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Op/Ed

How to sound smart when you feel dumb

Oh, the things we do to save face. In all kinds of situations, but especially at work, we often avoid asking for help or advice for fear of seeming stupid. But a new study gives us some surprising advice that makes you look smart.

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Oh, the things we do to save face. In all kinds of situations, but especially at work, we often avoid asking for help or advice for fear of seeming stupid. If you are new to a job, you may be very cautious about making a bad impression or seeming under-qualified. If you’re the boss, you may be attached to presenting yourself as all-knowing, and as someone who doesn’t need help.

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Your fear is a time waster

Fear of sounding dumb can cause us to waste time trying to figure something out when we don’t have enough information or knowledge. Or, we make mistakes because we try to complete a task that we don’t really know how to do.

In the long run, this is going to make us look even dumber, as well as costing us valuable time and money. All because we were afraid of looking dumb in the first place.

About the study

Luckily, our fears may be unfounded. New York Magazine’s Science of Us series just released a video (below) about what happens when we ask for advice. Scientists posed an experiment where 1000 participants were given a test of challenging brain teasers.

Participants were given the option to ask the advice of a partner who had already taken the test. Some participants were told that they could ask for advice without any repercussions, while others were told that their grade would be lowered if their partner thought they were stupid.

Only one third of the participants who had to worry that their partner might judge them poorly were willing to ask for advice. When the partner’s opinion was of no consequence, three-quarters of participants asked for advice.

“Cycle of circular ego-boosting”

This part of the study reveals what we already suspected – that fear of appearing stupid is a major obstacle to asking for advice.

In another part of the study, test-takers received a message from their partner before the test. Half of the time, the partner simply wished the participant good luck. The rest of the partners asked the test-taker for their advice.

Subjects were then asked to rate their partners.

Partners who had asked for advice were rated as more competent than those who didn’t.

Scientists believe that, when someone asks us for advice, it causes us to feel more intelligent, and that confidence boost makes us judge the person who asked for our advice more favorably, creating a “cycle of circular ego-boosting.”

Get respect (and help)

In other words, when you ask for advice, it doesn’t make you sound stupid. On the contrary, it makes it more likely that the person you are asking will find you to be even more intelligent.

So next time you feel clueless, ask for advice! Your coworkers will respect you all the more.

#SoundSmartWhenYouFeelDumb

Ellen Vessels is a Staff Writer at The Real Daily, and is respected for her wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when she's not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

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Op/Ed

How a TED Talk on procrastination actually changed my perspective

(EDITORIAL) If procrastination is a problem for you, at least bookmark this editorial to revisit within the month.

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Procrastination is a huge challenge

Did you know that there are PhDs studying procrastination and that there are experts on the topic? People that have devoted their careers to understanding the science and psychology behind why it is our human nature to put things off?

I was talking with my dad on the phone today, and it turns out that we both randomly wanted to talk about a topic we have never discussed – procrastination (we had put it off long enough – see what I did there?). He ordered a book months ago on the topic that he finally read, and I watched a TED Talk on it over the weekend, both of which stuck with us and altered our perspective slightly. He learned about the roots of his specific type of procrastination, and while sharing it with me, I realized that because of the way he raised me (giving me ample room to row my own boat), I am absolutely not a procrastinator.

Or am I?

First things first, watch this:

It’s 15 minutes, and what follows won’t make sense unless you watch the entire talk (don’t procrastinate, you’re already here):

How this altered my perspective… at first

I really loved Tim Urban’s take on procrastination, positing that the instant gratification monkey often derails us, but the panic monster gets us back on track when it is required. The simplicity of the message is such that anyone can imagine the monkey upstairs and tell it to shut the hell up if they want to.

Like I said, Urban’s talk stuck with me, which is rare – I’m more of a watch something, instantly digest, and move on type. But I kept thinking of this. And it upset me. Not because I had to acknowledge my personal feelings toward procrastination, but because something was missing.

I spent a great deal of time these past few days considering why I was so upset about this – who cares? It’s a video, move on, Lani. But I can’t.

At first, I concluded that I can’t relate to Urban’s theory because I’m not a procrastinator. In fact, I’m very list oriented.

I’m a classic over-achiever, I’m that kid in class that finished every test before any student was halfway through. I’m not exaggerating, ask anyone on FB that I went to school with. So of course I’m not a procrastinator.

But that wasn’t right, I’m not NOT a procrastinator

But that’s wrong. Everyone procrastinates – some people put off big life decisions, others minutiae, but everyone does it. So the next conclusion that I came to is that Urban’s theory rubbed me the wrong way because I am a procrastinator, but also a workaholic. Hear me out.

You see, I procrastinate constantly. In fact, I’m currently procrastinating from finalizing a speech I’m giving next month, by writing this editorial. Yes, next month, that’s what is on my agenda during this exact hour. But I’m not tackling that – this editorial isn’t even on my to do list. I’ve gone rogue.

And this is what rubbed me the wrong way about Urban’s otherwise flawless theory: Procrastination doesn’t necessarily mean that I go play Xbox or decide to read an entire Wikipedia entry about the Boston Marathon, then click on another link and another and another, and fall down a useless rabbit hole for fun.

For me, procrastination means consciously altering the order of prioritized tasks or adding new (easier)tasks. And they’re always work (I already told you I’m a workaholic), not entertainment or useless.

So today, instead of finalizing a speech, I created content here. Instead of scrubbing the email list this morning, I scheduled out a series of emailers. Rather than repoint a list of URLs that I committed to changing today, I hand-wrote a flowchart of rules for a massive and unruly jobs group we operate. See? The instant gratification monkey didn’t say “hey, let’s go pet the cats and learn how to play guitar and do a cartwheel,” my instant gratification monkey said, “these things are all important, but this work item would be easier or more interesting right now than the other and I’m lazy efficient.”

So my takeaways? I have three:

  1. A speaker/writer has done a good job if you’re digesting their works long after they’re fully consumed (whether you agree or disagree with their premise).
  2. Procrastination is nuanced, and people much smarter than I have dedicated their lives to studying it. I can’t fully understand it after one gd Ted Talk, so I’ll continue pondering. Again, proof that Urban did a great job.
  3. Procrastination is different for every person. My personal method of procrastinating is doing easier work tasks first (not meandering around the web aimlessly).

Next time I am off task, I can fight my version of the instant gratification monkey and put myself back on the tracks.

After watching the video, I urge you to consider what procrastination is for you.

What does procrastination look like for you? Does your monkey tell you to re-prioritize, clean your desk, or learn about wombats via YouTube?

#Procrastination

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Op/Ed

How dropping everything to unlock a door for a buyer damages the profession, increases safety risks

The real estate profession is unique in that everyone is on call, but until better practices are put into place, the profession will suffer.

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Consider the following scenario:

“Welcome to Burger House may I take your order?”
“I’d like a Big House Burger, a large sweet tea and I’d like to buy 1915 Main St.”
“Great would you like a home warranty with that?”
“No. Just the house.”
“Will you be paying cash or getting a mortgage?”
“Cash.”
“Your total is $196,521 please pull forward to window 1 to pay. Your food and keys are at window 2.”

Well now that’s a silly scenario. Who buys a house at a fast food drive through? That’s ridiculous, isn’t it?

Not really, if you consider how buyers call in on properties and expect real estate agents to “serve them up” a house sometimes with no notice, no appointment, and very little exchange of basic information. Here’s what a typical phone call is like to a real estate agent:

“Hello this is Jane. How may I help you?”
“I’d like to see 123 Main Street.”
“Okay great. The list price for that is $125,000. What is your name?”
“John. When can I see it?”
“Okay John and in case we are disconnected what is the best phone number for you?”
“I am in front of the house now I’d like to see it as soon as possible.”
“Well that house is occupied and we are supposed to give the owner 24 hours notice. Can you tell me a little about what you’re looking for?”
“It doesn’t look occupied. I walked around the outside and I don’t think anyone lives here now.”
“Actually it is occupied. The owner still lives there. I need to call and request an appointment. Even if it’s vacant we still do need an appointment. Have you been looking a long time or did you just start looking?”
“I have been looking a few months. When can you get here?”
“Okay I need to call to set it up. Are you working with another agent?”
“No I just call the listing agent when I see something. I’d really like to get in now. I only have an hour so can you get here quickly?”
“Let me call the seller John and get approval. I need to clear it with him first. What’s your last name?”
“Are you coming now to show it to me or not? I don’t have time to answer all these questions.”

I hear the buyer’s frustration – he wants an appointment right now

He’s not willing to give up personal information in exchange for an appointment. But the agent has a stranger on the phone who wants to meet right now, we don’t know if the person is qualified to buy – or even his last name.

The agent taking the call is trained to screen buyers to make sure (1) they are qualified to buy and (2) they are not working with another agent. This is standard practice in the real estate business. But the caller is having none of the vetting process – he just wants to see the house and see it immediately. See the disconnect here?

The next step the caller typically takes is to ask the agent, “Do you want to sell the house or not? Because I want to buy this house.” He hasn’t seen it yet, we don’t know if he can financially afford it, yet he wants the agent to jump in the car and rush over to open the door.

It’s a scare tactic. The buyer thinks agents are so desperate to make a sale they will risk their own personal safety – and waste of time – versus not sell a house.

Pulling the “safety” card

Whoa – yes I just pulled the “safety” card. To those who are not in this industry who may be reading this, answer this question: “If it was your wife or mother or little brother who was being asked to hop in the car, to meet a stranger at an empty house, perhaps at 10 am or 8 pm, would you be so quick to judge?”

Because that is exactly what real estate agents are asked to do every single day.

Get a call, meet a stranger, maybe sell the house. Maybe we lose more than a few hours of our time. Maybe we lose our lives. I know it’s a sobering thought – but in what other industry does the phone ring, and the person on the other end run to meet a stranger outside the office without screening them for the ability and motivation to buy? It happens every day in real estate.

Just meet them at the office, right?

You may be thinking, so meet them at the office and then take them out. Spend a week in this business and you will realize just how hard that is to implement. The house may be on the east side of town and your office is on the west side. The buyer doesn’t want to drive to the office when he’s already in front of the house.

You’re already in the car when he calls and it’s just a few minutes to run over to the property anyway. Who wants to inconvenience the buyer and the agent who are both on the other side of town from the office?

Those are not even the best arguments for not going back to the office to meet the buyer. The best arguments come from the buyers themselves, who are trained or conditioned NOT to treat real estate agents as true professionals. We’re just door openers, people who get buyers access to the house.

Try quizzing a buyer about his wants or needs or motivations and you’ll find that many buyers don’t think they have to answer questions at all. They are so used to agents just making the appointment that when an agent tries to ask questions so he or she can advise and counsel that person, they resist.

“Just get me in. I just want to see the house,” is the mantra.

How practitioners can change this game

Things won’t change until agents stop playing the game and won’t make the appointment until meeting in person at the office, or at least answering a few basic questions. I would love to see every agent stop dropping everything to show a house to a buyer “just in town a few hours” on the chance the buyer is “the one” who buys the property.

Yes it’s a gamble, but in 15 years of doing this, I find it’s rarely the buyer who throws a tantrum and insists in instant access who is “the one.”

Buyers who are serious will answer our screening questions. They understand that we are professionals who need appointments to show them houses. And they respect our time and brains in the counseling/advising process. Those are the buyers we want to work with. Those are the buyers who deserve our time and attention. Not the buyers who pitch a fit when they call an agent’s cell phone late Friday night and get no answer. Not the buyers who are sitting in front of a home and demand an agent show up within five minutes.

I wish every agent working with buyers would read this and agree to stop caving in to buyer demands to instant access to houses and agents.

But if agents deny access, unfortunately the consumer will just pick up the phone and call the next agent on the list. And chances are that one agent on the list will be hungry enough, desperate enough, or just naive enough, to hop in the car and show the house.

Until we train our agents and enforce an office policy that discourages “Pop Tart” agents, consumer behavior won’t change.

This editorial was originally published in March of 2015.

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Op/Ed

Communicate more effectively by not using this one word

(EDITORIAL) Effective communication means more sales, better coworker relationships, and less effort cleaning up messes.

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What’s more frustrating than a problem you can’t immediately solve? A coworker who acts like he or she has all the magical answers and might as well handle it for you.

No one asked for your help, Karen.

Being a know-it-all may have been cute when you were five, but you’re a professional now. Telling a colleague what he or she should do is more or less telling them what they should do, and, more specifically, what you would do. Even more so if your advice is unsolicited but you’re outlining directives anyway.

To more communicate in a less contentious way, avoid using the phrase “you should” unless someone explicitly asks, “What should I do?” If you haven’t been specifically asked that question but still throw out instructional advice, you could be dubbed that person in the office who causes eye rolls and groans because you’re oh so “helpful” and your behavior may deter others from actually seeking your advice when needed. No one likes to be lectured to.

This is true for coworkers, spouses, friends, clients, and so forth.

If you feel the burning urge to share some advice, try posing your comments in one of the following ways instead:

“Have you tried…?”

By posing your advice as a question, you’re allowing your colleague to answer on their own and talk out their current situation. Asking a question also implies that you care enough to help without jumping straight into a lecture.

“I’ve done this in the past and it worked for me.”

Be a little #relatable. Tell a story about what has worked for you to show you’re coworker that you’ve been there, too. Display sympathy and empathy by sharing how you’ve dealt with a similar situation before and how you succeeded.

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

Yes, actually ask if you can help before offering help. Instead of describing what your coworker should or shouldn’t do, show simple kindness and extend the offer. They might say no, but that’s OK. Just knowing that you cared enough to ask may be more helpful than you think.

It’s possible to communicate advice without telling people what they should or shouldn’t do. That’s not your job, after all.

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