This newsletter is the second in a series of 5 dealing
with bad habits. As I mentioned last month, it is based
partly on the book by Marshall Goldsmith called "What Got You Here
Won't Get You There". I would highly recommend this book as
you reflect on improving yourself by eliminating your own bad
To review from last month, we all have bad habits. Many
successful people have an even bigger issue in that they have convinced
themselves that their bad habits are strengths! They cling to
them with pride, and refuse to change them. Psychologically,
they have convinced themselves that these bad habits are key reasons
for their success. The thing that they call their reputation
or brand may be just a bad habit in disguise. And those bad
habits may become more critical as they advance in their careers, and
may even prevent them from achieving their career goals.
This month, we are going to start looking at some common bad
habits. Specifically, we are going to deal with some bad
habits that come from unintentionally saying too much.
Research has shown that the European-American culture has a great
discomfort with silence (both verbal and nonverbal), and prefers to
fill the void with the comfort of open, direct conversation.
This can be a good trait in business, especially when participation is
required and decisions need to be made.
Interestingly, there are other situations where too much discussion can
actually impede the open exchange of ideas, and the more favorable
response is a simple expression of appreciation. We all have
aspirations of being approachable and open, where people are not afraid
to bring you new ideas (if not, we will deal with that bad habit
later). We may explicitly ask others to go off and
solve a problem and report back. Or, we may imply that we
want new ideas by stating that our doors are always open.
Unfortunately, our bad habit responses may be telling people just the
opposite. It's also likely that we don't even know that we
are doing it.
Let's look at a few examples:
Fred: And that's the end of my
presentation. Any questions?
You: Yes. On slide 13, could you explain what the graph...?
I am teaching my 5 year old boys to say "please" and "thank you", since
it's the basis of etiquette. This skill is equally important
in business, but sometimes forgotten. It's the perfect
response in many business situations. It's polite, disarming,
friendly, and shows the person that you saw that they made an effort
and that you cared. If your goal is to be
approachable, start by telling people that you are grateful for the
work they have done.
Appropriate response: Thank
you. I appreciate the effort that you put into your
presentation. Could you explain...?
- One thought that might make
that even better is...
Janet: And that's the idea
that I had.
You: Good idea. You know what? You could make this even
better if you...
Our excitement over a new idea and an overwhelming need to add our two
cents can be a bad habit. Many people do this from
excitement, a need to show support, or from a need to show others how
smart they are. The problem is that you may have added 10% to
the idea, but you've taken 50% away from the enthusiasm of the person
bringing the idea to you and their continued interest in it.
Take a breath and do the math. You may find that your
addition is not worth it.
Appropriate response: Thank
you. Why don't you start working on it right away?
- That's a good idea...
Khalid (presenting at a meeting): and if we
implemented the plan, it would save us...
You: That's a really, really good idea.
Sally (later in the meeting): and if we enact that, it would result
You: Now THAT'S a super idea
What's wrong with instant feedback? Putting judgment on ideas
can stop them in their tracks. If in one meeting you call one
idea "really really good", and another idea "great" and another idea
"awesome", the person with the "really, really good idea" will feel
like a failure. You have unintentionally put a grade on the
ideas. Only those with "awesome" ideas will want to present
them to you, and others will shy away. Appreciate the effort,
and evaluate the content and provide feedback later.
Appropriate response: Thank you, that definitely
gives me something to think about...?
Janelle: I think the facts
show that we should choose option B.
You: You make some good points, however...
The use of the word "however" (or "but") in the English language is to
point out an exception to what has just been said. If someone
says "you look great, but", what they really mean is that you don't
look so great. When applied to an idea, it is an attempt to
say politely that "you are wrong, and I know better". If
further conversation takes place, it will be an argument over
position. It may feel like you are trying to open discussion,
but it really serves to shut the presenter down and take over the
Appropriate response: Thanks for your
effort. Let me consider your proposal...
- I'm way ahead of you...
David: I have a great idea on how to improve our
You: I'm three steps ahead of you. Lets..."
This bad habit can show up in many different ways. You may
nod your head as the person starts to talk, signaling that you know
what he or she is about to say. You may finish the other
person's sentences. You may add you own stories to a
presentation. Unfortunately, much of this is driven from an
underlying need to show people that you are at least as smart if not
smarter than the person talking, and that you have already come to that
conclusion. You may think that you are just showing
excitement, but in reality it's an insult to the presenter.
Appropriate response: Thanks.
Keep bringing those ideas on improving profit margin!
- That won't work
Maria: That's the end of my presentation.
You: I don't think that would work. Here's
This bad habit operates on the same principle as the ones above, but
with even a more malicious intent and destructive
result. Like the one above, it is really a veiled
way of showing that you are smarter than the person with the
idea. Unfortunately, with this response there is really no
attempt to further discussion or add value. You are
essentially telling the presenter that their idea is wrong and that
they have wasted your time. Most likely, they will never want
to present you their good idea again.
Appropriate response: Thanks. I
appreciate the work that you put into your presentation and
- Mr. Funny Guy
Ted: I'm going to talk about how to get better
You: Well, they can't get any worse than the Cowboys results
We all like to keep things light during presentations and
meetings. However, making jokes while someone is talking or
presenting is really just a way to change the center of attention from
the presenter to the joker. Presenters will lose their train
of thought, and have to put effort into regaining the center of
attention. It's not polite behavior, and should be addressed
Appropriate response: Let's hold the comedy for the
end of the meeting...
In summary, to be perceived as open and approachable,
you need to monitor your reactions and eliminate your bad
habits. There is a time and a place for open exchange and
opinion, but there are other times when the appropriate response to
encourage further discussion is to just express gratitude.
Tips - Do any of these habits seem familiar to
- Remember to say thank you. Count how many
times you do it in a day.
- Notice what you say after you say thank
you. Are you falling into one of these habits?
- Monitor how many times you say "however", or "but" in
verbal and written communications.
- Engage with a qualified person to do a 360 assessment
to see if you are guilty of any of these habits.
- Check out the book "What Got You Here Won't Get You
There" by Marshall Goldsmith, available at Barnes and Noble.
Next month, we will continue to look into some common