Don’t Worry About Impressing Me

by Michael Masterson

He had been strongly recommended. And so, when I got on the phone with him, I was expecting a sharp, take-charge guy. Instead, I got this:

"I’ve been involved in strategically important roles with communications companies for 25 years. Throughout, I’ve focused on my core competencies, building brand recognition and interfaces with key personnel."

To which, I responded: "Huh?"

He went on …

"It’s been a personal paradigm of mine that quality control and dynamic leadership are essentials in today’s globalized business environment, and that’s what I feel I can bring to any company that I work for."

"So," I said, "what exactly have you been doing all these years?"

There was a pause during which I could almost hear his disappointment. He must have been thinking, "What kind of dummy am I dealing with?"

For my part, I had already come to an initial assessment of him: The guy was a fraud.

Normally, I would have pretended to have been interrupted by some sort of emergency and gotten off the phone. But because a colleague had spoke so well of him, I suppressed my instinct and kept the conversation going. And here’s what I got for my troubles:

"Bringing in a bottom line and achieving optimal results are goals that resonate with me."

"That’s it," I thought. "I can’t take any more."

"I’m really sorry to do this, but I have to jump off the phone to handle an emergency. I did enjoy talking to you and I’ll look at your resume and get back to you if something comes up that makes sense for you."

And with that, I said goodbye to this man and his chances of ever making money with me or any business I have a say in.

In their book "Why Business People Speak Like Idiots", authors Fugere, Hardaway, and Warshawsky say there are three reasons we hear this kind of nonsense from too many people in the business world:

  1. They focus on themselves, rather than their listeners. "When obscurity pollutes someone’s communications it’s often because the … goal is to impress and not to inform."
  2. They are afraid of concrete language. They realize that saying exactly what they mean makes it hard for them to wiggle out of commitments later on. "Liability scares us, so we add endless phrases to qualify our views on a topic, acknowledging everything from prevailing weather conditions to the 12 reasons we can’t make a decision now."
  3. They like to romanticize what they do for a living. They are afraid that their daily routines, and indeed their daily thoughts, are common and thus vulgar.

Here’s the bottom line on bullshit: It’s a very poor success strategy. It can work in the short run, and this is why so many shallow-minded businesspeople use it. But in the long run, what you do is what counts. You can get away with BS-ing people for a while, but only a little while. As I’ve said many times, in business only two things really matter: what you know (your skill set) and who you are (your integrity). Those qualities are demonstrated ultimately by your actions, not by your words.

You are, as our grammar school teachers used to tell us, only fooling yourself by BS-ing. Eventually – usually much more quickly than you’d like to believe – people will find out who you really are. At that point, no amount of verbal hyperbole is going to save you.

Having been found out as a BS artist, you have also been marked as an impostor. You don’t have the skills you’ve claimed and you’ve lost any hope of being thought of as a person with any integrity.

It’s much better to be honest from the outset. And being honest means being honest about who you are, how much you know, and the qualities of your character.

None of us is perfect. And the good news is that we don’t have to be. You can be outrageously successful in business with just a handful of good qualities and a truckload of faults. (Think Martha Stewart.)

And anyway, nobody wants you to be perfect. What they want is for you to be good. So the first rule of successfully selling yourself is to begin with the basics:

  • You must be good at something – really good.
  • That something must be useful to the success of the business you are attempting to work for.
  • You must prove that you are good.
  • And then you must deliver.

What sort of thing must you be good at? If you’ve been reading ETR for even a short time you already know the answer to that: some financially valued skill. Generally speaking, that means one of four things: marketing, selling, creating profitable products, or managing profits.

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