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Rejection and Growth

Posted on 19 October 2009

I recently went through a job interview and failed to get the job. I wasn’t surprised– it’s kind of arrogant to assume that you’re the only good choice– but I did want to know what I could have done differently in order to be considered the next time around. It’s one thing to be told “you weren’t the top choice,” it’s a little more constructive to be told “you weren’t the top choice because…” Some people may not like this– rejection combined with criticism– but I find it helpful to know what I could be working on to increase the chances of landing my dream job, be it through classes, volunteer work, or some other attribute, so I replied with a polite request as to what I could have done differently, and the employer was kind of enough to respond.

In this case, it turns out the problem was the “other,” namely my body language. I didn’t come off as open and friendly as the position would like. This is a fair criticism, and one that I’ve been vaguely aware of for some time. Although I have no problem addressing a large group, I sometimes get nervous when having a one-on-one with someone I don’t know well, which brings out three key flaws in my non-verbal communication if I’m not careful. Since acknowledging the problem is the first part of solving it, here they are:

1. Eye contact. I’m not the biggest fan. I know it’s an essential part of being friendly or expressing interest in our culture, but I find it unnatural and uncomfortable. I prefer to look at the person’s face as a whole, or the gestures they make with their hands, or their mouth. Having spent my summers camping, I also find it interesting that one thing you are never to do with wild animals is make eye contact, as it is considered aggressive– something reflected in Asian societies, as well.

That said, it is an absolutely vital skill in terms of networking and presenting, and something that I must start doing without thinking about it. Excuses won’t cut it

2. Fidgeting. I have a fair amount of energy most of the time. As I write this, I’m bouncing my knee up and down. Combine it with the one-on-one, and it has the potential to get worse. And that’s bad, because even though I may not actually BE impatient, it makes it look like I am, especially if I’m failing to make eye contact as well. And if someone picks up on that, I come off as rude

3. Fast-talking. This isn’t body language, but it is non-verbal in that it’s how I speak, rather than what I say. My brain works fast, and my mouth tends to reflect it, especially if I know exactly what I want to say. Anytime I give a speech, I work on it at least three times to make sure I have the cadence slowed down to a level that makes it comfortable for the listener, with notes as to where pauses should go and even the occasional elongated word, just to be sure. When I had a radio show, I combated my fast-talking by developing a “radio voice” that took on a completely different style than my regular speaking voice– unfortunately, this style doesn’t translate that well into normal conversation. I’m not sure that this causes me to come off as rude, but I imagine it could make me sound nervous, which is also not something you want to portray at any given time. So it’s still a negative.
As I said, I’ve been aware of these for some time and have been working on them with, presumably, some success: I’ve managed to get jobs that require face-to-face communication, and I’ve received recommendations from the employers upon their completion. However, the feedback from this interview tells me that though improvements have been made, there’s still room to grow, and perhaps working on these problems on my own isn’t the most efficient way to get it done. So I’m looking for avenues that will help me modify these traits in an effective and permanent way, and one promising route seems to be Toastmasters. I’ll be checking out the local branch at it’s next meeting, and hopefully things go well.

If anyone has any tips or comments, it’d be much appreciated! Do you have bad habits that come out during one-on-one conversations?  How do you deal with them?

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