooth transition to a post interview phase.

askStep-4.Ground work. After the interview you would want to be in a position to call up and speak with the interviewers. This requires some ground work. Ask by when you can expect a response and if it is okay for you to follow up in-case you do not hear from them. You don’t need their permission to ask but having the permission makes your job easier. Helps in overcoming any inhibitions that you may feel when the time comes to follow up. Further ask what the next step is going to be, are the shortlisted candidates going to be called for another round, what would be the time frame? Will there be multiple rounds? Keep these questions ready.

Step-5.Names and a Thankyou. You have got the permission to followup, how will you do so if you have not managed to get their contacts. So, get the names of all the people whom you have met, who interviewed you and their contact information. Send them an individual thank you note. There are innumerable resources online which will help you in crafting a professional thankyou mail.

Following this five step process will help you stand out in the eyes of your interviewer. Always give a great amount of attention to each one of the steps above for every interview you attend. Your interviewers will appreciate your preparation and professionalism and surely want to have you in their team. And yes, don’t forget to shine your “close up” smile to bring the proceeds to an effective close.

Prakash Francis is a Talent Acquisition expert based in Bangalore.

 

Immersive Theater

unnamedA month ago i had the chance to attend a short immersive  theater workshop as part of an NHRD monthly meeting. It was really engrossing and Aruna Ganesh had the audience in a spell.

Visual Respiration the organization founded by Aruna organizes regular workshops on Immersive Theater. There is one such being conducted on May 21st . This is an introduction to immersive theater.

If you are trying to create a greater impact on your audience , either at work or any other aspect of your life – don’t miss this workshop.

Image Courtesy: Visual Respiration

 

 

Handling Criticism

Steven Covey speaks about reaction and response. But in the midst of the action it takes a really evolved person to differentiate the two.

The eagerness to defend surpasses the reason to be rational.

Tammy Lenski gives some insights on how to handle criticism. But tell you what – this is like homeopathy. The action you choose to take must be already ingrained before the criticism happens.

Coz if that is not so , if you are not mentally prepared to face a blow to your ego – the lizard brain will take control and do the defending for you. And your criticizer might not know what hit him. As it happened in my case.

Nevertheless what Tammy Linski offers are good ways to manage these abrasive situations-

Acknowledge 

Acknowledge is different from accept. Feedback received. Noted. To act upon it or not is a decision that you can take in your time.

Cool Off. 

Give yourself time to respond. It could be 10 minutes or it could be 1 day. Time enough to disconnect from the emotions of the moment.

Accept

Who says the process of self improvement is sweet and smooth. Criticism is bitter, yes, but is the message worth considering.

If so, then however damaging the criticism might be, the treatment needs to be borne.