On a recent vacation my husband and I celebrated a significant anniversary. While enjoying a glass of wine in a romantic restaurant, I asked him what he’d learned after all our years of marriage. Bear in mind, he is an engineer so questions that don’t demand a logical process or a measurable outcome can be very disturbing. In short, he doesn’t float well with what he sees as a “loaded” question and his anxiety at getting it ‘right’ was palpable. After tense internal deliberation, he gave me a three-word answer I only dreamed about … “I know nothing.” For an engineer to acknowledge this is close to blasphemy. Much to his surprise I was downright giddy to hear his response.
Stressful situations in particular compel us to want to get the “right” answer so as to appear, well, right. Picture yourself at an important meeting or interview and you’re asked what separates you from the rest of the pack … in one sentence! Would you welcome the question or break out in hives? If you’re scratching, read on.
Do you become overly concerned about what the other party wants to hear? Are you fearful you’ll be exposed as a fraud if you don’t know the right answer? If this is you, don’t panic. You can get what you want, but it’s not by memorizing a contrived response. Ask yourself what it is about you that differentiates you from others? What is it about you that makes you who you are? One question to ask yourself is ‘How do others describe you? ‘What stories do they tell about your strengths or attributes?’ Often times, people see us more accurately than we see ourselves. Your answer might cause you to feel a bit uncertain and a little vulnerable, but don’t be alarmed. This candidness is exactly what everyone wants most – the real you! In short, it’s the only thing that does work.
For years career professionals helped clients memorize a 30-second pitch to be delivered to an unsuspecting audience in an elevator. Let’s face it, they usually sounded phony. At a networking meeting I attended I met a young man who told me he was a manager. “Oh, and what do you do?” He replied, “I manage people and processes.” “Okay, and for whom do you do this?” “For companies,” he replied. Sad as this story is, most of us would rather have something to rattle off than to do the work required to speak honestly and authentically.
You’ve heard the saying “Be who you are because everyone else is already taken.” How do you do this? Start by letting go of your attachment to the outcome. Getting the right answer isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Instead, pay attention to what the other person is saying, what he or she wants or needs, and reply genuinely. Being vulnerable and transparent are critical to learning to speak your truth. You’ll be surprised how many people will be drawn to you. Be authentic – the world is starving for it.