Nothing appeared special about the boxed lunches at a work event last week – until something under my turkey sandwich and chocolate chip cookie caught my eye: a stick of peppermint gum. That cool and refreshing addition to my seemingly standard midday meal gave me the instant impression that the purveyor was creative, fun and had considerable attention to detail. Were I in the market for a good caterer, I would have been won over – not by a slick website or glossy promotional piece, but by a catchy little treat that added whimsy to my day.
In a world where huge photoshopped splashes are the norm, simple, inspired touches like my lunch box surprise can make all the difference.
Here’s how you can make a significant impact – for even less than the cost of that chewing gum:
Being late is pretty common these days because we’re all rushing around trying to jam just one more activity into our overflowing schedules. So if you want to stand out, do what’s necessary – Get to bed earlier? Wake up earlier? Leave room for wrong directions and other delays? – to get where you’re going when you’re expected. And when you arrive at your destination, make sure you are entirely there by allowing sufficient time to accomplish what you have planned, shutting off and stashing away your cell phone and making real eye contact.
One of my favorite acronyms is WAIT, which translates to Why Am I Talking? I challenge myself with this question whenever I feel compelled to run my mouth. And if my reason is to grab the spotlight, fill uncomfortable silence or otherwise unnecessarily move my lips, I keep my mouth closed.
What I have concluded from this policy is that much more can be learned from listening than by talking – because, after all, I’ve already heard what I am yakking about – and less talking means more restorative solitude. Yes, it’s important to speak up to ask smart questions, communicate essential information or assert yourself when needed. But taking in what others are saying is an excellent way to not only rest your jaw but make a clear statement that you value input from others and talk when you have something worthwhile to say.
The average American adult makes thousands of decisions every day – whether to hit the snooze button again (and again), when to stop surfing TV channels and head to bed and everything in between. Usually we react without thinking just to move through our “to do” lists as quickly as possible. And while it’s certainly efficient not to linger too long over mundane choices, like which socks to wear or what to order from a dinner menu, it’s important to mull over bigger decisions sufficiently in the interest of not making impulsive mistakes.
Step away, clear your head and reply non-defensively if you receive an upsetting email. Seek wise counsel and deliberate before you end a relationship, accept a new job or make any move that might lead to regret if you go too fast. You’ll see that you’ll be more effective in the long run – and you’ll be a role model for others – when you make critical choices at a pace that feels right.
We don’t have control over much in life, but we do have full control over what and how we communicate, which is why I’ve always found it odd that most people don’t verbalize more creatively to get their points across. When you use jargon (newly minted expressions such as “I know, right?” that convey familiar meanings like “I agree” ) or lingo (words unique to your profession that outsiders don’t understand), you are essentially broadcasting that you lack imagination and are a mediocre communicator. And over-using words like awesome and literally also gives the impression that your vocabulary is limited. So if you want to be recognized as articulate and tuned in, make sure you use words that reflect independent thought and a sophisticated command of conversation.
Much to his disappointment, my friend Jack, a college dean, has discovered that professional contacts he meets at conferences simply don’t mean it when they promise to keep in touch. In our hectic age, people throw around intentions like “I’ll call you” and “let’s get together” without much sense of obligation. Like Jack, I don’t promise to be in touch unless I mean it, and both of us are always astounded when we encounter others who share our commitment to doing what we say we’re going to do. There is no better way to get immediate respect than by matching your words with actions.
Research on parenting shows that when parents slip up with their children – by becoming overly angry, for example, or forgetting to be there for an important event – a genuine apology not only rebuilds trust but makes the parent/child bond stronger. The message here is that most of us will forgive when those who have screwed up in some way respect us enough to admit to transgression. If, despite your good intentions, you’re running late, can’t meet a deadline or don’t have the money to pay a bill by the due date, reach out to whoever is counting on you and let him know. People will usually understand your predicament and be open to working around it, and they’ll regard you as an uncommonly honest and humble person for admitting to imperfection.
The most accurate predictor of marital harmony is when there are more compliments than criticisms expressed between the couple. And this same rule applies to all relationships; focus on what you like and downplay what you don’t like and everything goes better. Most people are so busy that they don’t slow down enough to notice what’s going well, let alone comment on it. So as you’re moving through life trying to get noticed and taken seriously, remember to look for what you value in others and let them know it.
Let’s say someone arrives early for an appointment, communicates particularly intelligently, makes a nice choice, keeps a promise or apologizes for slighting you. Being grounded enough to observe and celebrate these small but central things is the best way of all to position yourself as a person of distinction.
Want to learn more ways to make an impact? Consider attending my upcoming emotional intelligence workshop at UNH.