“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.

Reclaim your commute!

For most people a daily commute to the office is unavoidable. We drive, carpool, catch public transport, or cycle/run/walk to work. Some people love their commute and others find it tedious and boring.

It was when I was spending almost 3 hours a day commuting (and almost as much time grumbling about it!) that a friend mentioned how much he loved that part of his day. Early every morning he’d set off on his bicycle for a 90-minute ride to work, and back again every evening. It didn’t sound appealing to me but he looked forward to it. He appreciated that he was able to exercise every day, he was getting fit and he felt happy and relaxed when he got to work and again when he arrived home in the evening.

I wasn’t keen on cycling to work! But it got me thinking if there might be other things I could do to stop viewing my commute as a waste of time. I asked a bunch of people how they viewed their commute and how they spent that time. Quite a few told me they enjoyed the “me time” – no kids, or coworkers or others to bother them. They could relax and do things that made them happy. Some said the commute home allowed them time to process their work day. I noticed a difference between those who begrudged that time and those who looked forward to it. Here are some of the things that made it more bearable, even enjoyable.

If you catch public transport.

This is one of the nicest ways to commute as you don’t need to keep your eyes on the road.

  • Call people you don’t get the chance to speak to often enough.
  • Read or listen to an audio book or listen to interesting podcasts. I love podcasts and have a long list of favourites – so many that I even use the Overcast app to get through them faster!
  • Use Duolingo to learn a language.
  • Look up”. Switch off. Put everything away and look up. See what’s going on around you, notice your surroundings … daydream.
  • Breathe. How you breathe has an impact on your stress levels and many other things. Here’s a good article with little-known but excellent advice “if in doubt, breathe out”.
  • Whether standing or sitting, practice good posture, engage your core muscles and tuck in your chin to avoid the dreaded “computer hunch”.
  • Improve your concentration and focus.
  • Using your time to practice mindfulness.
  • If your job involves sitting most of the day then your commute is a perfect time to stand. Standing engages more muscles than sitting, and there aremany associated health benefits.

Here’s a great blog from a freelancer in New York who now misses her train commute.

If you walk, run or cycle.

If you commute by using your own legs as transport then you are awesome! This is great for your health and mental outlook.

Quite a few people told me they use listen to loud music on their earphones but after a few near-misses they no longer feel safe doing that. If you are going to wear earphones then be vigilant about what’s going on around you. In addition to some of the public transport tips above, you could:

  • Develop good posture – engage your muscles and walk with intent. Turn your walk into a workout.
  • Practice feeling “actively relaxed” – focus on good posture and breathe evenly and try to feel calm.
  • I was told about a “walking meditation” where a friend notices colours, practices relaxing breathing or listens to the sounds around her.
  • Appreciate the outdoors. If you work at a desk all day then this is a good time to be out in the sun and breathing fresh air.

If you drive.

If you’re stuck in slow traffic here are some things you could do, provided you keep yourself and others safe.

If you can’t avoid commuting then doing these things can help to make it a positive part of your work day, even fun. And once you’ve reclaimed your commute then reclaim your job because that should be fun too!

Your attitude is infectious.

Infectious_attitudeIs there anyone at your company who you really like to work with? Anyone you’d want to avoid? What about your overall attitude at work, your manner and disposition … how do you approach people or give your opinion or disagree?

It’s obvious that no matter where we work we have no choice but to interact with other people to get things done. And while we’re getting things done we’re having an effect on each other whether we intend to or not. Sometimes it’s a positive effect, sometimes it isn’t.

There’s a well-known saying that “your reputation precedes you”. It’s important to be aware of how you might be “infecting” others with your attitude as it can have an impact on things like team productivity, individual’s job satisfaction, and your career prospects.

Are you aware of what others might think of you? You can never be 100% sure as opinions are influenced by people’s own values and life experiences, but it is possible to get a sense of their general feelings. Think of things you’re complimented on or feedback you’re consistently given.

  • Are you known for getting things done?
  • Are you proactive / approachable / self-motivated / sensible / trusted?
  • Do you take responsibility?
  • Can you be relied on?
  • Have people said they specifically want you on their team?
  • Do you encourage or help others to do well?
  • Are you open to new ideas or different approaches?
  • Is your opinion sought and/or respected?
  • Can you disagree without being disagreeable.

If you can say Yes to any of those then you can be fairly sure you are a positive influence at work. Sadly, it’s often the negative influencers who end up having the biggest impact.

  • Don’t be the person who is a stuck record, always complaining or pointing out things you don’t like. Instead, use that energy to find ways to help. There’s nothing like a good vent every now and then but if that’s all you do you lose respect, and moaning doesn’t actually change anything. Offer to help fix the problems or ask for support from others to find solutions.
  • Don’t be known for being cynical, distrusting or disparaging. Just one person behaving this way can infect a whole team by making it seem okay to focus on the negatives. There are plenty of opportunities to feel disappointed or lose trust but you need to be willing to give people another chance. Standing on the sidelines pointing at others isn’t a good way to promote healthy relationships at work.
  • Don’t be an arrogant know-it-all. Remember how you felt when you were new at something. Have some empathy for people who don’t know what you do. When you’re feeling frustrated at other people’s lack of knowledge use that as an indicator that you could do more to help them understand.

People who display these negative traits have often started out with good intentions. Those who complain may be trying to prevent problems for their team, or improve poor work practices. People who are cynical may have placed trust others but had their trust betrayed. Being arrogant could be a protective measure in a high-blame environment.

Wherever these attitudes originated, they can quickly become a habit. We all have bad days and moments where we’re feeling frustrated and we can’t help but be negative, but to be respected and valued at work you should try to keep those occasions to a minimum. Be aware of the things that trigger a bout of bad attitude and practice different ways of responding. Think of how you impact people. Be someone that others see as a positive influence. Take every opportunity to infect people with your great attitude.

Can recruiters find you, and will they like what they find?

I recently attended an IT recruitment conference that had speakers from many successful and fast-growing companies. The event was about how to attract, recruit and retain IT professionals.

Companies operating in the IT/tech/digitech space are well aware of how hard it is to find good people to fill their vacancies. Presenters at the conference spoke about new methods they’re using to help them with this task.

How companies and recruiters find candidates.

The most common ways for recruiters (in-house or at agencies) to find candidates are:

  • Place an ad on an online job board or on a company’s career page
  • Look at their existing database of previous candidates
  • If they’re in-house recruiters they’ll likely look at their pool of existing staff
  • Ask for referrals
  • Approach people directly

Aside from the channels above there are is now a trend towards looking for people online, via various social media and other channels. Or, maybe they have someone’s name but they want to find out more before they proceed.

The cost of not filling a role or of hiring the wrong person or high so it’s reasonable that companies and recruiters will try to find out as much as they can, and in places you might not expect.

Here are some places they might look.

In most cases below, people can search for a name or more generic terms (e.g. developers in Sydney). Once if they find someone they’ll usually expand out the search to see that person’s contact, followers etc and get even more names of potential candidates.

1. Twitter.   This is a great starting place to see who you follow or interact with, what types of things you post and how you communicate. Use this to your advantage – follow or interact with companies you like or ‘influencers’, post relevant content. Also remember that companies often post vacancies on Twitter so it’s a great place to see what roles they offer and how they deal with candidates.

2. LinkedIn.   Recruiters are likely to have a look at your LinkedIn profile, but they also search more generically for people with certain skills or in specific locations. This means you should keep your profile up -to-date (but remember to disable notifications if you don’t want your current employer to suspect you’re thinking of moving). Do you have a title showing what you currently do or what you’re looking for? Do you have a few, specific recommendations from people about how you work? (See my other blog about creating a good Linkedin profile and CV.)

3. Facebook.   Depending on your privacy settings there could be a wealth of information on Facebook that you don’t realise is public. Check what your profile looks like to people who aren’t friends and edit posts/photos that you want to remain private.

4. Instagram.   As with all social media, employers can tell a lot about you from what you post or respond to.

5. GitHub.   I’ve heard many times that if you’re a developer you need to have a GitHub profile.

6. Meetup.   If I was looking for someone with, for example, testing automation experience, one of the first places I’d look would be the local meetups. I’d get the list of members and then cross-reference them with other places (Twitter, LinkedIn etc). If you belong to meetups, make sure your profile – for each group you belong to – is up-to-date.

7. Google.   A plain, old Google search might yield lots of information about you or people like you. Google+ is used in some countries but not in others. For example, if you work in India (or if you want to be found by an Indian company), you need a Google+ profile. A reverse image lookup (drag an image and drop into the search bar) might take searchers to other places online where your details can be found.

8. Online.   Searchers might look at sites where tech people can offer their services or display their portfolios. You might be found on one of these – Bēhance, Elance, Upwork, peopleperhour, Fiverr, dribble, etc. What about if you leave a review with you name on TripAdvisor, AirBnB, eating out sites etc? People can get a sense of your tone, your attitude and what you do in your spare time.

What will they find out about you?

It’s not only about how you might be found, but also what information people might uncover when they find you.

  • If you use your name in any of these sites or applications then make sure you have content that won’t discourage potential employers.
  • Keep in mind the image you are portraying online. Does your online presence give the impression that you’d be a suitable employee for the kind of company you want to work for?
  • You don’t need to sign up to all the sites listed above. Only do so if it makes sense (e.g. if you’re a developer then GitHub is a good place to start).

candidateSo, be aware of your presence online, but possibly even more importantly be honest, professional and hard-working … these are the things that will ultimately create your reputation.