My client Jim was in trouble because he couldnʼt get a job. Jim was a skillful consultant with a Ph.D. in psychology, and had been working in the ﬁnancial world as a highly paid advisor to one speciﬁc ﬁrm for almost 10 years. This one client generated more than 90% of his income. He loved his job, and the ﬁrm rewarded his efforts with a steady
stream of work.
Until the board of directors replaced the ﬁrmʼs CEO. The new CEO wanted “a clean slate” — and Jim lost his job.
Jim began scrambling to ﬁnd new consulting gigs. He was getting interviews but no callbacks, and no offers. He hired me to help him ﬁgure out what was going wrong.
When I conducted a mock interview, I noticed one damaging behavior: Jim could not stop talking. Even after something as simple and innocuous as “Why do you want this job?” or “Tell me about yourself,” the torrent began. Jimʼs speech was so rapid ﬁre, itʼs amazing he was able to breathe!
Finally, I gently cut him off and asked if he remembered what my original question had been. He had no memory of why he was talking.
Jim is not alone in this behavior. Leaders are rewarded for taking charge and speaking up. This starts in school, which can seem like a game of “Jeopardy!”—the kid who hits the buzzer ﬁrst, wins the prize. What child gets rewarded for thinking more slowly, deliberating or reﬂecting? And as we grow up, things only get more competitive. Add to this conditioning the additional stress of really wanting to impress the interviewer, and
itʼs easy to see why listening is a dying art.
I asked Jim to rent a few westerns made in the 40ʼs and 50ʼs. I suggested “High Noon” In this ﬁlm Gary Cooper, the local sheriff is confronted with the knowledge that a gang of killers will be coming to his town in a few days. The train will arrive at noon. Cooper tries to recruit others in the town to help him stand up to the bad guys, but everyone turns him down, and he is forced to face the murderous gang alone. Cooperʼs dialogue is
sparse, direct and to the point. His ability to hold the silence makes him powerful. We know that the other characters are weak because they cannot look him in the eye or stop stammering excuses. There is no question he is the hero and the power of his silence proves it.
Lessons to practice when meeting new people, especially in high-stakes situations:
• Become aware of any stress, anxiety, or pressure to impress well before the meeting takes place.
• At the meeting, really listen to the questions being asked. Hold them in your mind for a few seconds before responding.
• If you arenʼt clear on a question, ask for clariﬁcation before you answer.
• If you ﬁnd yourself talking a lot, ask yourself “Why am I talking?”
[These tips should help you avoid this common communication error, and really connect. The next interview Jim had, he talked less, said more—and got the job!]
Or something like this.
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