Please Don’t Be Quiet, Please

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I had a friend here in Singapore, a senior-level executive who’d lived in Asia for a number of years, and was working for a US MNC,, covering Southeast Asia. He’d mentioned that he and the family would like to return to the United States on the coattails of the company (he’d been with them about 3 years) Time for the kids to live in the US, ageing parents, quality of life, and so forth.

‘Makes sense,’ I replied. ‘How’s your network at headquarters if you’re going to go back with them?’

‘Oh, I’ve never actually been to corporate. No one’s ever invited me. Not yet, anyhow. I know some people there, but don’t have much visibility. But that shouldn’t be a big problem if I want to move back – I’ve hit my sales targets already.’

“Huh?” I thought to myself, but just said, ‘Well, you may want to start on shoring up your visibility. If you’ve never been to HQ, how do you get those groups of decision makers to care about you. Do you know who you’d logically target?’

He agreed with me on the urgency, and that he knew exactly whom to target. I suggested he get on a plane and fly back twice before the end of the year. But I shouldn’t be telling a senior exec such stuff, and felt a bit awkward saying so.

Two years later he did in fact move back to the United States, although not quite as planned. He was laid off from that company a few months after we spoke and got another job with another tech MNC in Singapore. After about 18 months they had a large re-org. He was let go and packed everything up to return to the US. He landed a job not long after, so a happy ending–or beginning.

Another friend never figured out how to promote herself. In a new sales job for three months, she called me to say she did not think she would make it past the probationary period, but would find out when she spoke to her boss.

I asked what she thought people said about her in the office. She paused to think, and carefully replied, ‘I think they’ll say they don’t know what I do.’

‘Better start to press the flesh some more’, I warned, ‘spend more one-on-one time with those in positions of power and let them know precisely what you do.’

Sure enough, she had that meeting the following week and her boss said he’d extend her probation by one month, but added that she was their biggest overhead (as a westerner), so she’d better bring in more business soon. Last I heard she’d had it with the company. She was not interested in making any relational efforts. It didn’t help that she was outmanoeuvred by another peer who’d been there as long as her, but spent much more time with the boss.

What’s the moral of the stories? Four points.

1. Don’t be quiet.

There are many ways to be “loud”, which I’m using figuratively. Never think your hard work allows a free pass to the next level. Manage your career by managing your voice – and your ears.

2. Know your audience.

Sometimes your best recourse is to say little, so when you do speak, it has impact. Other times is to present-formally or informally. At each turn, know whom you’re addressing, what they want to hear, how to approach and appear, and of course, know what you want to say. Confidently and succinctly.

3. Squawk nicely.

Build your name publicly and build your name within the organisation. Chat comfortably about what you’ve done and what you’re going to do. Don’t rankle others with a “Me Me” tone, but with a light, steady and engaging delivery and touch. It’s manageable. As an old jazz DJ used to say about good jazz, it ‘swings lightly and politely.’ Get your rhythm down to a good pace.

4. Rehearse and think before saying.

No actor goes on to stage without knowing their lines. Never imrpovise your story; practise it. Rehearse until it sounds natural. Practise doesn’t make perfect, but does make it a lot easier.

Your career will not come together through a supernatural hand. You get out what you put in, every single time. Take that first swing at it. Be comfortable engaging others about what they do, and tell ’em what you do with some flair and brevity. Make it an interesting and balanced conversation.

It is, after all, conversing we really want more of these days. Not more blogs or self-help manuals, but how to be interesting and engaging with others, not the tetchy and evanescent on-line opinions.

I’m not telling you how to humblebrag better, but rather consider having a communicative repertoire close at hand. After all, that is the foundation for all relationships, whether friendship or acquaintanceship, subordinate or superior, friend or foe- virtual or physical.

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