Monday, December 16, 2013

Who’s Easier to Speak With?

When you first meet a business person, who is easier to speak with, lower and mid-level managers or top management executives?
In anticipation of an interview or an initial business meeting, most people have some level of anxiety beforehand as they consider many what if scenarios they might encounter. This is understandable and often the more senior the individual(s) the more nervous most of us become. Some people falsely view themselves as unworthy or below or of inferior status, as if they are out of their own league compared with more lofty people of position. The bottom line is they automatically sense inequity resulting in higher anxiety. This just adds to the pressure already felt about making a good impression, and your confidence level is clearly one aspect of what you want to convey.
I am not going to dismissively suggest you shouldn’t be nervous; “don’t worry, be happy” was a cute tune in the ‘80s, but it’s not helpful advice and it does nothing to alleviate your stress level. I almost never aim at the street-level entrance or the middle for that matter; instead I seek to go directly to the source, which means senior management. Now, you may think that a higher ranking or titled individual has no time for the likes of you, but it’s not about your age, your experience or your title, that’s just your own self-doubt causing you to think this way. Indeed, if or when you have the chance to speak with some such individual, you’ve gotta have something worthwhile to say, but that’s going to be the case with anyone to whom you speak for the first time if you want to make a good first impression.
Often, lower and middle managers possess insecurity about their own jobs, consciously or subconsciously, unless they are familiar with or directly involved in a situation. They have little reason to invest themselves and, therefore, you are more likely to be passed off or dismissed. Perhaps, if you are an outsider with good experience, who knows, they might consider you a threat – such is the new normal in many organizations where teamwork and cooperation for the good of the company has devolved into CYA for the good of oneself, sadly. So why bother trying to gain the entryway approval of anyone except those key decision makers you’d ultimately speak with anyway. Furthermore, senior-level managers don’t have the same hangups, they have their groove and you are not a threat, coupled with the fact that you are a curiosity because, after all, why are you calling into their office when all the others go the more conventional route. And this can be an advantage. I have found they are easier to speak to, once again, if you have something worthwhile to say and you can deliver it with confidence. Now they may simply refer you back to a lower echelon person, but now you have the blessing of a senior manager so you are more likely to be noticed and less likely to be ignored. The intrigue of it all can be quite convenient and helpful to your cause. Plus, if by chance you left a good impression and you were memorable, if or when the time comes when your name crosses the desk of that same senior manager, they’ll remember you. Throughout my career a little bit of brashness backed up with credibility is necessary for a headhunter, so hearing the words and someone insinuating, “you’ve got some nerve”, or as someone from the UK might say, “you’ve got some cheek” yeah, I do. If you are not so bold and prefer to blend in that is fine, there’s nothing wrong with that but, for those who want to make their mark, it is refreshing to those higher-level executives who are looking for innovative doers. Managers often confide to me that so few are willing to stand up or stand out. So, from where I sit, the advantages are clear; aim high and if you’re sent back down the line, so what, you’ll be no worse off. 
Remember the three most important components of this strategy:
  • Approach with confidence. Professional courtesy and a sense of purpose is the right approach. Warning: arrogance, hubris or aggressiveness is not the same thing and is ill advised.
  • Have something to say that is worthy of their time. As mentioned above, this is all about that sense of purpose (as mentioned in the previous bullet point). Your delivery should be clear, which means you should rehearse and know what you are going to say.
  • Be concise. Don’t be too wordy and your delivery should say more, with less. If this is difficult for you, or you don’t know how to describe yourself and your intent, take time to practice.
With these three things in mind, go for it. The worst thing that can happen is they’ll send you back to HR. Stand up and stand out, resolve to take more control of your own career moves.
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