30 Career Management Tips — Watch what people do, not what they say

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This month, I’m providing a career management tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own career management activities.

Today’s tip: Watch what people do, not what what they say.

My father, when I was very young, told me something that has worked well throughout my life. We were driving along the Chippewa River, three blocks from my father’s law office (on the corner, pictured above), and he told me that you can listen to what people say, but it is far more important to watch what they actually do and act accordingly.

My favorite story on this was when I started working with a manager at the beginning of my career. On our initial meeting after I was hired, he specifically told me that it was really important to come to him “not with just a problem, but with potential solutions.”

We’ve all heard that, right?

So that’s what I did. Every time I went into his office with an issue, I’d always have figured out 2-3 ways that the problem could be addressed and all we needed to do was figure out which way was the right way to attack this one.

I had no ego in the solution — I didn’t care. I just wanted the problem fixed and I was supposed to come into the meeting with potential solutions.

Imagine my surprise, then, come review time when I was chastised for “always having the answer” to an issue and “cutting my manager out of the decision making process” when I came to him with a problem! Just like he asked me to do!

So the first time I had an issue that I needed help with after the review, I carefully considered the problem and then supplicated myself to the wisdom of my manager by walking into the office with a problem — and plainly saying I had no idea of what could be done to solve the problem and could my manager give me some guidance? You know, like it was the great and almighty manager who has all the answers for this simple cubicle warrior.

It was like the world changed. Now my manager could grandly suggest different alternatives, debate with himself on the merits of each, and then come to a conclusion for me to go and implement.

They were the same things I would have come up with to solve the problem. But, of course, it wasn’t me thinking of them — it was my manager thinking of them.

What my manager actually did was come up with the solutions himself while what he said he wanted was “don’t come to me with a problem without a solution.”

What is said and what is done are two different things. Make sure you watch what people do, not what they say. There is a world of difference in your approach.

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