Friday, November 23, 2012

Fake it till you become it

A great deal of stuff regarding soft skills, networking and teams are unnatural to me. And when I try to apply them in real situations I used to feel like I'm acting. But the fact is that, with time, this feeling stopped. Strange, isn't it? I still needed to make an effort and think about what should I do and say (and how!) but it didn't feel like acting anymore. Later on, I noticed that I didn't have to try so hard (my elevator speech or presenting something in a meeting). And I wondered what was happening, how was this possible... so I decided to set up this article to expose what I found (and it's still work in progress).

Putting it into context

Starting from the end, this TED presentation that Amy Cuddy did last June sums it up pretty well. It's 21 minutes well spent...

In short, it goes like this: specially in unexpected, stressful situations, your body language exposes who you are, but... the inverse is also true, that is, your body language defines who you are or at least your attitude!
So I offer you a 2 step guide for this:

  • Step 1: Fake it till you make it
  • Step 2: Fake it till you become it

Step 1 - Fake it till you make it

Whenever I tried to apply some soft skills tool in a real situation that made me feel like I was acting, So I thought about the purpose, why it was important to apply what I was applying. An example will help explaining what I'm trying to say. Suppose you're making a presentation: why is it important to use your hands, to point, to use different tones in your voice? Because it gets the attention of your audience, keeps it and directs it, right? So if you want results, if you want your message to go through, you better use the tools you know that can help to make it happen, right?
Of course there a few people that do this naturally, they're a born presenter for instance. But most people are not. So, you have to know what tools there are available that you can use to fulfill your objective! Pretty straight forward, right?

Issue #1: You only know that you messed up after the harm is done

And this happens all the time with everyone! But you have to be aware of it because if you don't know what you did wrong or what you could do better you won't have the opportunity to correct it. Get people around you that provide honest feedback and ask them to give it you (you can check "How to Give Feedback" to help people to give you feedback). Or record yourself when possible or measure the results - did your message get through? And remember that you'll probably be too focused or to nervous to notice the impact you're making!
I recently did this show por PMTV on Troubled Projects. The topic wasn't the one where I felt must comfortable, specially when discussing it with real experts on the matter. So before the show I worked on making a coherent speech that other Project Managers would understand and identify themselves with. This preparation was near perfect, I though, so nothing would go wrong. Guess what? It never occurred to me that it would be my first time participating on a live discussion like this and so the end result was me as a stiff and professor-like guy that knows everything about troubled projects - which was nothing near reality and was not what I intended. If you watched the show, did you get that my main message was that you need a new project to recover a troubled project? Right, here's failure for you...
The good part is that you can learn from it and I'm pretty sure that you'll see a more "true me" the next time I do such a show. First, because I know that I messed up and secondly because I'm preparing myself in these regards for the next time! First you fail, then you know why you failed to finally change whatever you did wrong to make the next time work out better!

Issue #2: But you still feel like you're acting

This happened to me. So I keep doing it. Thinking what I'm trying to achieve. With time the feeling starts to fade. But you have to insist. It's like the slogan, just do it!
In fact, these are just tools that you can use to achieve whatever you're trying to achieve, just like you use matrices to solve systems of equations. You just enter in a different mode and you can have several: an euqation solver mode, a presentation mode, a meeting mode, a conflit mode... you name it.

Step 2 - Fake it till you become it

This explains why somethings are now natural in me that a few years ago made feel real awkward: if you adopt a power posture for a few minutes you will feel powerful! It's the opposite that you're probably used too, just like in the video: your body language can shape who you are!
If you force yourself to use a certain type of body language you will actually end up feeling different. It can be Amy's power posture, forcing yourself to speak out in public to express your opinion or questioning the parts in conflict about the other side reasoning that made them adopt their position.

Issue #1: I want to be me

So do I. Just like Charles Bukowski, "I've never met another man I'd rather be". But I will try to do better whatever I do.
This doesn't contradict what I said before, it's still just a tool that enables you to enter the right mode for the situation. Are you any different because when presenting you speak louder and slower than usual and use your hands to point and the works? I don't think so...
I've never tried Amy's suggestion of adopting a power posture for a minutes just before entering a board meeting, for instance. But I'm really curious to see for myself if it really works and how well it works!


So bottom line is: fake it till you make it first and then fake it till you become it!

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