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The perfect career path

Success stories often skip over all the years of uncertainty, experimentation and growth that people go through to get to where they are today.

CareerPathWe live in a world where people are praised for having it ‘all figured out’. The shining examples we read about in magazines, newspapers, blogs – they often only make it into the limelight once they’ve found their path, be that the perfect job, starting a business, or finding great success.

These stories are interesting, but they don’t paint the full picture. Success stories often skip over all the years of uncertainty, experimentation and growth that people go through to get to where they are today. Although inspiring, they can fill us with anxiety that we’re not doing enough. They might prompt you to ask yourself: “What’s the right career path for me? Why haven’t I found it yet?”

I don’t believe it’s possible to find the right career path – rather, the right path will likely find you. Technology is evolving at such a rapid pace, how can we possibly know what the industry will look like 2, 5 or 10 years from now? How can we find the ‘right path’ when it probably doesn’t exist yet?

When we become fixated on long-term goals, we might miss out on the new and exciting opportunities that pop up as we go along.

I advocate the pursuit of short-term goals. I encourage my clients to make the best career decisions they can at any given time, and to be flexible, adaptable and receptive to change. There are many good places to start – but let’s not worry about the finish line just yet. Enjoy the journey.

As Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect the dots looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Celebrate the small wins, continuously reflect on your achievements and keep repositioning the goal posts. The right path will reveal itself in time.

How to deal with FOMO

all the thingsYou’ve got what feels like 50 tabs open in your browser. 23 unread notifications demand your attention on Twitter. Another ‘must-watch’ video pops up in your news feed. Do you watch it now, save it for later or risk missing out? Your list of articles to read is growing longer by the day, and you feel as though you can’t keep up.

Does this sound familiar?

You might be experiencing information overload.

I love social media, but last year I started getting too much of a good thing. My phone was constantly buzzing with notifications from emails, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc. Not only was this distracting, but it made me feel as though I was constantly behind. No matter how often I checked, there was still more to read, more to watch.

It soon got to the point where social media felt like a chore, something else on my to-do list, until I had a wave of realisation: Wait, I told myself, I don’t need to read everything!

It was a simple yet profound realisation. In my scramble to ‘keep up’, I had forgotten that I could be selective about what I chose to give my time and attention to. Social media has this way of making it seem like everything is important – news, comments, blogs, updates, politics, television, big and small events … all are treated with the same urgency. I knew I had to draw the line. So I decided to make a change.

Slowly, I implemented a few strategies to take back control over what I read, watch and listen to each day. Below are the things that helped me manage the constant flow of content. Maybe they will help you too?

Be selective
What I said to myself was true: you really don’t need to read everything. You don’t even need to read as much as you think. Choose to limit the content you regularly consume and restrict it to that which adds the most value – whether that value relates to your current role, your career, or your life in general. All the other content can wait or even be completely ignored.

It’s better to follow one or two fantastic blogs than 10 mediocre ones. Don’t be afraid to cull things that are average or unhelpful or time wasters. If you don’t ever get to that article you saved back in 2009 then so what? Stop feeling bad every time you see it waiting for you. Delete it. If you aren’t sure where the good content is ask people you admire for their top recommendations.

Limit your notifications
I’ve written previously about a simple technique that truly changed my life. I changed the settings on my smartphone so that the only notifications I receive are phone calls and text messages. Everything else – email, social media and other apps – needs to wait until I have time to give them attention. Limiting notifications means I’m not constantly being interrupted, and I can focus on tasks that are important to me. I know the updates will all be waiting for me when I log in – there’s no need to have notifications popping up on my phone every 5 minutes.

JOMO is the new FOMO
Next time you suffer from a ‘fear of missing out’, flip this concept on its head and look for the ‘joy of missing out’ instead. For example, you might miss out on watching the 6pm news so you can go for a walk with your family. Or miss out on reading everything that’s filled up your Twitter feed since you last checked, and instead read your favourite blog. Choose to miss out on things that leave you feeling bored, drained, uninspired, aimless. Use your time and energy on the activities that make you feel connected, educated, inspired.  

So, remember:

  1. You really don’t have to read, watch or catch up with everything.
  2. You get to choose what things can interrupt you.
  3. Celebrate being able to miss out on some things. No more FOMO!

I’m interested to hear from you. What you do to manage the volume of content you’d like to get to? Do you have any tips for limiting interruptions? What will you choose to miss out on and what exciting things are you going to do instead?

Ask for what you want

YesssIt’s often said that ‘good things come to those who wait’. Unfortunately, patience isn’t always a virtue in a corporate environment. Sometimes, to get the promotion, project, opportunity or work conditions you want, you have to ask for it.

I understand this is easier said than done. Asking for what you want often means stepping outside of what feels comfortable – especially if you’ve never voiced your ambitions or wishes before.

The good news is, this is a skill that can be learned. With the right preparation, you can find your voice.

Here are some tips to help you get started.

1. Be kind to yourself
Don’t be your own enemy. Remind yourself that you have just as much right as others to state your preferences and desires. You may not always get the outcome you want but you are fully entitled to ask.

2. Draw strength from past success
Think of a time when you did something you were proud of. It’s likely that your achievement was a result of taking action even when you weren’t sure of the outcome. Just because you’re doubting yourself now doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Who knows what might happen?

3. Be specific in your requests
Make it easy for the person you’re asking to understand what it is you want. Other people can’t read your mind, so aim to make your request clear and specific. A good way to test this is to practice your request on a friend. Also, practising in a safe environment means you’ll be more relaxed when the real time comes.

4. Be prepared
Be prepared for the kind of questions that might be asked in reply to your request. What supporting details or outcomes might they want to know? And think of how you will respond if you get a “Yes” or a “No”. It’s always good to keep this simple, for example ‘I appreciate you giving me this chance’ or ‘Thank you for considering it’ . Sometimes it will work out, sometimes it won’t – but that’s okay. No one gets a yes every single time.

5. Feel the fear and do it anyway
No matter how carefully you prepare, you might still feel nervous. This is normal! Trust in your preparation, then go ahead and ask. Don’t wait and hope. Take action and give yourself a chance to get more of what you want.

What if …

SunriseI love the start of the year because it’s a time to take stock and look ahead. A new year feels so fresh and shiny and untainted. It’s the perfect time to let our imaginations soar with dreams about the future.

Yet too often what should be a special time of reflection and aspiration turns into a time to feel anxious about what we haven’t yet achieved. As a result, many of us end up setting goals that involve sacrifice and self-control. These goals come from a place of restriction, not a place of possibility.

We might start going to the gym five times a week, or decide to cut out sugar, or start hunting for a new job. While our intentions are good, we often cannot live up to our own rigid expectations. This leads to disappointment, frustration and self-loathing. You see it as a failure. You think, ‘if only I’d tried harder, or put better plans in place… then I could have succeeded.’

What if I told you that’s not true? That your success is not measured by how many times you go to the gym each week or whether or not you eat your greens every day?

By imagining a brighter future, you are already on your journey towards success. Imagining new possibilities means that you are looking forward. By entertaining these thoughts, you are projecting yourself into a picture of a future that is better, brighter and more fulfilled. A future that holds possibility. This in itself shows your positive intent. It’s a sure sign that you are on the right track – so why derail your efforts by setting unrealistic goals?

Instead of approaching the new year as a time to set firm, non-negotiable goals that you feel you have to stick to, I encourage you to try something different.

Ask yourself: what if?

Daydream about possibilities. Ask yourself: what if I set aside time to do regular exercise? How would this make me feel? Would it make my life better? What would I need to change to make this happen? Is this something I really want?

Asking yourself ‘what if’ takes away feelings of obligation and what I call ‘pre-guilt’ – that feeling when you make a plan that you know you won’t stick to. It invites you to explore the possibility of making a change. It’s a chance to have an open, non-judgmental conversation with yourself about what you really want to add to your life.

Think of your own example. Replace ‘this year I will…’ with ‘what if in 2016 I…?’ Doesn’t that feel more relaxed and authentic?

Focus on how your goals will add value to your life, rather than what they threaten to take away, and making a change will feel less like a burden and more like an opportunity.

If the thought of writing a list of goals doesn’t appeal, you could try setting a theme for the new year instead. I first heard about this idea from Gretchen Rubin. She encourages everyone to identify one idea, “summarised in just one word, as an overarching theme for the entire year”.

I’ve been doing this for a few years and it has really helped me take more meaningful actions. One year my theme was ‘strength’. I had become frustrated that I kept limiting myself by thinking of reasons why I couldn’t do things. I was tired of thinking of my weaknesses. For that year, when things came up that were challenging or new, I tried to draw on my strengths. I didn’t always succeed but remembering to focus on what I could do gave me courage and helped me to do things I might not have otherwise.

The last thing I want to say about New Year’s Resolutions is to remember that there isn’t something magic about a new year which means this is the only time we can make plans. We have a brand new, fresh and shiny chance to make or change plans every day!

The start of the year is a great time to set a theme for the months ahead and come up with some worthy goals. But if life gets in the way and you need to adjust your plans, then March or July or some other month will be a perfect time to do that too.

Just remember to ask yourself… what if?

Switching on to real life

SwitchingOnThe holiday season is a great opportunity to take a ‘digital detox’ and enjoy some time away from screens, smartphones and social media.

I love being ‘digital’. I love that my phone gives me email, social media, communications and a camera all in one small device. But technology often consumes many of the valuable hours I have left after I’m done with work, chores and other must-dos.

I find I am more content when I make a conscious effort to unplug every now and then. Over the holidays I try to make it a daily practice to minimise digital distractions. This helps me feel rested, recharged and ready to get back to work when the time comes.

And the best part? Embarking on a digital detox isn’t as difficult as you might think. Here are some tips to help you switch off this summer.

  • Do more of what fills you up. Try not to think of a digital detox as a sacrifice, but instead as a way of creating more space for the things you love. Read a book. Go for a walk in the sunshine. Listen to music or podcasts. Spend a few hours on your hobbies. Be lazy. Daydream.
  • Teach people you aren’t on call. It’s okay not to reply to emails, texts or calls immediately. You’ll be able to give people the full attention they deserve if you’ve taken some time to rest and focus on what makes you happy.
  • Turn off notifications for all your apps. The sound of a new Facebook message or tweet can be incredibly distracting. A good way to focus on the present moment is to switch off all notifications. Everything will still be there the next time you choose to log in – what’s the worst that could happen? Turn off your notifications for just 1 week and see how it goes. If it’s made things harder for you just turn them on again!
  • Avoid screen time before bed. Do your best not to look at your phone, laptop, television or any other screen within an hour of your bed time. The light on phones and tablets tells your brain it’s time to wake up and can  affect your sleeping patterns.
  • Take back control of your time. Checking your phone every five minutes is often an unconscious – not to mention distracting – habit. The good news is, like all habits, it can be undone. Take some time to switch off the things that chew up your time and switch on to everything else.
  • Be present. Look up and look out from screens. Notice the world around. Interact with people you love. Be present with your family and friends – listen to them, laugh and build great memories. These are the moments that will give you the energy you need to be successful and happy.

When I’m old and grey, I won’t remember all the Twitter likes, but I will remember that time my brother and I were laughing so hard that we both ended up collapsed on the floor, trying to breathe. I’ll remember time with family, hanging out with friends, having fun, being absorbed in hobbies, or just time off relaxing or enjoying nature.

Invite more of these moments into your life by taking the time to switch off. Even an hour a day can make a huge difference. All of the notifications, emails and funny memes will still be there when you’re ready to reconnect.  But you’ll be reconnecting on your terms.

Have a wonderful, restful holiday season.

What does your LinkedIn profile say about you?

Image - LinkedIn superheroYour LinkedIn profile is more than just a copy of your CV. Your LinkedIn profile is a networking and marketing tool. It can help you get a new job or emphasise an aspect of your skills or improve your work image.

  • It allows you to keep contact with past and current colleagues.
  • It lets you connect and keep in touch with other people in your industry.
  • It’s a way for employers to find you, or to research more about you.
  • It can help to improve your profile within your industry and within your company.

There are many articles online with suggestions on creating a good LinkedIn profile. Here’s one by entrepreneur Aaron Clayton-Dunn, and here’s another with excellent tips from the marvellous Liz Ryan.

The mistakes I see:

  1. Not supplying contact details.
    • If you’re looking for work or thinking of changing jobs then make it easy for people to contact you.
  2. Too many words.
    • Keep things short and punchy. You want the key details to stand out.
  3. A bad summary.
    • Write the summary in ‘CV style’ (brief, with bullet points) and be clear about your value and what you are looking for.
  4. An unprofessional photo (or no photo).
    • You don’t need a professional photographer, but you do need to choose a photo that looks professional.
    • If you’re not sure if your photo sets the right tone, ask yourself what impression it would give the CEO at your dream company.
  5. No recommendations, or too many.
    • There doesn’t seem to be consensus on a suitable number of recommendations but I’d say around 3 recommendations in total is a good number.
    • I don’t think colleague recommendations are especially useful. Try to get ones from people you reported to or from seniors at your company or on your project.
    • If you don’t have any recommendations, ask people, but help them by specifying the kinds of things you’d like to emphasise when describing their experience of working with you.
  6. If you are going to send someone a LinkedIn request, don’t use the generic message. Tailor it. The only generic requests that I accept are from people I already know.

Suggestions

Aside from the content on your own profile, there are other useful ways to use LinkedIn.

  1. Read Pulse articles (Pulse is LinkedIn’s ‘blog’ platform) and give people feedback by commenting on their Pulse articles, but always be thoughtful and respectful, especially if you disagree.
  2. Post links to work-related articles and/or add your comments to the post.
  3. Write posts on Pulse. This is an excellent way to put your thoughts out there so people can get an idea of what you care about.
  4. Did you know you can follow someone on LinkedIn? You don’t need to connect if all you really want to do is read their posts or see their LinkedIn activity.

Next Steps

  1. Set aside some time to assess your LinkedIn profile. [30-minute activity]
    • Look at the profiles of people with your role, or the one you’re hoping to get. Compare your profile to theirs. What do you like/dislike about their profile? And yours?
  2. Make changes to your profile. [30-minute activity]
    • If you don’t want people (such as your current employer) to know you’re making changes then set “Notify your network” to No. You’ll find that setting on the bottom right of the profile editing page.
  3. Find a Pulse article you like. Comment on it. [10-minute activity]
  4. Write a Pulse article. Search online for tips on how to write a blog or LinkedIn post. [2-hour activity]

I hope these tips have helped you create a LinkedIn profile that you are proud of and that accurately reflects your awesomeness!

(Check out this blog for CV tips).

What does your CV say about you?

Does your CV reflect your awesomeness?Image - interview

During my time working in the tech industry I see hundreds of CV’s and many of them do not accurately reflect the person they are describing.

It’s disappointing to discover during an interview that someone who looked great ‘on paper’ doesn’t actually have the skills they promised on their CV. But the opposite is even worse – knowing that there are people who will not get an interview because their CV doesn’t describe their value. 

The purpose of your CV is to land an interview. It’s not to get a job … the interview is for that. The entire reason for a CV is so that the person reading it will be interested enough to want to know more.

Your CV is a marketing tool.

It should reflect who you are in a work context, and who you want to be.

  • It needs to cover the basics – contact details, profile, employment history, relevant skills and experience. There are millions of sites that give helpful advice. Here’s just one example – it says how to approach writing your CV.
  • It should be professional and positive. This article has good tips on what to avoid.
  • The layout and content should not make it hard for busy people to find the key details. There are many examples and templates here and here of simple, clear CV’s.

The mistakes I see:

  1. Way too many words.
    • Pretend you’re sending each sentence as a text message or a Tweet. You’re not writing an article, you’re writing bullet points and summary details.
    • Decide what you really want to emphasise and delete the rest. Your CV is not a full and complete story of everything you’ve ever done! Focus on the highlights.
  2. CV’s are too long or too “busy”.
    • Related to the point above, but the way you format a CV can result in lots of pages. It’s also not always a good idea to have lots of tables and borders and fancy formatting. When I’m reading your CV, I care most about the content, not the colour of section headings.
  3. People talk in generic terms (“I’m passionate about learning / Tech / testing” or “I have excellent communication skills”) but don’t show their actual achievements and strengths. Your CV needs to emphasise why you are valuable and useful.
    • Think of awards you’ve got at work, or things people consistently compliment you on, or times you’ve exceeded expectations.
    • What business ‘pain’ do you solve?
    • What are you most proud of? What makes you stand out?
    • Why would a company benefit from hiring you? What have you demonstrated you’re really good at?
  4. Not being clear about what you’re looking for. Read my blog “Something is better than anything” for ideas on how to be clear about what you want.
  5. Not matching your strengths/skills to the role.
    • Make sure to highlight where your skills match the role or job ad. (But don’t fall into the trap of feeling you have to tick every item on their list before you apply. You don’t need to have everything.)
    • Adjust the words you use so they mirror the terms that the company uses.
  6. General tips for people wanting to work in New Zealand
    • In NZ, we use the term CV rather than Resumé.
    • We generally don’t capitalise words other than proper nouns (and acronyms/initialisms/standard terms, like .NET).
    • I’d suggest using ‘and’ instead of & in a sentence.
    • Always aim to provide short and meaningful context for your reader. This is especially important when describing the company or project you’ve worked on outside of NZ.

Next steps

  1. Assess your CV. Does it show your value for the kind of roles you’re hoping to get? What do you like about it? What don’t you like? [10-minutes]
  2. Do you know how you are valuable? What business ‘pain’ can you solve? [15-minutes]
    • Write a list of 5 ways you are useful to a company, your top 5 achievements, and 5 ways you stand out.
    • Does your CV highlight these things?
  3. Look at the articles I linked to above. Does your CV contain any of the mistakes those articles refer to? [20-minute activity]
  4. Is your CV too long or is the format too busy? [20-minute activity]
    • Look at the sample templates linked to above, or search online for others. Find one that looks clean and simple and transfer across your details, deleting excess words and descriptions as you go.
  5. Look critically at your CV and find things to delete so that your main points stand out. [15-minute activity]
  6. If you’re applying for a specific role then does your CV show the ways your skills, talents and experience match that role? Are you using terms in your CV that are used in the job ad or the company website? [10-minute activity]
  7. Get someone else to review your CV – ask for honest feedback about language, spelling, meaning, and formatting. Is the language appropriate for your target audience? Will the words you use be suitable for automated systems that search CV’s for keywords? Change what you need to. [15-minute activity]
  8. Have a final read-through – out loud – to make sure you’re happy. Name your CV sensibly (e.g. “MarySmith_CV”, not “June2015”). [10-minute activity]
  9. Pat yourself on the back for taking the time to do this all-important career task! [1-minute activity 🙂 ]

I hope these tips will help you create a CV that you are proud of, and one that potential employers will find interesting and relevant enough to want to meet with you. (Look out for a future article on preparing for a successful interview).

You have skills and talents to offer! Make sure your CV reflects that.

[See this blog for advice on your LinkedIn profile.]

If you’d prefer one-on-one help with your CV, get in touch with me via shirley@elementum.co.nz. I’ve worked with many people to create CV’s and LinkedIn profiles that reflect their value.

Shirley Tricker is founder of Elementum, a company dedicated to helping people in Tech to be their best at work. Elementum offers career advice, coaching and online training, specialising in the soft/social skills and techniques that make a difference in the workplace. 

Sign up for Elementum’s monthly newsletter for more articles and information, or follow Shirley on LinkedIn

Soft Skills for people in Tech

Think of the work skills you most want to learn or improve.

Are there any soft skills on your list?

Most people are able to think of a long list of technical skills they want but what about soft skills? What about any of the things I include under the banner of soft skills such as social skills, attitudes, habits, and techniques. Soft skills isn’t just ‘communication’!

All of your soft skills, attitudes etc go hand-in-hand with your technical skills to help you do well at work. And while they’re called “soft” they can often feel like the hardest skills to learn. The good news is that they can be learnt.

Here are some soft skills that I think could be useful for people who work in Tech. They’re split into:
– personal skills,
– skills that relate to working with others, and
– skills that impact the wider community.

(Click here for a downloadable PDF)
Soft Skills for Tech Jobs - image

By using those three categories I aim to make the distinction between skills you can work on by yourself, and ones where you can only improve by interacting with others (sometimes with people in direct contact, and sometimes people you don’t know). Much of being valuable and employable is driven by skills in the second two columns where you’re working in teams and helping others to succeed.

Of course you don’t need to master all of these skills. You do just fine at work without having all possible technical skills, and the same applies to soft skills.

I use this list as a prompt. I find it useful to reflect on the items and see where I could improve. This list may not work for you. Here are some ways you can get ideas for your own list of soft skills:

  • Look at people you admire and see what skills they use.
  • Search Google for ideas.
  • Note what skills are listed in job ads or articles about your industry.
  • Ask colleagues or friends what works for them.

Pick out a few from your list and create your own ‘soft skills backlog’. Think of small steps you could take to become more competent in these areas. Commit to taking action. See what works or doesn’t. You may find that improving your soft skills is easier than you think, and that these skills make more of a difference than you expect.

The next time you’re thinking of ways you could be more skilled, remember the importance of soft skills.

Small steps to build your self-confidence

Do you sometimes feel anxiety, fear or low self-confidence in the workplace? I’ll let you in on a little secret: most people do.

We all have an inner voice of self-doubt that tells us we can’t do something, or that we might fail. It’s part of being human.

But that doesn’t mean we have to listen to it. Most of the time this voice is ruled by fear and should therefore be gently acknowledged, and then firmly ignored.

Self-confidence is about living beyond fear.

Think of some of the things that make you feel vulnerable or anxious at work. Some common examples include asking for a promotion or a pay rise, delivering a presentation or dealing with conflict.

Now think about the one thing all these challenges have in common: fear.

The best way to improve your self-confidence at work is to employ techniques to overcome your fears, so you can act with purpose and clarity as opposed to anxiety.

I’m not suggesting that this is easy, or that it will happen overnight, but remember: small steps can reap big rewards. I believe we can all overcome our fears if we are kind to ourselves along the way.

Try small things until you feel more confident.

Some people overcome their fear of heights by parachuting out of a plane. While this ‘quick fix’ has been known to work for some, I’d suggest a gentler, more long-term strategy for improving self-confidence in the workplace.

You don’t have to walk straight up to your boss and tell him you want a pay rise! Or deliver an impromptu presentation to a large group of people, just to test your fears.

Instead you can try small things each day or each week, and see what helps you personally to feel more confident and centred.

Here are some tried and tested strategies for success:

  • Be kind to others: Support and appreciate their work. This is great for your own soul and happiness, and your colleagues will notice you for all the right reasons.
  • Be kind to yourself: Listen out for compliments and record them in a notebook so you can refer back to them on tough days. Make note of your achievements and the things that make you feel proud of your work. Celebrating what you are good at is so important.
  • Be open: Talk to trusted colleagues about your own fears and ask them what areas they struggle with. You might be surprised – most people aren’t as confident as you think.
  • Be curious: Ask for feedback about your work and look for opportunities to learn. Show that you are willing to improve and grow. This will help you make a good impression as well as discover what people already appreciate about you.

These are just some of the ways you can make small adjustments to your confidence. Remember, self-confidence isn’t about being the loudest or the brightest; it’s about awakening your calm inner strength. It’s amazing how much we can flourish when we be kind to ourselves and others.

“But what I can do …” Words that don’t disappoint.

I said no

Early in my career I worked in the customer support department of an internet service provider. I supervised a team of young tech assistants who helped customers with everything to do with their internet connection. If a customer demanded that their call be escalated, it would be transferred to me.

The person on the other end of the phone was frustrated, often angry, and they wanted their problem fixed now. They didn’t want to hear that I might not be able to give them what they wanted.

At first, taking the “grumpy customer” calls was nerve-wracking but over time I discovered it was a perfect opportunity to give great service. I’ve taken what I learnt there into many other roles and situations where I need to say “no”.

Sometimes on those customer calls I was lucky and a quick fix resolved everything but mostly it wasn’t that easy. The issues that really frustrate people are a result of complexity, ambiguity, and miscommunication, and often don’t have easy solutions. Those kinds of problems need to be investigated, and resolving it might take time. Sometimes what customers want isn’t in our control and sometimes it isn’t possible at all.

Even when I couldn’t give those customers what they wanted, I managed to help them feel better. How?

  1. The first thing was I cared about them. I treated them with respect and empathy. We all know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of bad service … we just want someone to make things right.
  2. But I also discovered a technique that worked really well – I never said “no” or “we can’t do that” or “that’s not possible” without also saying what I could do.

“I’m sorry, I can’t  do that. But what I can do is …”.  

Being specific about what you can do helps when dealing with unhappy customers but is also useful in other situations, such as when you might need to disappoint someone at work. Maybe your workmate is asking for something that’s not possible, or your manager wants an answer you can’t give.

Here are a few examples of things you could say after “no …”.

– What I can do is set aside some time with you to talk through our options.
– What I can do is get the details for a proper investigation before I get back to you.
– What I can do is sit with you while you complete that task so I can help if you need it.
– What I can do is put you in touch with someone who will have the information you need.
– What I can do is make sure the Product team get your feedback.

We all have times when we don’t have the answers that people want, or we can’t do what they expect. By saying what you can do they’ll know that your intent is to help and they’ll be clear about next steps. Of course there are times that what you can do will seem insignificant, but offering even something small is going to be received better than just a “no”.

It works the other way around also – if someone is only telling you what isn’t possible then ask what can be done. Help them to focus on what is possible.

Try it the next time you need to say no … say what you can do, and notice how this changes the rest of the conversation.