Write it & Rote it
Is there a question that you have trouble answering? Here is some valuable advice.
I suppose it would be nice in some ways if I only heard from people when they had happy news to share. However, like Liam Neesom, I have a particular set of skills, and they surface most often when people are facing challenging circumstances. Should I leave my job? If so, what do I do next? Should I start something new? What am I trying to do with my life? Even as the answers to these questions loom large for them individually, they are struggling with how to answer the questions coming at a rapid and unpredictable pace from friends, family, and the range of their professional contacts.
I think that most of us have complex questions about all aspects of our lives that we have trouble answering. In my life it has run the gamut from:
-why did you leave that job?
-what are you looking to do next?
-what is happening with that start-up?
-Are you two still dating? getting married? planning a family?
-Why did you break up with your (professional or romantic) partner?
The truth is that most of us do have a question(s) that tend to tie our stomachs up in knots. Each time it is presented we are suddenly filled with anxiety and fresh pain. It is a reminder that we still have unfinished business and our lack of a thoughtful way to respond to others exacerbates the pain.
On a recent work trip this came up for people about issues ranging from what they sought to do next, why they have not finished x project as quickly as they had predicted, or how an expected partnership or investment had not materialized.
And each time they are asked that question, it is like an exposed nerve. The pain is fresh, and they feel destabilized. It is at these moments that I want to be your ballast.
If you develop simple scripts for the worst of these questions you can negate their hold over you and how they impact your self-esteem. Said in a jauntier way, you need to Write it So You Can Rote It.
For those of us new to the term “rote learning,” it means you can repeat a phrase you have learned by heart without getting too much into your feelings and move on.
The process is not so hard as long as you have your sounding board(s), or those you respect, trust, and communicate well with available.
Step 1: What question(s) cause you anxiety when they are asked? What are the issues that create pain for you? These can run the gamut from:
-How is your job search going?
-Are you dating? What is your relationship situation?
-Whatever happened with (that thing you kept talking about)?
-How do you describe your consultancy?
Step 2: What is your best current answer to this question(s)?
Give yourself a set amount of time, let us say 30 minutes to produce your best answers. Perhaps even call it something like the Tough Questions and Answers and call it Version 1.
Step 3: Share this with a person that you think is best positioned to help you. Determine that sounding board who is also a strong writer/speaker. Ask them if they can look at your Q&As to offer their feedback. If they have suggestions, they can input that into Version 2. Now work together through other versions to iterate the best answer. You are responsible for ensuring that your answer is true and uses authentic language and your colleague has ownership over it flowing well and making a compelling case. This usually takes five or so iterations before you have something you like.
Step 4: *Finally, practice this yourself and share it with this person and a few other friendly people for their reactions. Typically, it will shift a bit as you repeat it over time (and that is ok). You are then ready to start using this in the wild. Done correctly you start pulling from the script in your head the same way you do with other rote answers. For example, I can still talk succinctly about a job/workplace I was at 20 years ago. You can make it, so these words come out the same way.
When correctly done this changes how you interact with the people in your life. It helps reduce the fear that prevents you from engaging with others because they might ask a question you do not want to or cannot answer without paying a price. Time and again I have seen people better off because they could connect again with people in professional settings, family functions or get-togethers with friends without apprehension.
Life is complex and we tend to focus on and magnify our stumbles. Do not let your fear over what to say, or how you feel when you say it, have undue power over your well-being.
If you write it, you can rote it.
—Russ Finkelstein [linkedin.com] is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur, and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship, and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and was chosen as a Generation Z Influencer by LinkedIn.