"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." --Aristotle
This is the last post in my "professionalism" series for now. I might come back to this topic in the future, but I wanted to conclude with a few techniques that are purely about your own preparation and diligence as a professional rather than about your interactions with others.
My other posts dealt mostly with the subject of respect in interpersonal professional communications. Being organized, responsible, and doing what you promised were all important elements of that.
But the core of being a successful professional lies in not only how you work with others but how you do the actual work itself. This involves constantly learning new things, remembering how to do your work correctly and in a timely manner, and presenting it in a way that is acceptable and understandable to your audience.
This sounds simple, but there are many pitfalls to doing this consistently. I'd like to point out three main categories of pitfalls or techniques that resonate strongly with me or that frustrate me a lot when I have to deal with them being done poorly by others.
Information should be Consistent, Correct, and Fresh
At AMA Capital, I had the opportunity to work with a lot of different brokerage firms and international trading companies. They would send me documentation of how their systems and APIs worked, and we would rely on that information to trade with them or engage in some sort of business deal.
We quickly learned that 9 times out 10, the information provided always had some (significant) flaw. I don't expect perfection out of other people or businesses, but I expect the only mistakes or omissions made to be insignificant ones. Instead, we would consistently find that information was copied and pasted incorrectly and without modification, major details were excluded, and certain clear parameters were defined completely wrong. And this happened across many different companies we worked with.
This obviously made us quite distrustful of what anyone told us and taught us to have the mentality that we always need to discover for ourselves how something works rather than relying on someone's word. On the one hand this may be a decent practice, but it's also pretty sad and inefficient.
The three major areas of mistakes that we kept seeing (and which I wish professionals would improve at) were the following:
Be an Expert and Amateur at the Same Time
The first part of this tip is obvious, but the second part may not be.
The first part says that you should aim to be an expert in your field. This means doing your work carefully and staying up-to-date on industry news, blogs, etc. For example, I read the Wall Street Journal on a daily basis, the Economist weekly, three different futures or currency magazines on a weekly basis, and follow about 20 blogs through Google Reader. Most of my reading is skimming, but I fully read articles that catch my attention or seem relevant to something I care about.
An important part of being an expert and being responsible with one's knowledge is knowing where that knowledge ends. When someone asks me for help with something I don't know, I volunteer to them that I don't know and explain whom we should talk to or how we can go about finding that information. This shows a level of humility to the other person (that I know where my knowledge stops) and makes them confident in the things that I tell them I do know about. This is much better than always giving your best guess and having people think that you know how to guess but can often be wrong.
The second part of this tip is cultivating the "beginner's mind." This is a term that Shunryo Suzuki-Roshi, a Zen master, wrote about. In essence, this means considering yourself an amateur at all times and willing to learn new information and change your preconceptions or world views. By being more open in this way, it will be easier to take in new ideas and ways of working, which will allow you to grow much more effectively throughout your life.
Finally, I will end this post with some thoughts on language, grammar, and why they matter.
I am always paying attention to the style of a message in addition to its content, and so does everyone else (even if not consciously). For me, noticing many spelling mistakes and grammatical errors makes me question how careful and educated the writer is. Even if I know they learned grammar in school and may even remember it, the fact that they can't take the time to proofread or consider which punctuation or spelling makes sense in a given situation shows me they are not careful with details and cannot be trusted to complete a job all the way themselves. Of course, I easily forgive occasional typos or small grammatical mistakes, but if they happen all the time, I get worried.
I'm sure people will argue that little things like commas and apostrophes don't change the course of the world. Most of the time they're right, and it's just about care for detail. However, in some contexts, such as legal documents or email communications in business negotiations, using ambiguous words or forgetting some punctuation can drastically alter how others understand what you write.
Therefore, I think it's always prudent to be careful with grammar and language, even in very informal contexts like Facebook and Twitter. Sure, you can use abbreviations and online-speak, but make sure you're clear, and sometimes, a comma is really worth that 1 character out of 140.
A book I particularly enjoyed reading a few years ago about all this is Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. It's for people who already know grammar but are always confused about certain things like where to put the apostrophe on words that end with "s" (no, it's not always at the end of the word), when semicolons or dashes are appropriate, and when capitalization is required or not required.
I hope you've enjoyed reading this small series of posts, and continue to let me know what you think (and if you have suggestions for future topics).
It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath. --Aeschylus
I've been attending many networking events recently and pushing myself to improve in this important business function. I'm naturally a more quiet, shy person, so getting out there and really making strong connections to new people takes a lot of effort and discipline on my behalf.
I've been learning many sides to doing this properly, such as overcoming shyness and proper voice and presentation skills. I've also been reading some of the famous networking books, like Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty. The information below comes from a variety of sources and my own synthesizing to bring out what matters most to me when I aim to interact effectively with others and how I enjoy others interacting with me.
A lot of my own inertia when it comes to networking is a result of nerves or shyness. I see others talking, and I feel like I shouldn't intrude. A second source of insecurity comes from wondering what to talk about.
A great way to get over both of these points and to be genuinely present in the moment when approaching others is having a strong sense of curiosity -- for the other person, their background, their skills, and any serendipitous connections that can result from your meeting them. You can be curious about where they come from, what difficulties they've overcome, and also how you fit in with their life, such as if you can help them in some way or give them some important advice. I honestly believe that there is something unique, special, and significant about every single human being out there and that every person (and animal) can teach me something useful that I didn't know before. This makes it easy for me to enjoy spending time with people who may not be of any "value" to me now but whom I can simply get to know and learn about and someday perhaps give assist or be assisted by.
By coming from the position of being really interested in meeting and learning as much as you can about all other people around you, it will be much easier to approach them and find topics of conversation.
Note that this is often not the way even gregarious networkers approach the situation. Often people come to meet you who are only interested in learning whether you are "high up" and can somehow help them, or if you have something they need. This frame of mind leads to a much poorer conversation and leaves a much worse taste in the other person's mouth. By coming instead from a frame of mind of curiosity, giving, and reciprocity, you can have a much more enjoyable and effective conversation.
I'm sure everyone has had this happen to them: You meet someone new at a cocktail reception; you ask them about themselves and listen carefully; then they ask you about your background, and as soon you start speaking, they are looking around the room and not hearing a word you're saying. It's extremely frustrating and a waste of time and breath. I've caught myself looking around the room at times and always stop myself when I notice this. At those moments, I ask myself why it is that I'm looking around and whether it's something about my not wanting to talk to this person or my being interested in something else. As soon as I realize that there is a lot to be curious about in the other person, I can quickly snap back and pay attention without interruption from that point on.
The most common reason why I might start paying less attention to someone is if I don't understand a lot about what they're talking about. If someone is talking about something that's interesting to me or about my field or career, I won't have trouble paying attention. Instead of letting my attention wander when it's a subject I don't know much about (or terminology I'm not familiar with), I can use the opportunity to learn about something new and ask questions. There is the fear of looking stupid by asking a dumb question, but I think it's much better to show interest, even if on a basic/naive level about a new field, than to stop paying attention.
Paying attention to someone through active listening, eye contact, repeating what you've understood or heard, not interrupting, and asking intelligent questions afterward is an essential type of respect in all interactions.
This point can be boiled down to "just do what you promise." It is similar to the points I made about phone calls and emails: when you tell someone you will do something, just do it.
This is especially important when networking. A big part of networking is helping each other, and it's very hard to help someone or feel dependable if you make too many commitments or just forget to follow through. When you meet someone whom you can genuinely help, it's not only your responsibility to offer them assistance but to also see to it that you help them and contact them after the event is through.
As soon as I get someone's business card, if I owe them anything or have any further questions or things to discuss, I note it down on their card (or in my phone). Then, when I get home, I shoot off the necessary emails or set up the right tasks on my to-do list (in addition to adding them to my contact list). With so few people who follow up thoroughly after meetings, you can really set yourself apart by being proactive in this regard and showing people that you care.
If the phone doesn't ring, it's me. --Jimmy Buffett
This post is about phone etiquette, and it should hopefully be shorter and simpler than my previous posts. A lot of the ideas in here seem somewhat obvious, but many people pay little attention to them, and it causes phone communication with them to be slow and painful.
In today's world, a lot of communication is happening by phone calls. Emailing and text messaging seem to be replacing more and more phone calls, but there is still nothing that comes close to a phone call in connecting two people emotionally and intellectually who cannot be in the same room (or video conference). By showing respect on the phone, the feeling will go much deeper and will be thus be much more strongly received, purely based on the direct, real-time mechanism of the phone call itself.
I've gathered my top five thoughts/tips on phone etiquette below as they are the ones that frustrate me the most when I'm on the receiving end and the tips are not followed.
I'm not sure if my word count was lower today, but I hope it was. Please leave me any comments or questions (or feel free to call if it'll be more than one back-and-forth :-) ).