Friday, November 26, 2010

To Disagree, First Learn to Agree

When I was growing up, there were two aspects about speaking that I thought were important.  One is that you spoke only when you had something important to contribute.  Secondly, it is impolite to express your disagreement directly.

In the beginning of my USA assignment, I applied this philosophy to my meetings.  The sound levels at these meetings were much higher than those I had experienced.  The conversations flowed from one person to another without much pauses.  At times, a new conversation started before the previous one ended.  My ability to say anything was drastically limited.  I couldn’t find a break point to make a statement.  I comforted myself saying that it was all right. At the end, the problems were getting solved and the actions plans were becoming concrete.  So, although I didn’t say much, I was happy with the outcomes of the meetings and committed to the actions.  Saying anything, I justified, would just lengthen the meeting and added to the decibel.

My manager, after observing me for a few meetings, called me aside and asked me why I was so quiet in those meetings.  I told her that the meetings were going well and I didn’t need to say anything to disrupt the flow.  I agreed with their good suggestions and actions.  She listened and then asked me if I was really happy with the outcome.  I reaffirmed that I was and therefore didn’t need to say anything else at the meetings.

What she said next surprised me.  She asked me why I didn’t say that I agreed with the outcomes and supported the plans.  I argued that I took good notes and even showed her all the actions items for me.  In her collected tone, she said, “You really must say something in a meeting.  The participants need to know that you are there, not only in body but in mind and spirit.  If you agree with the outcome, tell them.  Tell them you will support the actions. I know you are committed to the actions and have always completed them.  But you must TELL them.”

It wasn’t an easy task.  I am not used to making such statements.  The words don’t fall neatly into place.  Taking her advice, I began to practice various phrases to state my agreement and support.  I wanted to ensure that what I say carried the message with SINCERITY.  I leaned to say words like, “That’s a wonderful idea!  I think the team in Asia can support that.”  I practiced many other statements, for variety, so that when the time came for me to use them, I have them handy.

Some may argue that making those statements make one shallow and superficial.  It may not enhance or even maintain the self-esteem of the person making them.  On the contrary!  I felt good making those statements.  More participants came up to me after the meeting thanking me for my ideas, contributions and support.  I felt great!  I meant those statements and my actions showed.  I am now a member of meeting – not only by association but also by contribution.  I am no longer perceived as a bystander.

My philosophy on speaking out has changed.  I am comfortable agreeing.  But, I must still be able to disagree when needed.  Is there a proper way?  Everyone has their own.  For me, I needed one more step – AGREEING AND BUILDING, before disagreeing.  That will be for my next posting.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thank You for the Encouragement

I am overwhelmed by the responses to my first blog.  Your comments are encouraging and valuable.  Some have written directly on the blog while others have replied to my email.  I am deeply honored that you took the time to read the posting.  Most of you thought that the blog is fitting.  In his humorous way, Yongwoo faulted me for not advising him early in his career.

Thank you all.  Your comments bring out the fact that our situations are different and you have to manage your career conversations in a manner that is appropriate to the circumstance. For instance, TN stated that knowing your audience well is critical and that we have to assess the situation before entering into the discussion.  CL used a different strategy for her conversation.  She discussed her goals and objectives with her managers regularly.  In this manner, her managers got to know her better.

Many organizations encourage career conversations.  Unfortunately, there are some that don’t.  Even for organizations that encourage them, Mathia advised that they have to be done in an open and non-threatening manner.  The bosses and the associates need to play their parts.  It cannot be a one-sided affair.  According to SC, high potential talents must display some courage in taking on assignments given.  Taj did just that.  He had his talent spotted constantly and took on all the opportunities given.  Otherwise as VS suggested there will be missed opportunities and, as Jason said, one can end up as an “unpolished gemstone”.

Preparation is key to a successful conversation.  It may also make the conversation more comfortable.  Anjum knows its importance even when he dislikes having them.  Jason attested that communication and persuasive skills are needed.  In preparing for the conversation, Mariam mentioned the importance of a personal vision.  Tsui Chern’s “elevator speech” is a great way to get a clear and succinct message across.  In addition, Mathia asked us to take advantage of tools that can assist us in career discussions.  Anuraag reminded us to be sincere in expressing our feelings.   Finally, timing is important.  Bil noticed the need to find an opportune time to have these conversations. For those who organizations have scheduled time, you are fortunate.

I am grateful to all of you and I am encouraged to continue. So be on the lookout for the next posting -- “To disagree, first learn to agree.”

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tell Them If You Want It!!

I grew up with the notion that parents know best when it comes to what is good for me. They do in many instances.  When I wished for something, I never expressed that desire.  I took this philosophy into my work.  I expected that excellent performance is all that is needed to see me grow in my job and career.  Many times it did.

In my 32 years as a corporate manager, I lived in 4 countries, visited 48 cities, and worked in 20 functional areas.  I reported to 26 bosses and had 66 direct reports.  For most of these moves, I was presented with the opportunity which I evaluated and took.  They were good for me as well as the company.

When I returned to Asia after my assignment in the USA, I had the responsibility for South Asia.  The sub-region includes India, the ASEAN countries, Australia and New Zealand.  The Asia Pacific division comprised of North Asia, led by my peer and South Asia.

After excelling in that position, another opportunity arose.  My boss wanted to return to the USA.  I knew that I had a chance for his job.  I also knew that the management is also considering someone else.  That person was performing equally well.

When I weighed the various factors, I had many advantages.  I am an Asian on local payroll.  So from a cost standpoint, I would be more effective.  Considering all the factors, I thought that I would be a "shoo-in".

Little did I know I had to fight for the job.  My mentor, a member of the management team, told me that I had to tell the president that I wanted the job.  I was surprised!  I argued and tried to rationalize that the president should know.  In her wisdom, she said, "If you want the job badly enough, you will tell him so.  He needs to hear that commitment from you."  Her words set me thinking.  I realize how right she is.

My chance came when my president came for a visit.  He had a busy schedule and the only private time that I have with him is driving him to the airport.  It was going to be a half hour ride.  I rehearsed and rehearsed my conversation.  Despite the fact that my president is a good listener and an easy person to talk to, I am not familiar with this type of conversation.  I plan to tell him that I am the best person for the job, that the role means a lot to me and why I am an asset to the organization.  It wasn't the most comfortable dialogue I had with him.

The rest is history.  I got the job.  The conversation during the drive to the airport must have helped.  

Good performance is a given.  It is very important to get your stakeholder to hear your commitment and desire.  Some may argue about my arrogance in telling my leader that I am the best candidate.  It is still an interview.  SO TELL YOUR LEADER IF YOU WANT THE JOB!!