Saturday, May 7, 2011

Learning to But Out

Last October, after ten interviews over four weeks I did not get the job that had started to feel like it couldn't go any other way. At that moment I had been severed/unemployed for 3 ½ months.

So I redoubled my effort and hours spent looking for a job. That included a 6 PM networking round-table for IT (Information Technology) professionals in early November.

These types of events all tended to follow the same format at the start and this was no exception. There were about sixteen men and women in business drag seated around a long, long conference room table on the 26th floor of the old MetLIfe building. (Or perhaps some people still remember it as the old PanAm building.)

A flip chart at the front of the room had the drill:


Target job and industry

Former job and company

Target companies in your job search

If anyone around the table had any insight or connections in your industry or ideas about target companies, they were asked to interject on the spot.

When it got time for my elevator pitch about myself, a fellow across and down the table offered some ideas: “Have you considered...” (I do not remember the specifics.)

I replied, “Yes. I had thought of that, but...

The moderator, a tall women who sat upright in here chair at all times like she was ready to leap up, stopped me with her forceful, sand-papery voice, “No no no no no no no no no no no! Did everyone hear that? The ‘but.’ He was offering you a gift, David. Instead of interrupting him, you - we all - need to sit back and accept the gift that is being offered to you. Hear him out; with an open mind.”

I sat their stunned; momentarily, mentally slack jawed. The fellow repeated his intended advice fully while I sat and listened. When he finished I said a simple, “Thank you.”

I have lived in New York city for 20 years. Someone taking a breath is an opportunity to interject yourself into the conversation. We anticipate the end of the other person’s sentences because we rush through many things here including conversations. So this piece of wisdom can feel counterintuitive although it runs adjacent to many other zen like principles that can lower your blood pressure rather than amp it up: Listen. Be present. Stay in the moment.

In the months since, I have made an effort to banish the buts. I listen to myself speaking and will try to edit myself on the spot if the “bbbbbbut” creeps in. It’s tough backing out of a point/count-point statement in mid-execution. I have tried to eliminate it from my everyday email. That’s tough because it prevents one from using the let me tell you about something I like before qualifying it with constructive criticism.

It feels like a worthwhile endeavor. The but not only disqualifies and dismisses the other person, it prevents me from discovering something I didn’t already know instead of interrupting with my pre-conceived knowledge. If I just shut up and listen I may find something new that I hadn’t considered before.

Looking for work required stalwartness that created unnecessary defenses. In that moment, I was reminded that I needed to invest in some humility so that I could get back to work. The moderator’s firm rebuke broke through that calcification. The rest of the meeting was uneventful but the lesson learned felt profound.

The continued application of this wisdom has been a work-in-progress. I still hear myself interrupt and sometimes talk right over someone like a bulldozer in action, enamored with my own opinions or feeling an urgency to be heard at that moment. (In the clusterfuck of conference calls, it’s nearly impossible to resist the urge to barge in.)

No great revelation has come of it. At least, I am no longer oblivious of courtesy. And I find that, when I listen and wait and respond, I feel calmer and I may find something new in myself that I had not considered before.


MoseleyPrivateBrokerage said...

I really LIKED this piece a great deal...even in the Real Estate gotta listen...before selling your agenda...
THANKS for the BLOB!
Chris Moseley

MoseleyPrivateBrokerage said...

I mean bloGGGG!!

Better Left Unsaid said...

Great insight, David.