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Putting Our Best Foot Forward…

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We needed more office space and as part of the resulting expansion the Executive Board members moved to an upper mezzanine floor. These offices were made of glass. Not only could people see what the Board members were up to – simply by walking along the corridor – you could also hear everything they were saying. A weird set up really; not designed to be open plan and yet no privacy either.

How is this of relevance? Well, it presented me with a learning opportunity, the benefits of which have stayed with me to this day. I was sitting with the Chief Executive Officer, my boss at the time and putting forward a business case. I can’t remember what it was I was asking for now and that’s of no import to the point I want to make. The upshot was that he nodded in all the right places and promised to consider my proposal.

About 20 minutes later, his eyes and ears who, unsurprisingly occupied the office next door to him, popped in for a chat. She explained that she had listened intently to our conversation and watched our body language at the same time. Ignoring the discomfort I felt at having been spied on, I was intrigued by what my colleague had to say. She informed me that whilst everything I said during that conversation had made complete business sense, she observed that my boss was not engaged with me at all. As if to prove the point she had been into his office immediately after I had left and recommended the same proposal, to which she had been given the green light.

Hardly a confidence booster at the time, I appreciated her candour. Had she not offered me that insight I would have been frustrated about not getting what I wanted from the CEO. Moreover, I would have wasted time banging the same drum, unaware that it wasn’t my line of argument that was unpersuasive; rather it was the way I had presented said argument that was causing the disconnect.

That incident enabled me to adapt my approach and our relationship became more productive. No surprise then that I started getting an altogether better response to my business proposals going forward.

So, I’d like you to think about the interactions you’ve had over the past few weeks, and there will have been many. In particular, reflect on the discussions you’ve had with people you were hoping to influence. I suspect there will be cases where the outcome wasn’t to your satisfaction and you were left without a clear understanding as to the reason why.

You can start to change that by paying attention to how you’re showing up in those types of interactions. For example, do you sometimes display an air of frustration whilst believing you are simply stating the facts?

Maya Angelou, an American poet and memoirist, once commented “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.” Those lights will be coming down from the loft anytime soon so if de-tangling is your job, remember to pay attention and put your best foot forward!

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Robyn Robertson

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