“Interpersonal efforts that invariably succeed are those in which the messenger stops dictating and starts discovering what the recipient wants.” – Carnegie
A couple of years ago, just after I’d been promoted, I was out at a networking event. I wasn’t there looking for work, instead my brother and I got invited and went for the free wine and nibbles. I was stood at a high table where two people were talking about career change. One worked in finance and management consulting, the other, like me, was a teacher.
A lot of what the consultant’s questions to the teacher were about why she wanted to change career – “but why do you want to leave a cushy job like teaching?” and the teacher was becoming exasperated, repeating the same point – something along the lines of:
1. Her time wasn’t her own – she had lessons in her timetable that were obviously non-negotiable in terms of timings and length. This is what teaching is, she said, but now she wants to manage her own time.
2. Her day is filled with conflicts – every day she had fifty disciplinary conversations with students (and sometimes staff, as a manager) where she was upholding standards and getting people to do what they don’t want to do. Her audience is almost always hostile because she is a leader and is called on to resolve issues. She wants a change from the constant barrage of negativity.
3. She wanted to work in an environment where promotion didn’t mean death – the consultant looked perplexed at this, but she turned the focus to him to help explain. She asked him (as a very senior person) what his job was like. The higher he went, the more responsibility he garnered, but this meant that there was less actual hands on work to do. Instead he spent a lot of time moving around his team, having development chats, and sitting in on meetings with clients. The teacher explained that as a teacher progresses up the hierarchy, they keep all the old pressure and responsibilities, but gains lots more. It was weighing on her too heavily now and she wanted to change out of education completely.
This was becoming a bit awkward to listen to, because the consultant brought up the standard responses to a teacher who wants to quit:
1. You wont get the summer holidays
2. You will work long hours – “you cant work 8-3 every day in a normal job”
This was awkward for me because I felt for the teacher. She was speaking but not being heard. She’d already said that she wouldn’t miss the holidays too much because she always works in them anyway, and her working day was a minimum of 7-5, often later, and with another three to six hours on the weekend. The consultant was trying to help, but he just didn’t get it. Luckily I think they were friends, so had a basis of trust already.
Now at this point it’s easy to feel for the teacher and to bemoan the fact that people outside education have no fucking clue how tough it is, but I think the teacher could have made it easier for the consultant to understand.
Wait. Before you judge me, I’m not a heartless monster.
I speak from experience. I have experience of this and I’ve got annoyed that no-one listens too. Until one day I realised that I wasn’t listening to them.
Recently I was chatting with my uncle, a senior person at a financial technology firm. I was asking his advice about changing career in the future.
Our initial conversation flowed almost effortlessly towards the same points that I heard two years ago between the teacher and the consultant (above), but I saw them coming and headed them off. I tried what Dale Carnegie suggests:
“To influence others to act, you must connect to a core desire within them.”
I wanted him to want to talk to his friends about me, and share my CV around when the time came. So before he charged in with the ‘no summer holidays’ thing I asked him why do you do your job? I asked why he’s dedicated so much of his life to helping businesses be better, and why he thinks that’s valuable. I wanted to understand the core desire.
He told me. Then I asked what problems he and his colleagues regularly face. And one of the problems was, useful for me, their education programmes. He thought they could be better. I asked him what a good education program would look like. And what he would accept as a positive outcome. He told me. I asked him whether he would pass on my contact details to one of his colleagues when I was ready to change careers, and I would pitch a solution to their problems. He said he would.
I avoided frustration and hurt (because it hurts when we feel we aren’t understood) just because I asked what his organisation needed. And then I told him I would try and help.
I acted upon the reflection James Humes gives about Carnegie’s work:
“Hardwired into all of us is the desire for honest communication … beyond that, for authentic connection … beyond that, successful collaboration.”
To solve a problem we need to have an honest conversation with the person who has the problem. Then we need to show that we understand them, and how this negatively affects their business day-to-day.
I think the following is a useful step for anyone looking to change career when there is a problem with traditional methods of application (you’ve never worked in an industry before, for example). Try to connect on a human level, listen to their core desire, and consider honestly how (or whether) you can help.
Meet for 15 minutes and have a coffee, or if that’s not possible, arrange a call to ask:
• What they do, and why they do it
• What their problems are
• What they think a solution would look like
• Decide whether you can actually do what they need – if not, say so and leave with a new contact. Don’t waste their (your) time
This is part of a longer process of building an authentic connection. It can easily go wrong whereby we try to push a round solution into a square problem.
I met someone who was selling a corporate communication tool – it was a messaging service with calendars, shared document spaces and project management tools built in. He’d had a few drinks and was complaining that companies didn’t see the worth in what he was trying to offer them. He put this down to a rigid corporate structure that stifled innovation. I made sympathetic noises, but then asked him what the company’s problems were that he was trying to solve. He was blank for a moment, then fell into a long spiel that must have been his sales pitch, about streamlined workflow, work life balance etc.
It was impossible to get a straight answer because he simply hadn’t asked them what their problems were. He’d just focused on the medium (round solution), not the meaning (square problem). He was focusing on selling the cool tools within his product, rather than what it could mean for people working at the company.
We need to remember that if you’re selling something that isn’t used by 7am, its not worth much. This includes our specific talents.
Whether it’s data software or coffee granules, it needs to be integral to a person’s day, And if your product isn’t actually solving a problem they have, it will always be an add-on that isn’t bought again or renewed.
“Meaning rules the effectiveness of every medium. Once you have something meaningful to offer, you can then choose the most proficient media for your endeavour. However, when you put the medium before the meaning, your message is in danger of becoming … ‘a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’”
I think that to change career will mean we need to influence people to see our value. We need to get people to want what we want. We need to understand how to a align what we want with what they want.
You want a new career that will stretch you/employers want their job done – sometimes it’s boring and won’t challenge you.
Explain that when stretched and enthused you can do amazing things. Give examples.
You want to manage your own time, team, and projects/employers just want projects done on time and to budget.
Give examples of your successes. Talk about failures. Show that you can recongise when things are going wrong, and what you have learnt. Showing that you know what things look like when they’re screwed means you can identify the same problems early next time, and get the job done.
You want more money/employers want to pay you as little as possible.
Demonstrate your worth in the market in comparison with expensive alternatives. For me that might be comparing what I can offer on a salary basis versus them purchasing yearly external CPD and paying companies to make education programmes for them. Or maybe comparing my experience and expertise with other Heads of Learning and Development in corporate firms.
To make a success of career change, lets try to avoid dictating, and instead listen.