A common message I impart in my articles, my presentations and my advice to professionals and students is that words matter. What you say…and how you say it, is critical in the achievement of a successful career and thriving relationships (both personal and professional). Speech, and the way we use words is the most straightforward form of communication and the most effective way for another person to understand want we want, how we feel – and how we’ll behave.
But words are not always reliable. They can deceive, mislead and confuse. Their omission can have the same affect and can serve as valued weapons for avoidance and dishonesty. And many, if not all of you reading this article, have relied on the words of another (or the absence thereof) at one time or another – only to be punched in the gut with the realization that what you relied on to be truth…was not. So in this current environment, how do we interpret the world as it really is? How do we know what’s real? How do we know what…and whom to rely on?
Believe not the words, but the actions.
There is no greater “tell” about a person than how s/he behaves. The actions of an individual say far more than words can ever communicate. What a person does will reveal his/her real intentions, motivations and the quality of his/her character. But drudging through one’s own psychology of wants, needs, hopes and fears to see the truth is far from easy. Because we so want to believe – and hope – that the words we depend on reflect what they are supposed to mean. And so the cycle continues. We stay in our stale jobs endlessly hoping for that promotion. We rely on the promises of more money or a bigger title. We trust the colleagues who betray us.
But the cycle can be broken. A fresh approach – with a focus on paying closer attention to behavior and interpreting it with an objective lens will prepare you for a more authentic experience – one that is more aligned with the “reality” of your situation. You may not like what you see when the rose-colored glasses are lifted from your eyes. But you will save yourself greater frustration and disappointment in the end.
So the next time you interview for a job – or ask for something professionally, be it a bonus, a promotion, opportunity to work with a new partner, take time off, telecommuting, etc., do the following:
- Set a period of time to observe what is happening in that window that relates to your ask/interview process (1 month, 3 months, 6 months) – and write it down.
- Take note of the start of the situation you are monitoring, whether it’s an initial discussion, performance review or an email – and include dates. Write it down.
- During your designated timeframe, assess whether actionsor inactionsare being taken. If so, what are they? Do these support your cause or indicate something else? How or how not? Write it down.
- Are there any other communications that are “tells” for you? If so, what are they? Write it down.
- At the end of your timeframe, review your notes to see what the actions (or inactions) demonstrate.
If the crickets are chirping, there is a strong likelihood that you are not going to get what you want or need. So make the decision to plan your next move. You may also find that during that timeframe there will be more words. Words that will buy time; or make more promises or excuses. Beware of the risk of relying on such words and remember: it’s the actions that do the talking. If you’re still not sure about what has transpired, ask an objective friend, family member or colleague whose opinion you trust.
One way to gain clarity more quickly and definitively is to be direct, ask questions and/or request a deadline for a response or status update. Create a dynamic of accountability. This doesn’t have to be combative. Setting good boundaries and asking for clarity is healthy and can be done in a professional and gracious way. You still may not immediately get the answers you seek, but the resulting actions will create a clearer context in a shorter period of time for your situation.
Some additional advice on a framework for interpreting actions in the office and job interviews:
At the office,watch your work environment closely and take note even if you are not asking for something. Are other colleagues getting the best work? Are they getting more responsibility in the department? Who is getting promoted? Who is sucking up to the boss? Are they being rewarded for it? Who is receiving the kudos? How do your colleagues act? How does your manager act? Do their words match their actions? By taking continuous inventory of how your colleagues are behaving, you will be more finely attuned to the real lay of the land and your place in it.
When interviewing for a job,observe employers’ actions. Are your interviews cut short or running long? Does the employer rush to schedule the next meeting or tell you that they’ll get back to you in weeks? Are you being reminded about all the other candidates in contention? Are they responding to your follow up emails? In addition, absorb what employers are telling you about themselves and the organization: Is scheduling your interviews a disaster? Are people failing to show up? Are interviewers disparaging one their colleagues? Is the hiring manager behaving volatilely, unpredictably or unreasonably? Are people friendly, aloof or rude? Watch what you see and the situation will usually be quite clear.
Communication takes many forms in our society. The way we use words and tone is one of the most common and effective. However, one of the most authentic forms of communication…is how we behave. It is also one of the most reliable.
Actions do speak louder than words. And hopefully the advice above is helpful as you continue to strive to achieve your goals and build meaningful relationships. So as you move forward…listen carefully to what you see.