It’s Wednesday, you’ve just arrived at your local Panera Bread, and you’re excited to finally meet face-to-face with a new connection from LinkedIn.
“Hello! Nice to finally meet you.”
“You, too! So let me tell you a little bit about myself…,” and 20 minutes later, they’re still telling you a little bit more about themselves.
Been there? Me, too.
In fact, most of us can truthfully say we’ve been on both sides of that conversation at some point.
So what gives?
Talking about ourselves can be tricky. As children, we’re often taught that talking about ourselves is selfish. We shouldn’t boast, brag, or tell people how wonderful we are.
But as adults—especially when we’re in a career transition—the rules change. In this circumstance, it becomes necessary to talk about ourselves. This still doesn’t give us license to boast or brag, but we always need to be able to clearly tell people about who we are and what we want.
And the ability to say more in fewer words.
It’s okay to talk about ourselves: Just think “sprinkler” versus “fire hose.”
We all have a lot to say, but what is really important? Especially when you first meet someone. Do they really need to know about your first job out of college, or that your high school basketball team won the state tournament 30 years ago? Not unless it’s a really good story.
Try offering your new connections the two to three-minute YouTube video highlights of your path instead of the 6 DVD anthology. If they want to know more about you, they’ll ask.
As a career coach, my favorite area of focus is helping people find this clarity—first in their thoughts and then in their words.
Finding our focus takes practice. But just like learning to talk about ourselves, it gets easier with time. Through open conversations, gentle guidance, and using simple tools, I help people sort through their thoughts and create a spectacular vernacular of relevant and powerful words.
Curious about cultivating your conversations? Here are a few tips from my coaching toolbox:
Start with them, not you. This is a networking technique I learned from Dean Hyers and Pete Machalek of Sage Presence. When you meet someone new, ask him or her to tell you about themselves first. There are several benefits to this method, the most powerful being that you can latch onto things they mention as connection points (for example, “I grew up in Minnesota, too!”) Plus, it shows you’re truly listening.
Stop networking. Yes, you read that right. “Networking” is another one of the words I’d like to abolish (along with “resumé,” “interview,” “job,” etc.), since the connotation of networking brings such a heavy weight with it. My solution? Just have conversations with people. Stop trying so hard. Just talk. Still having difficulty? Check out Jeff Haden’s recent blog post about how to network when you hate networking.
Get clear before you converse. As I stated earlier, this is my favorite space to play. Since we are always changing, so are our beliefs, thoughts, and the words we use. And when it comes to describing ourselves, we need to stay caught up. By taking the time to find our most relevant words, we find our clarity, which leads to confidence—and the more confidence we have, the more positive momentum we create.
Be authentic. This can be a touchy subject because authenticity comes from being natural, not calculated. The best advice I can give you is: Do not try to be authentic, just be. Let down your protective barriers; overcome imposter syndrome (if you have it); and show up as yourself. Need some help with that? Connect with my coaching colleague Heather Whelpley.
So the next time you meet somebody new and you ask them about themselves, observe how they respond. And when it comes your time to speak, put away the firefighting equipment, bring out the garden hose, and see how it changes your conversation.
Michael Thomas Sunnarborg is a career coach, best-selling author, and founder of The White Box Club™—live coaching and resources for people in career transition. Find his syndicated blogs on Thrive Global, Medium, and The Huffington Post. Learn more at pages.michaelcreative.com
In a career transition? Download the first 5 chapters of Michael’s best-selling career transition book FREE at michaelcreative.com/freechapters