About 2 months ago, I had a very specific request from a female client. A seasoned executive, she was concerned about her ability to make a great first impression. The job was simple: Could I help her to develop ‘Killer Connect Skills’? Hmmm. I told her the following story…
It was a couple of years ago now, but the day remains tattooed into memory. I was going out with Linda (now my wife) for about 6 months. I lived alone at the time, and she hadn’t met my mother. So, a big event was organized for the coming together of the tribes. It was set up as follows: My mother and three sisters would come to the house. Linda would cook a ‘Sunday Lunch’ while I played the role of MC, keeping everyone entertained. What could possibly go wrong?
Menu Planning: Linda worked in Dublin City Council (at that time better known as ‘The Corpo’). All the women in the computer section were involved in selecting the ‘perfect’ menu for the gig – as if she was prepping for a starring role in Come Dine With Me. Eventually, roast beef was selected; they were sure it would be a hit. To this day, my culinary skills come to a dead stop at ‘Spaghetti Hoops on Toast’ – so I took a back seat on the cuisine planning.
No Smoke without Fire: My mother was a warm lady (she passed away many years ago) but a bit shy. Linda has terrific people skills, so the issue of whether they would get on was pretty much a racing certainty – but it was still bloody awkward for everyone. I’m sure that you’ve been that ‘soldier’ when everyone is dancing at arms length. As it turned out, the lunch went great. We’d bought a cake for my mother’s birthday – event management par excellence, designed to win the gold! Then, somewhere during dessert, we noticed a smell of burning. About 2 minutes later, the dining room began to fill with thick black smoke. I’d completely forgotten that the electric oven had a dodgy switch and needed to be turned off at the mains; fat in the bottom of a roasting tray had caught fire. When I went into the kitchen, the flames were leaping out of the oven. Being a very clever and resourceful guy and absolutely wonderful in an emergency, I immediately threw a pot of water onto the burning fat. You could almost hear Johnny Cash singing: “And the flames went up higher, as they burned, burned burned”. My next inspired idea was to open the back door to let the smoke out. The added oxygen gave the flames another whoosh and the small kitchen began to resemble a scene from the Towering Inferno. An emergency 999 call was made. Thankfully, the fire station on Tonlegee Road in Raheny was only about 10 doors down (I hadn’t banked on being a customer when I bought the house).
Breaking News: Picture the scene. One of my sisters, Teresa, suffers with Asthma. She’s lying on the grass in the back garden, throwing up. My mother is in shock, being comforted by the other two sisters, both of whom are semi-hysterical. There are approximately 27 firemen in the house (must have been a slow day at the office), spraying enough water into the kitchen to keep the Irish Syncronised Diving Team practicing for a month. Linda is going bananas, whispering abuse to me about not telling her about the ‘f……g oven’ (struggling to disguise her language in front of my mother). When she went into work the next day, all the women in the ‘Corpo’ asked her: “How did you get on with Paul’s family?” They had the best laugh ever on the back of that story. Despite the inauspicious start, Linda established a great (if all too short) relationship with my mother, who passed away about a year later.
2nd Impression: We are often fixated about making a great first impression. We think that we need to have terrific ‘front of house’ skills, and become paranoid that we will never recover from a bad start. We’ve bought the tagline: ‘you only get one chance to create a first impression’ and we continually hear horror stories about how a ‘brilliant job in Dubai’ went south because of a badly chosen word or gesture. Indeed, there are times when creating a positive first impression is critically important. If you work in a cold calling sales role or if you are a motivational speaker completing a world tour – great connection skills are very important. But, for the rest of us mere mortals, we should understand that people generally have the capacity to look beyond the outward packaging. Take comfort in the fact that it’s the 2nd, 3rd and 4th impressions that really count. The really good news is that you don’t have to be an off-the-Richter-Scale extrovert to be successful. Sometimes great first impressions are created by people who are all packaging and no ‘present’. Just try this formula: Say what you are going to do. Then do it. Over time that usually trumps killer ‘connect’ skills. Become someone who actually follows through. Now, you’re talking.
PS Lighter Moment (this one is a slow burn).
Guy goes for an interview. At the end of the meeting the interviewer sums up:
“I’m impressed with your academic record. You have a solid history of achievement. And, work wise, you have a ton of relevant experience. Absolutely Blue Chip. But, tell me this. On the development side, is there anything about yourself that you would ‘tweak’ or change a little bit? He adds helpfully: “We are all flawed diamonds.”
The interviewee responds:
“Yes, actually there is something I would change. Honesty”
The interviewer is a bit stunned with the reply and says:
“Honesty? I wouldn’t really see honestly as a weakness.”
The interviewee says:
“I don’t give a shit how you see it”
PPS: 2 more minutes to spare? If you think you’re having a bad day, have a look at the following clip. It fits well with the ‘burning’ theme. Thanks to Kenneth Buchholtz for this gem from Holland…I have absolutely no idea what the ad is actually about, but it’s still very funny.
Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.