Sometimes They Want To Hear How The Sausage Is Made

I recently had dinner with a friend of mine who opened my eyes so wide to something I never contemplated before that I shall forever be in her debt. We were discussing the current state of my professional existence.  Since leaving a well paying position with a large and prestigious consulting firm with a global presence, I have had many ups and downs in forging my own path sans support of a large employer.  A cursory review of my personal balance sheet would suggest the downs have outnumbered the ups.  I still believe that going solo is ultimately better for me for reasons that transcend dollars and cents.
Ok, that is the background for what follows and is the purpose of sharing this story.
We were discussing job searching (something I have very little experience in since every job I had by the time I was 40 was more a result of me being approached with an opportunity, than of me on the active pursuit).  My friend (who requests anonymity) asked me to explain to her where I add value.  As a person who perhaps too much so, sees a rather clear line between intra-company/intra-team relationships, I tend to accentuate the qualitative more than the quantitative. That means my self-touting does not center on numbers.  I have led and inspired teams to positive and measurable results and I have always held that it is in focusing first on people rather than solely on numbers has driven much of my accomplishments. I vehemently hold onto the idea that being people driven can lead to great numbers that can be sustained longer over time than can being numbers driven alone.
So, in trying to describe my successes, I brush over things that I feel are natural decent human tendencies. I have held conversations with troubled clients; I have lifted morale of disengaged employees and so on. I have done these things by having real human-to-human conversations and being fully open to points of view without judgment. In almost all cases a greater sense of harmony emerges through trust and respect. The result: greater productivity and ultimately, more profit. (None of the above is meant to be self-serving but rather to expose a mistake in the way I viewed and communicated my own value proposition and accomplishments.)
Explaining the ‘how’ of going about utilizing such soft skills has, for me, seemed to be as good of a use of time in talking about my accomplishments as discussing the ‘how’ in my breathing.  I assume (shame on me for assuming) such treatment of other people is natural and therefore ubiquitous,  Perhaps out of fear that I will be boring, I have been less inclined to give details about how I deploy the ‘soft’ skills.
What I learned from my friend by her incessant prying is that these details are indeed very important.  People want to learn what you did to achieve your accomplishments. They want to hear how the sausage is made.
In reflection, I believe for some of us, there may also be a self-confidence component afoot here. I might be self-unaware if I did not acknowledge that this was not a bit of what is going on with me too.  That is likely manifested in the belief that things we take for granted based on our own life’s experience couldn’t possibly be so revelational to others.
In contrast, I now believe that perhaps it is those things we each take for granted, because they are obvious to us as individuals, are the very things that have the greatest potential for piquing the interest of others, precisely because those things are not obvious to them.
In closing, this might sound similar to the adage that when people ask for the time, they are not looking for details about watchmaking.  Well, when you have a new way of telling time more accurately, then yes, it just might be appropriate to talk about how you built your watch.
As always, thoughts and comments are welcome.
Have a Great Day!
Matt G.

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1 Response to Sometimes They Want To Hear How The Sausage Is Made

  1. Christopher Robbins says:

    Good points! Sometimes we are strangers to our own habits. Everyone else notices our behavior, yet sometimes we do not. It emanates from being self-aware and really taking a long critical (but not self-destructive or demeaning look) at ourselves. It’s a difficult task but necessary sometimes. (Just choose a time when you are feeling optimistic otherwise you might end up unnecessarily beating up yourself!).
    One good thing that we talked about is not taking our talents and achievements for granted. What may seem like “common sense” and second-nature to you, may not necessarily be so obvious to others. It is your collective experience, education and environment that allows you to lead and nurture other people “naturally”. Therefore, part of your responsibilities in any interview is to essentially convey to the interviewer your professional life story – i.e. how the sausage was made.

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