Try Reading a NEW Language

Boring presentation. Group of young business people in smart casual wear looking bored while sitting together at the table and looking awayRecently I attended a conference in the Northeast.  I was speaking in the afternoon so I got there early to do some prep work and networking.  During the lunch break, a few speakers came up to do some announcements.  Now a big reason people attend conferences (myself included) is to network.  With over 300 attendees, there was a lot of networking going around at all the tables.  People then began to leave and with about 20 minutes left of lunch break, only 1/3 of the room was full.

The featured lunch speaker was from the national chapter of the association and she was going to talk about trends in the industry and how the national chapter would help.  She was very enthusiastic and full of energy.  Unfortunately, those who actually listened to her numbered about 10 and they were up front.  The rest of the room ignored her.  Seemingly oblivious to this, she talked on and on from her prepared script.  It was a bit sad.  She seemed to have no clue that she was talking to nobody.  The paltry applause she got at the end from the remaining audience had to alarm her but she smiled and walked off the stage.  Either she pushed on professionally and then went into the Ladies Room and had a meltdown or she was simply clueless.  I felt very uncomfortable for her but it reminded me of the importance of reading an audience.  Learning the communication that body language provides us. Then, reading in that language.

Back in the 1960s, a researcher named Albert Mehrabian did a number of studies on communication, particularly which form of communication could influence the most effectively.  Although his data was coopted and inaccurately compared (this is the common statement that 55% of communication is from body language, 38% from tone of voice, and 7% from the words themselves) it’s pretty clear that body language talks. Loudly.  You have to be observant!

So if you find yourself getting the opportunity to speak to a large group or you have to speak to a smaller group to maybe make your case for a new idea, be mindful of the following:

  1. Empathize with Your Audience.  If it’s near lunchtime or the end of the day, be brief.  Nobody will complain if you end early.  If it’s late afternoon or midmorning, the audience may be tired.  Acknowledge all of this verbally. “Because it’s late in the day, I’ll make my remarks quickly so we can all get out of here sooner.”  Trust me, you’ll win big fans!
  2. Speak a Language the Audience Speaks.  Use their jargon, not yours.  Use examples that relate to them, not you.  If you use audio or video examples, use ones that relate to this particular audience.  Tie the unfamiliar to the familiar (again, familiar to them) and you’ll transfer your knowledge to them.
  3. Tell a Story.  Nothing communicates like a good story.  Told correctly, it will capture your audience and hold them to the end.  But you need to practice the story.  It should also be YOUR story.  No more “Starfish on the Beach” or “The Commanding Officer of the Battleship Arguing with the Lighthouse” stories.  If you want to look like a complete amateur, just use tired speaker-stories like these.  Be original and be YOU!
  4. Watch the Body Language of Your Audience.  This is where the lunch speaker failed.  If she had noticed people leaving or ignoring her, she should have stopped going from the script and tried something different.  Maybe even stopping to just tell a story.

Even if you dread it, there is no better way to connect, convince, or control a group of people than to speak in front of them.  Don’t waste the opportunity by failing to connect.  You always connect better if you read their body language and engage them on their level.  When you connect, you can convince.

How Well Do You Sell?

Above view of consultant shaking hands with customerIf you’re anything like me, you probably hate selling.

Most of us get our hate for selling from early childhood experiences like selling Christmas cards door to door or worse, having to sell Girl Scout cookies outside of a store to total strangers.

Then of course we deal with salespeople as adults which can put us off even more.  The car salesperson who we just know is dishonest and wants to screw us over.  The cold caller who pesters us to switch from Dish Network to DirectTV.

As someone who actually has to sell in order to get more clients, I’ve seen both extremes in the world of sales.  On one hand, there is the salesperson at the booth at a trade show who is too afraid to look at your when you walk by, instead peering intently into their smartphone.  Then there is the other extreme.

On a recent vacation to Cancun, Mexico I walked into the crowded flea market next to the Senor Frog’s to buy some souvenirs for family and friends.  I was about 10 feet from the entrance when I was immediately swarmed by vendors selling anything from t-shirts to plaster skeletons to spoon holders with Our Lady of Guadalupe on them.

“Where are you from?” they asked.

“Tennessee” I replied.

“Ah Tennessee Titans” (they pronounced it “Thennessee Thitans”) and proceeded to show me a plaster skull wearing a Titans football helmet.  They offered me a beer, probably to relax me and intoxicate me enough to suddenly develop an obsession for turtles sculpted out of abalone shells.  As it happens, I walked out of that market with a lot of stuff I really didn’t need nor intended to buy.  At least I was able to negotiate with them which meant I was only a little ripped off buying Mexican stuff that was probably made in China.

But it taught me a sales lesson:  There is a balanced approach to selling something to someone.

And just to be clear, all of us are salespeople.  We may not all sell products or services but all of us have to sell our ideas or opinions, or even ourselves to a hiring manager.  What is the best way?

  1. Build a genuine rapport. One of the T-shirt vendors in Cancun asked me where I was from originally which of course was California.  He said he was from there and lived there 6 months out of the year.  He referenced places only a Californian would know so we hit it off.  After buying stuff from him, I asked which vendor he trusted to give me the best deal on some plaster jewelry boxes.  He walked me over a couple of booths and introduced me to a guy who I then bought from.  When we went back for more t-shirts a couple days later, I went right back to his booth and we bought from him.  Rapport builds trust.  We buy from people we trust.
  1. Be Assertive, but Not Aggressive. Assertive means asking for the sale.  Aggressive means insisting on the sale.  I recently purchased a new Mazda CX-7 in Clarksville, TN.  The salesman spent about an hour demonstrating the features and benefits of the car.  At no point did he pressure me.  Finally though he asked, “What will it take for you to purchase this car from me today?”  Assertive?  Yes. Aggressive?  No.  Had he asked me that in the first 10 minutes it would have caused me to walk away.  But after an hour of conversation, it was an appropriate question.  After some haggling, I bought the car from him.
  1. Ask for the Sale. That’s the point of selling isn’t it?  Don’t expect the customer to just open up their wallets to you and ask you to reach inside.  This means you have to do the hard work to build rapport and explain the features and benefits of your product, service, proposal, or SELF.  Then, when it’s time, ask for the sale.

Selling is difficult and scary but by practicing the techniques and then putting yourself into that assertive mindset, you’ll be able to do it.  Trust me, I do a whole lot of selling in my business and even though it doesn’t come naturally to me, I’m getting better all the time.

All of us need to sell.  The question is:  How well will you sell?

Are You Aware of Your Bias?

Unconscious BiasAre you biased?  If you say no, you’re just not human.  If you’re reading this, trust me, you’re human.

Recently I put together a short seminar on dealing with unconscious bias.  In researching the topic, I found some interesting information.

First, we are all biased.  It simply means we tend to sort out information and give preference to one piece of data to solve a particular problem.  Also, we as human beings sort out data as we see it.  For example, when we enter a room, the first thing we do is scan up and down and side to side.  Then we notice people.  The first thing we notice is their skin color followed quickly by their gender.  Up to this point, there are no problems.

Unfortunately, when it comes to that sorting and bias, if we’re not careful we can start giving preference unfairly when we’re not aware of our thinking process.  That’s where the conscious bias (what we’re aware of) can be influenced by our unconscious bias (what’s inside us and often has free run of our brains without ever being questioned).

My first wife hated fish.  She had the privilege of visiting some amazing places like Hawaii and Australia and had access to some of the best fish on the planet.  As long as I knew her, I never saw her take a bite of fish, and yet she always told me how much she hated fish.  Our daughter grew up hating fish.  She never took a bite of fish (as far as I could remember).  When she was in her early 20’s, she moved in with us for a couple of years.  I convinced her to try fish.  She loved it.  Her fiancé (and now husband) cooked lots of fish and she ate it.  She even ate calamari, not just the cylinder-shaped ones but the ones with all the tentacles.  An unconscious bias against fish (from her mom) led to a conscious one (from her) until it was challenged and overcome (by me and Chris).

But enough about fish.  Could a host of early experiences be lurking in our subconscious and affect our decision-making?  Absolutely.  Here’s how it works:

Think about your most trusted circle of advisors.  Don’t count family members in this group.  These folks are the ones you can rely on, can relate to, and can be counted upon to never let you down.  Do you have your list?

Now take a good look at them.  I’m willing to bet that most, if not all of them look like you (gender/race/age), think like you (political leaning/religious affiliation), and act like you (sexual orientation/marital status).  If that’s your trusted inner circle, you might be tempted to use them as your yardstick when measuring others.  If they “fit” you, then you trust them, if not, then you discount.  You do this unconsciously.  It’s normal.  Just pay attention to it.

It becomes a problem then when we select only those people or people like them for special projects, promotions, or favors.  We discount those we don’t know and don’t even give them a chance because on the surface we can’t really trust them.

Many years ago, a dentist that I assisted looked past the obvious (an enlisted kid with no motivation) and took the time to push me to attend college and dream bigger.  It’s the reason I have the career I do today.  The dentists I worked for before him and after him saw just the surface and treated me like crap. Had I never met Greg Nelson, I would not be successful today. Don’t let an unconscious bias derail the potential in others around you.

Bias is normal.  It’s the lack of reflection and honesty that makes it dangerous.  This week, make it a point to expand your circle of trust and begin to draw from the wealth and wisdom of others you may have previously ignored.  Everyone wins if that happens!

Why Being FIRST Sometimes Makes You Best

copyHollywood seems to be in full-bore reboot and sequel mode.  Where Summer and Thanksgiving used to be the launch of the big blockbusters, now they seem to be nothing more than a couple of new ideas but many more sequels and more recently, the reboot – a remake of a remake…of sometimes another remake.

Up until just about 10 years ago, there was the Batman movies which built on the original TV series from the 1960s with Adam West (with several different actors) and the Superman movies (with Christopher Reeve).  Then came The Hulk and Spiderman.  Then nothing.  Then of course came the multiple other superhero movies and then the phenomena of multiple Hulk movies (reboots) and to date, two more Spiderman reboots, another Batman reboot, and then of course Batman vs. Superman.

It’s not just superheroes.  Since the original Jaws movie in 1975, there have been four sequels and several other killer (really insane killer) sharks in movies.  Just when you think it’s safe to go back into the water…

What does this all have to do with you?  Well, how original are you?  How groundbreaking are your ideas?

There is a risk with being first and with being original.  You could of course be wildly successful.  That’s what happened with the original Jaws movie.  Even though the shark looked fake, the terror kept people in real life off the beach.  Sequels tried to recapture that same magic but aside from more realistic sharks and bloodier human feedings, they just didn’t have the same effect.  There was always a comparison to the original.

On the other hand, you might fail.  It’s possible.  But here’s the thing.  Even if it failed, you were the first to try.  Even if someone builds and perfects your idea, they still keep YOU in the conversation.  Someone else is trying to improve what YOU started.  YOU started.  You’re still memorable.

Hollywood seems to have lost its creativity.  And the more it happens, the more we think about and miss Adam West, Christopher Reeve, and the robotic fake shark Bruce.  The more you copy the original, the more the original shines.

What new idea have you been thinking about proposing?  What new direction have you been contemplating in your current career path?  Instead of waiting for affirmation from what’s already been tried, why not be the pioneer that will be remembered for no other reason maybe than it was simply the first…

 

 

How to (Credibly) Sell Something

That being the case, I’ve found that people who aren’t trained sales or marketing professionals prefer to do everything BUT address pain points.  None clearer than the billboard I saw in Clarksville, TN this week.

Now if you look at it, you’ll probably have several questions:

  • Who is Mr. Murples?
  • If he’s the baboon with the big glasses, what does he know about buying a car?
  • If he does know about buying cars, how do we know that their prices are the lowest?
  • Why is Mr. Murples so huge when the car that has the low price on it is dwarfed?

Does this billboard do anything to convince anyone they should buy at this dealership?

Now I have nothing against this dealership or Nissans for that matter. I even like baboons (but I’m not a fan of bow ties, on humans or baboons). I do have something against spending hard-earned cash on crappy advertising.

And because I do, I’d like to offer up some suggestions for the next time you’re trying to sell something (or yourself) to someone.

  1. Identify Your Potential Audience. Who are they? What do they like? How do they think? In the case of a car buyer, think about what demographic might be interested in a Nissan. Everyone loves buying at the lowest price. Do Nissan buyers like baboons with bow ties and glasses?
  2. Identify their “Pain.” In the case of car buyers, low price is certainly important but what about a buyer-friendly experience where there is no haggling over the price? We want to attract the right people to the lot. Not sure what you’d attract with a bow tie-wearing baboon.
  3. Figure Out the Best Way to Reach Them. Billboards might be great when marketing to people on the road. That may be where your buyers are. Possibly having a baboon on the billboard gets attention in a sea of other car dealer, law firms, and insurance agencies who seem to dominate the billboard methodology. But does this really work? Which leads to…
  4. Measure Your Results. I’m not sure how one would track who comes in based on seeing Mr. Murples. If the dealership actually polls potential buyers, they’d be wise to count just how many were drawn in by the ad. If Mr. Murples is driving up sales, keep him around. If not, move on and maybe try NOT using animals.

These lessons work in sales and in interviewing for jobs. Take some time this week to reexamine your sales and marketing strategy. Mr. Munro thinks it’s a great idea. You’ll have to ask Mr. Murples his opinion.

The Secret to Getting Great Critiques on Your Presentation

Lavatory sinks

This is where your presentation gets REAL critiques. Prepare for this audience and the rest is a breeze!

When I’m in town, I like to attend my local Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) chapter meetings.  These are a great place to network and you can certainly learn from the topics that are presented.

At the end of each session, there is a little card on the table that you fill out with feedback for the speaker and the event.  Most people scribble a few notes and check the boxes and then head out the door.  I’m sure the cards are useful, but what really matters is what people say about your presentation in the bathroom shortly after.

I’m always amazed at the critiques speakers get when audience members are in the safety of the bathroom.  I hear criticism of the topic, the slides, the speakers themselves, etc.  People feel a bit more candid I guess when in this unique, sacred place.

Now you can fear this phenomenon if you’re a speaker or you can simply use it as a tool to better prepare for your next presentation.  Here are some of my suggestions:

Your Topic:  If you’re going to present, be sure to present on a topic that’s timely and relevant.  Of course you need to know your audience for this one.  Find out their experience level.  Inquire about some of the “pain” they experience.  Then deliver solutions with a “how to” theme.  Make sure they leave with tangible takeaways.  Avoid subjects that are dated (Generations in the Workplace), stereotypical and divisive (Generations in the Workplace), fads (Generations in the Workplace), or that have been beat-to-death in numerous other presentations (Generations in the Workplace) – You see a theme here don’t you?

Your Command of the Subject:  Make sure you present on a topic where you are either a recognized authority or at least a strong, proven subject matter expert.  If you can’t intelligently answer hard questions at the end of the presentation (and this is common criticism in post-presentation bathroom critiques) then find another topic to present on.

Your Visuals:  Be different and ditch PowerPoint® or minimize the amount of slides you need.  Use relevant videos and debrief them clearly.  If possible, use a flip chart and talk while writing down your points.  Even consider tools like Prezi for a different visual approach.  AND, have a backup plan if you can’t get Internet, sound for videos, or a correct connection from your laptop to the data projector.  Just so you know, I’ve never had a person complain that I didn’t have a PowerPoint® presentation.

Your Style:  Have someone evaluate your style before you present.  Pay attention to the amount of times you use fillers such as “um” and “ok.”  Don’t start off every statement with “So” (“So today we’re going to talk about how to deal with generations in the workplace.” “So you know all those Millennials want a trophy for just showing up.”  “So you know you should always tell Gen Z how their job relates to a clean environment and workplace harmony”).  Unless of course you’re pitching a product on Shark Tank.  Then you look weird if you don’t start off every statement with “so”.

Your Appearance:  In my experience, women don’t have issues here but men do.  Guys, spend some money and get a suit that actually fits you.  Shine up your shoes.  Brush the dandruff off your shoulders if you wear a dark jacket.  Take a long look in the mirror before leaving the house.  If you look there and see Andy Rooney staring back, take a beard trimmer and shear those eyebrows.  Start with the highest setting and work your way down.  Don’t ask me how I know this.  Look up your nose and trim out all of those nose hairs.  Then look at your ears.  Same thing here.  You want people to talk about your amazing presentation, not your lack of style and personal grooming.

I know this is a lot to think about but it’s the little details that make your presentation a success.  Plan out the presentation and prepare for those inevitable bathroom critiques.  They happen whether you like it or not but preparation before will certainly give them something positive to talk about, while they’re hopefully washing their hands.

The Not-So-Secret Formula for Success

Business Success Concept - MotivationIt seems like everyone wants to know the secret to success.  Is it skill?  Work ethic?  Tenacity?  Mindfulness?

Actually, it’s none of the above.  If you’re asking me, it’s TRUST.  Are you WHO you say you are and will you DO what you say you will, and will you do it WHEN you say you will?  The formula looks like this:

Reliability + Consistency = Trust

Reliability means I can depend on you:

  • You show up when you say you will.
  • You perform the way you tell me you will.
  • You perform to a high level and exceed my high expectations.

Consistency means you are predictably dependable:

  • You’ll be on time.
  • You’ll Always be on time.
  • You’ll perform to the same standards of excellence each time.

When you do these consistently, I won’t worry anymore.  In other words, I TRUST you.

It seems simple but it’s not.  When you get let down enough times, you lose trust and begin to get skeptical.

I get lots of calls and email from people who want to meet with me to network, “pick my brain,” or just talk.  I don’t mind these but will absolutely drive me crazy are no-shows, particularly since I live in way out in the country and this means I travel at least an hour to the areas of Middle Tennessee where most people live.  What kills me?  No-shows.  It’s happened enough times that I’m skeptical.  When somebody does show, I’m almost surprised.  Of course learning the hard way, I have my assistant now call the day before to verify the appointment.  I just don’t trust folks as much anymore.

I’m a huge fan of National Car Rental.  As a frequent traveler, it makes me happy to just hit the lot, pick any car and go.  I won’t rent from anyone else, least of which the parent company of National, Enterprise.

But sometimes it’s unavoidable.

Enterprise has older, dirty cars and a rental system that requires you to wait in line, sign in, wait to be escorted to your car, walked around it to look for damage, and then allowed to leave.  It reminds me of being at the doctor’s office.  They are notoriously unreliable to be on time (for pickup) or for having your rental ready (much like the classic Seinfeld episode “we have your  reservation Mr. Seinfeld, unfortunately, we ran out of cars.”)  Well unfortunately they are also the contracted rental company from USAA, my insurance company.

A few months ago I was hit by another drive while in business in Tunica, MS.  I dropped my car at the body shop in Erin, TN and was supposed to have the Enterprise people meet me there with my rental car.  I had a bad feeling about it based on past experience but went ahead and trusted they’d be there.  Sure enough, they were a no-show.  I called the office and they told me it would be at least 2 hours.  Unacceptable. After some assertive leveraging from me, they were there in 45 minutes.  But since this already fed my negative perception, I vowed never to use them again.  Tweets to customer service yielded nothing but a canned reply (which I used previously resulting in no resolution) suggesting that this was standard practice.

The moral of the story?  Trust is key.  I trust National, not Enterprise.  I trust you once you make your appointment with me, but NEVER if you miss it.

So if you want to be successful in your business or your job, be trustworthy.  Remember:

Reliability + Consistency = Trust

 

The Old Lady in the Freezer

panic buttonBack between 2005 and 2009 I taught quite a few military-to-civilian transition classes up at Fort Meade in Maryland.  Since the traffic was horrendous, I’d leave my house really early and arrive on base at 6:30 AM.  Class didn’t start until 8 so I had some time to kill.  Most mornings I would drive to the Class 6 Shoppette (a gas station that sold groceries and alcohol) to get my Red Bull and a 5-Hour Energy shot.

One morning I was in the Shoppette and heard a woman’s muffled screams coming from the back of the store.  I went back there and saw an old lady in the beer cooler.  She was pounding on the door trying to get out.  I grabbed the handle and opened the door.  She hugged me and said I saved her life.

Then she asked me, “How did you manage to get in here?”

I told her I just pulled the handle.  She told me that she was desperately pulling the handle from the inside.  I guess she didn’t realize she had to push it.  The harder she pulled, the more stuck she became.  Then she panicked and when she did, she thought she was trapped.

I never forgot about that old lady in the freezer.  Some of us are a lot like her.  When trouble comes, we panic and when we do, we do some dumb things.

Today I got an unsolicited email from a gentleman wanting work as a proposal manager:

Good afternoon,
I am available immediately, and have a lot to contribute to your organization.
I have extensive experience in government proposal development.
Recently came off a four month effort, rested a bit, and I’m available immediately.
Also, recently responded to 8(a)Stars, Sources Sought, and IDIQ submissions.
I’m looking for full time or contract work – rates TBD.
My resume is attached for your consideration and phone review.
The pleasure of a reply is appreciated.  Call or write.
Thank you.

He attached his resume to this email.

Now of course he has no idea about what I do so how would he know he has anything to contribute to my organization?  When I read it, I thought of the old lady in the freezer.  Desperation makes you do dumb things, like shotgun a resume to as many email addresses as you can find.

And yet we’ve all been in the same predicament, haven’t we?  Stressed, facing a deadline, needing resources and having lots at stake.  How can we prevent ourselves from looking desperate and also solve our problem?  Here are some suggestions.

  1. Take a deep breath.  Yeah I know this is somewhat of a cliché, but taking a deep breath causes oxygen to flow to our brain.  Your solutions will start in your brain so don’t starve it!  Take a deep breath (or several) and focus on the solution.
  2. Take charge of your self talk.  Start speaking rational language rather than emotional language to yourself.  When you do that, move on to steps 3 and 4.
  3. What is worst case scenario?  It may seem like a stress-increaser but if you at least own what could happen, you know where your solutions need to focus.
  4. What is the most likely scenario?  This is where your thinking brain has to override the emotional one.  Emotions will push you towards worst case scenario but the rational side of you should look at the most likely scenario.  Often this is far better than you can imagine, but you won’t know that if you’re pulling the handle in the freezer rather than pushing it.
  5. Find yourself a support team.  Facing an ominous scenario alone is like finding yourself in a bar fight against four other people.  You need backup!  At least find someone you can call to bounce ideas off.  They might be able to give you a suggestion or point you to a resource.
  6. Take one positive first step towards solution.  Don’t worry about the huge problem.  Focus on just one small step.  It will give you confidence and move you closer to the bigger problem. “One step, one punch, one round at a time.” (Rocky Balboa to Adonis Creed).
  7. Finally, remember Satchel Page’s famous words “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”  Or pulling on the handle.  Or shotgunning your resume to everyone with a pulse and an email address.

None of us are going to be exempt from a crisis but how we handling it well gives us confidence for the next one and gains us a huge amount of respect from the people around us.  Take a deep breath and think about that this week…

 

 

“I Never Thought It Would Happen to Me…”

depositphotos_3849942_m-2015Even though the economy seems to have healed after the Great Recession of 2008, it’s still a common occurrence when people reach out to me for advice after getting laid off.

There are two reasons why a person loses their job:

  1. The company goes out of business.
  2. The person stops adding value (or takes value away by performing poorly)

To prevent yourself from being unprepared for that possible bad day, I’d like to suggest the following steps to better plan for that day.

  1. Perform! You have full control over this one.  Each day, come to work with the mindset of doing your job the best that you can and when you’re done, look for something else to do.  Play until the whistle!
  1. Keep Your Eye on the Industry. Companies rarely fold without warning.  Spend some time each day reading the news and watching business reports.  If you see what your company produces is fading from popularity, start making plans to change industries or companies.
  1. Keep Your Skills Sharp. You may not like the new technology or don’t feel like learning it, but sooner or later that technology will become the standard.  If you aren’t willing to develop yourself and adapt, you may find yourself on the wrong end of a pink slip.
  1. Keep Your Resume Updated. Keep it current with the latest trends in resumes.  I often hear that a person is writing their first resume in 10 years, and that resume shows it!  Trends change in the HR world.  Be sure you’re changing your resume and approach too.
  1. Build and Nurture Your Network. It’s always better to work your contacts when you don’t need them so you’ll feel less obligated and guilty when you DO need them.  Start growing that network today!

If you follow these steps, you’ll never be blindsided with that pink slip.  Hopefully you’ll have seen it coming from a distance and proactively transitioned to a new role.  Take ownership of your career development and you won’t be the victim when a company seeks to reduce its headcount.

A Message to Millennials

warningDear Millennial:

For some time, you’ve been much maligned by people of my generation.  They’ve called you lazy, entitled, arrogant, unwilling to wait, wanting gratification now, and expecting everything handed to you.  Books have been written on how to motivate you and some consultants base their entire practice on helping older generations understand you and connect better with you.  In some ways, you’re seen as more of a disease than a part of the human race.  You’re something to be tolerated, dealt with, and especially, put in your proper place.

I think that’s a bunch of crap.

As the father of four millennials, I think I understand you.  I don’t see you as part of a stereotypical grouping, I see you as what you are:  young people.  What old-timers like me forget is that we were young like you and said and did exactly what you’re doing now.

Still, it leaves you in a tough place, having to prove yourself and operate in environments that put you face to face with seasoned workers.  In order to help you survive and thrive, I’d like to offer you a few pieces of advice.

  1. Set your career goals now and begin your journey in a focused way.  Having a career goal (i.e. become CEO of my startup) and articulating it lets everyone around you know that you’re being deliberate in what you do.  The knock on your generation is that you don’t know what you want to do and that you got a meaningless degree, now work at Applebees, and are content to live with your parents.  I know that’s not what you want.  Figure out what you want and let us know you have a plan.
  2. Understand why people think you are disrespectful.  I’m pretty sure you want to be taken seriously, to have your ideas listened to, and get that elusive “seat at the table.”  That’s normal.  All of us wanted the same thing.  Unfortunately, those privileges are awarded slowly and it’s because wisdom comes through experience.  Your challenge is that those who can give you the respect and award you the credibility are only now themselves being taken seriously.  Because it took us so long, we think it should take YOU that long too.  It’s neither right or wrong, it simply is.  HOWEVER, you can shorten the wait and GET the respect from those older than you by asking for help.  Rather than treat us as adversaries, leverage our experience and let us shorten your learning curve.  We would be happy to mentor you.  Communicate your career goals and ask us for help.  Those older folks who turn you down SHOULD be feared and don’t deserve your respect.  Do what you need to do to succeed around them, within the boundaries of the organization, and move on.  Oh yes, and HOW you ask questions of us is pretty important too.  Here’s an example: (You) “Why do we have to do it this way?” (seen as challenging and disrespectful.  Try (You) “I’m not sure I understand.  Can you tell me why we have to do it this way?”  Watch the tone of voice.  Even this, in a demanding tone, can come off as disrespectful.  Yeah I know it sounds like we’re a bunch of babies.  Just humor us ok?
  3. Realize that you’ll be in our position sooner than you think.  The script on that graphic above is the truth.  Where you are now, we once were.  We were young, excited, and fearless.  We wanted it all, sooner rather than later, and were willing to kick and scratch to get it.  And we finally did.  But that works the other way too.  Where we are now, someday you will be.  One day you’ll look in the mirror and see the wrinkles and gray hair.  The songs you listen to now on your cool Spotify playlist will be spun on the “oldies” station.  You and your colleagues will start noticing how the newer workers seem to want it all now, are unmotivated, and entitled.  You’ll complain how they need to “pay their dues” just like you did.  More than one of you will brand themselves as ______ generation “experts” and write a book and give talks about it.  And then hopefully you’ll get over yourselves and make it your mission to grow and develop that new generation.

The circle of life affects more than Simba and Mufasa.  It’s part of all of us.  You can fight it or leverage it.  Just know that the circle always completes, with or without you.