An overachieving Millennial who had the moxie to declare at 13 years old, “Class president today, U.S. President in 30 years,” I grew up believing that if I wanted to push through societal, organizational, and my own barriers, it was vital that I own my accomplishments. It was no accident that I amassed close to $100K of scholarship money by the time I was a freshman in college. I was brilliant at communicating a narrative that painted me as an über smart, sassy, and successful emerging leader. So people gave me opportunities. Whether I was applying to be a popcorn girl at a movie theater or a communications associate for a women’s entrepreneurial association, in my early career I always got the job.
When I transitioned full-time into speaking, training, and coaching in my mid-twenties, naturally I thought that as long as I could prove that I was the real deal, I’d grow a successful business. It had always worked before. But for a long time, the opposite was happening. When I touted my past achievements, be it with meeting planners, HR directors, or business owners, I had oodles of prospective work come my way. But I never closed. And, embarrassingly, when I did secure a new opportunity it often didn’t last very long or spawn referrals.
As I’ve discovered through a healthy dose of experience, research, and introspection, owning one’s accomplishments is not a bad thing. It’s an important step to getting an audience with influencers and decision makers in your life. For women especially, it can mean the difference between staying in one’s current role or getting a raise, stretch assignment, significant account, or promotion. According to a recent Stanford study, “In the business world, women who are aggressive, assertive, and confident but who can turn these traits on and off depending on the social circumstances get more promotions than either men or other women.” It’s just important that once you’ve earned your ‘seat at the table,’ you continue to do the following so as not to come off as vain, entitled, or inaccessible…as I had to learn the hard way.
Let yourself be vulnerable. I know, it sounds totally counterproductive to establishing your credibility, doesn’t it? But the truth is people trust people who are confident enough to reveal their struggles, as long as they are framed as part of one’s journey and not as the journey itself. They connect with those whose stories reflect back to them what they have endured and had to surmount. Whether you are being vulnerable with a conference room full of colleagues or a prospective client, the more you can employ your storytelling skills to show how you have turned your garbage into gems, the more you will engender true, sustainable credibility, and buy-in. I’ve gotten far more leverage talking about wearing headgear than I have from sharing how I have built a thriving marriage. People relate to our messes and are often frightened and turned off by our successes.
Ask juicy questions. I haven’t come across too many people in my life who don’t want others to take an interest in them and elicit their ideas, passions, experiences, and so forth. Take the time to get to know the people you communicate with before you get face time with them. Be prepared to ask questions that use what you have learned as a base to pull out the more rich information. Whenever somebody approaches me and makes mention of a talk she took the time to watch or an article she perused, I am exponentially more eager to hear what she has to say. Plus, I can’t help but think she is more invested, successful, and passionate about whatever she is discussing…just by focusing her attention on me.
Reference your experience, and be heart-centered about it. The best communicators are constantly choosing to show rather than tell. While in a professional bio or LinkedIn profile you may list your ‘wow’, when communicating with people, focus on gracefully weaving in stories and examples of how you got an underperforming employee out of his own way or took a mompreneur from five-figures to multiple six-figures to enhance your credibility. The key is to be motivated by being of service to the person or people you are speaking with, to genuinely want them to see what is possible and to start taking action. While structurally you may not do much different if your self-talk, on the flip side, is “Like me, like me, like me” or “Say yes, say yes, say yes,” the energy will be completely different. People will feel like you are pushing rather than inviting, that you are selfish rather than selfless.