Question and Answer

Handling an Unreasonable Demand

My company has a contract with another corporation. For this business, the other company needs to send documents to my boss every now and then. At first, there was no problem. My boss always got the documents without involving me. Lately, a person in that company insists that I should be the one to go there and pick up the documents. I am a manager and I found this insulting to my position. But since the person is technically a client, I cannot just refuse. What should I do to make this stop? – M

Dear M,

Assuming the person is not someone who enjoys showing power by making others do menial errands, there could be several possibilities behind the request (or as it seems from your side, demand). For example:

  • The person might use it as an excuse to meet you so he/she can speak face-to-face with you. Why the person could not say this directly is a different question.
  • For some reason, the person wants to be able to say to his/her superior that the documents have been handed directly to you as a representative of your company/your boss.

Whatever the actual situation is, you need to take control. Talk to the person and find out the urgency behind the request. You don’t need to wait until the next documents need a pickup.

Invite the person to meet. Before the meeting, make a list of any possible solutions you can offer. Anything that comes to your mind. This will help you see the situation from a wider point of view, and will give you greater confidence.

In the meeting, express your appreciation for the business from his/her company. Say that you would like to give them better service. Yet as a manager with responsibilities, there are limits on what you can do yourself. You want to give your best in your position, and doing something outside that will be a disservice to them. Try to say something along the line of, “Ask me anything related to my expertise and I will gladly be at your service. On the other hand, asking me to do something less than my capability is like having the most advanced phone and only using it for text messages. Don’t you agree?” It is akin to saying, “I’m a manager and I don’t deserve to be your errand person,” but with a twist. Whatever you say, try to put it in terms of their interest.

From this point, you can ask probing questions to know the reason behind the request. “I understand that previously documents from you reached us without a problem and without involving me. May I know what changed so now you need me to come and get them?” Clarifying the reason can open doors for discussion and negotiation. However, as much as you can, avoid proposing anything until all cards are on the table. Understanding the situation from every angle can help bring an agreement that is profitable for both sides. Good luck!

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Communication

Responding to Questions that You Cannot Answer

There are times in our careers when someone poses a question that we cannot answer. It could be in a meeting, in a business presentation, in an informal conversation, in a class, in an interview, or in a sales call.

What to Bear in Mind While Handling Questions

  1. Take every question as a learning opportunity for yourself.
  2. Be as curious as the person asking the question.
  3. Put yourself in the position of sharing what you know and your experience.
  4. You don’t have to know everything. But…
  5. If you don’t know something because you didn’t do your homework, then it is better to humbly accept the correction than to defend your mistake.

Why You Cannot Answer

  1. You don’t know the answer because you have not gathered the information on the subject.
  2. You only know the answer partially, and you don’t want to cause a misunderstanding.
  3. You know the answer, but it is not in your authority to divulge the information.
  4. You have never been in the situation.
  5. The question is outside your field of expertise.

Ways to respond

1. If you don’t know the answer, you can candidly say, “I don’t know,” or you can use the diplomatic version, “I am afraid I don’t have that information right now.” Being honest is better than making up an answer which could later be proved to be wrong. But don’t stop there. Keep your credibility intact by taking responsibility to find out the answer. Add, “But I will contact [name a specific person or department] today, and I will give you the information at [give a deadline].”

If you’re in a face-to-face situation, feel free to pick up your phone and shoot an email or message right there and then to ask for the answer. This will demonstrate that you take the matter seriously and win rapport with the person.

2. If you only know the answer partially, it is better to not answer directly. You can say something in the line of, “I am afraid I don’t know the whole story. Let me check with [name the person] and I will get back to you at [set a deadline].” Or if you don’t want to appear to be out of the loop by saying that you don’t know, you can give a disclaimer. “As far as I know from the last time I spoke to Bill, the situation is [tell the little information that you have]. But that may have changed in the past three days. Let me give you an update at [set a deadline].”

3. If it is not within your authority to give the answer, you can say, “I am afraid I cannot answer that. Please wait for [name the authorized person] to brief you.” Out of respect to the organization, it is advisable to avoid answering this kind of question yourself.

4. If you have not been in the situation that is in question, you can offer an example of a similar situation. “Unfortunately I have not taken part in such projects. But three years ago I was involved in a so-and-so project, which is in principle similar to the one you’re asking. From that experience, I can share that…” If it happens in your presentation, to make the discussion even more valuable, after sharing your answer, you can ask the rest of the audience to contribute their experience.

5. If the question is outside of your field of expertise, you can invite a more qualified member of the audience to give their view on the subject. Say, “That question is very relevant to the financial side of this project. Cathy, since you are in charge of the finances, would you care to take this one?”

If you are asked this question in an interview, it is better to honestly admit the truth. But you can add value to the interview by sharing your own experience related to the question. Say, “Unfortunately in my past jobs I am more involved in the user experience design and I am not trained in programming. However, from what I learned during the app development projects, challenges that programmers often face are…”

Please share in the comments if you know other tactics in handling questions you cannot answer.

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Relations, Workplace

Why Is It Difficult to Remember Names?

A few years ago, I was invited by a salesperson to go with her to visit a prospect. Once the introduction, hand-shaking, and business card exchange were completed, everybody sat down. I saw the executive of the prospective client put our business cards neatly in front of him. During the meeting, I noticed that he peeked at the cards before addressing one of us. What an ingenious way to make sure that he would not call someone with the wrong name, I thought.

Let’s be honest: who never once forgot the name of the person to whom they have just been introduced?

There are at least two reasons why that happens.

We simply are not interested enough in the person. This is often the case when are simply making polite conversation with someone that we don’t believe we will see again. Or when the person we are seeing is taking someone who we did not expect to the meeting. We came to meet Wayne the purchasing manager, and not Penny his staff. Naturally, most of our attention is paid to Wayne. In that situation, we might forget her name.

We often don’t realize the great effort it takes to remember names. Our brain has many functions that it must fulfill at all times other than memorizing. With so much going on, hearing a name once is not enough for the brain to remember. This is especially true when we are making conversation with someone we just met. Our mind is so focused on finding interesting facts to say, paying attention to the person’s reaction, and reacting to what they say, we neglect to submit their name to memory.

Therefore, we need to make a conscious effort to make the name stick. Some ideas:

Ask how it is spelled. This is useful when the name is not familiar, or when there are alternative spellings to it. My name, for example, can be spelled with a v or a ph. This can help you put greater attention to the name, and make the other person feel they are important to you.

Repeat their name by using it during the conversation. This helps you commit the name to long-term memory. For example,

  • “So Mike, how long have you been with the organization?”
  • “I see where you are coming from, Mike.”
  • “That reminds of of a story, Mike. Two days ago I went to see my doctor…”

Saying their name also increases their attention to you.

Please remember that you don’t have to use their name in every sentence. That will sound superficial and make them uncomfortable.

Associate the name to the face. We often remember faces better than names. To help your brain tie the two together, turn the name into an image that you can associate with the person’s face. To make it stands out, exaggerate it. For example, let’s say you met a person whose name is Brad. Brad sounds similar to bread. So to stick the name to the face, imagine Brad is eating a huge loaf of bread. The next time you see Brad, that image will pop up in your mind and you can quickly remember his name.

The next time we meet a new person, let’s give them the attention they deserve!

” A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.”

Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”

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In English, Workplace

I don’t have time to hang out. How do I maintain a working relationship without looking like a leech?

You’ve probably met a ‘leech’ at work. Somebody who is nice to you and will talk to you only when they need something from you. Some call them fair-weather friends. Some others went as far as calling them ‘parasites’ because they are the only ones benefiting from a relationship.

To be honest, most people don’t want to be a leech. At least not on purpose. On the other hand, with so many things to do and so little time to socialize, you cannot escape the fact that there are people who you will only talk to when you need something from them.

So how can you stay on good terms with people who you rarely talk to?

1. When you interact with them, ask questions to get to know them. You can use a lot of topics to start a conversation. Let’s say you are discussing a project with a colleague and you see some pictures of kids on his desk. Ask him about the kids in the photos. Are they his children? How old are they? What are their names? What do they like?

Let’s say she’s just back from a two-week holiday. Invite her to talk about it. How was their vacation? Where did they go? Anything fun? Or, you can ask work-related questions. How are they doing with their projects? How are they progressing?

2. Follow up on what you learned about them. For example,

  • When you went to Claire for her help, you got to talking and you learned she had kids in high school. The next time you see her in the pantry, you can ask about how her kids are holding up in last exams.
  • Bob is a proud owner of a daschund. You know this because there are pictures of Sparky, his dog, everywhere in his cubicle, and because he spent 10 minutes telling you about Sparky’s favorite food. At the next meeting with him, you can bring a treat for Sparky.
  • Matt is fan of running. He’s been in more races than you can count on all fingers and toes of yours and of your family’s combined. When you see a friend posted about a running event on his social media, you can ask Matt about it. “Hey Matt, my friend signed up for this race. Have you heard about it?”

Maybe all the time you have to interact with your co-workers is only during work hours, and only work-related. Make that little time count. Ask questions, and be interested in their lives. In turn, they will be interested in you.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”

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In English, Personal Reflection

Restarting

I have been blogging on and off for decades. I’m sure you’re not so keen to read my renewed intention to write faithfully. All you want is to see that my blog is regularly updated with new posts. Trust me, so do I. Why on earth is it so difficult for me to keep blogging? To be bluntly honest, because :

  • I am not confident that you want to read what I post
  • The perfectionist in me thinks my post sucks
  • I have no ide what to write.

Maybe some of you (or not) have similar experiences. Some of you may have given up blogging. The funny thing is, I believe that this is something for me. I love to write, and blogging is a great channel to express it.

So here I am, yet again picking up and dusting my blog. Thank you for bearing with me all this time. Let’s start a new journey in 2022.

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In English, Opinions, Personal Observation

What to Avoid when Making Resumés

I once read an article titled “10 Ways Your Resumé Irks Hiring Managers.” Back then, I had just read through hundreds of resumes myself as I was looking for candidates for vacant positions. Naturally the title is of great interest for me.

The article listed 10 mistakes applicants make in their resumés. I tried to find the article again with no luck. Luckily I had copied the list. After comparing some of the points with my own experience, here’s what I came up with (my comments in brackets):

1. Spelling Mistakes and Grammatical Errors. (This is a big red flag. This could be an indication of the applicant’s lack of attention to work quality and thoroughness in completing a task. There are tons of resources to check anything for grammatical and spelling correctness, such as grammarly.com, or the spell checker in the latest word processing app.)

2. Opening Objective. (Some applicants found it necessary to include an objective in applying for the position. I personally think it is not necessary. Most of the time it is obvious what someone wants to get when applying for a job. Skipping this won’t be a bad idea, because the real chance to put the best foot forward is in the interview.)

3. Personal Attributes. (Recruiters don’t need to know that a person has a black belt in karate. Unless they are looking for a club bouncer.)

4. Interest and Hobbies. (Some interests do add value to a resumé. Some are better to be kept to yourself. I remember one applicant wrote in his interest, “I hate the government.” Yes, you guessed it. I immediately put it on the “reject” pile. A better strategy to display interests and hobbies is to put it on social media or blogs, and list the link in the contact information. Recruiters love it when they can dig out more information about an applicant.)

5. Details of every task you’ve ever performed in every job you’ve ever had. (Some descriptions of past responsibilities do help to illustrate capabilities. But there is no need to use 10 pages to detail them. This is even evident if an applicant held similar jobs in different companies. A better strategy is to list completed challenges in pervious job posts. This would make it easier for the hiring manager to see if the applicant is a good fit with the challenges of the vacant position.)

6. Excessive Bragging.  (Point 5 can escalate to showing off if one is not careful in describing his/her past achievements. For example, listing all the VIPs or celebrities an applicant had previously worked with or the dollar amount of bonuses he/she had won may come across as bragging. Keep the information about job achievements relevant by focusing on what was done in one sentence. The “how” can be discussed in the interview.)

7. Outdated Information. (There is no use to list skills that are no longer in demand just to make a resumé long and impressive. Considering the very small amount a manager can give in reading resumés, it is a better strategy to list the skills that are relevant to the job being applied to, and keep the rest for the interview.)

8. False Information. (One applicant had a suspicious name for his college. I googled it, and I found out the school was banned by the Indonesian Ministry of Education because it sold diplomas. In the era where information is highly accessible anytime, lying on a resumé is downright stupid.)

9. Unexplained gaps in  work history. (Some applicants thought they only need to list impressive past job positions and to skip the three-month job probation that went wrong. This may create gaps in a resumé that would raise questions in the mind of the hiring manager. It is best to be honest and write down job experience as it is.)

10. A lack of professionalism. (I got this a lot, especially from first time applicants. They simply type their resumés with no additional formatting. There are many free templates available online, or in Microsoft Word. Again, hiring managers have to go through piles of applications. A professional look can make one resumé stand out from the rest, and improve its chance of being read in full.

Here are a few things that I would add to the list:

11. E-mailing resume to multiple companies in a single send. As soon as I see addresses other than mine in the “To:” field, I either perceive the applicant as being cocky (it’s like he’s saying, “hey, just  to let you know I’m not applying just to you,”) or simply as being too lazy to send each application in a separate mail. Cocky and Lazy. Those are two things in a person who I am so keen to keep as far away from being part of my company.

12. Wrong addressee. Some applicants sent too many resumes that they forgot to change the name of the recipient in the cover letter. I got that several times. Since it might  be just an honest mistake, I sent a reply pointing out the error, and ask for the applicant to send me another e-mail with the correct name in the address. When the applicant didn’t do what I suggested, I knew the person was just not worth my time.

13. Pictures Not Perfect. In Indonesia, especially in service industry, we do ask for pictures of the applicants. We do not mean to discriminate a person by physical appearance. We can learn about a person’s personality from the way he/she presents himself/herself in a picture. Also, it is a good security measure to know how a person looks like before inviting him in for an interview. Unfortunately, some applicants do not see this as an opportunity to sell themselves. Instead of a well-groomed image, they sent a selfie photo, or a very miniscule graphic representation of themselves, or a photo so blurred it’s hard to identify the person. They took themselves for granted. Why should the hiring managers treat them differently?

14. Too Little Information. This is so true for fresh graduates applying for their first jobs. They thought that resumés can only contain work related experience, when they had none. Since they could not come up with anything they thought worth saying, they simply let their resume to be half a page long. This left very little room for conversation. And even the weather cannot make up for it. I had awkward interview moments when I really did not know what else to ask, and the candidate had nothing else to say! When hiring new graduates, I like to probe for some activities in school that they are particularly good at or at least they love doing. Anything that contributes to work capability discussion is worth noting. If there is little to say in job experience, be more informative on the part of the resumé related to school or social activities.

15. Sending In Multiple Resumés from Different People in a single e-mail. Email accounts are free and very easy to make these days. There is no room for excuse such as “I don’t have an email address so I asked my friend to help send it along with his.”

The way we make our resumés speaks volumes about the way we do our work and, most importantly, about ourselves.

Edited and updated on January 10, 2021

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