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How To Keep Improving as a Manager, Deal with a Risk-Averse Partner and More of Your Questions Answered

Plus how to get better at small talk.




How To Keep Improving as a Manager, Deal with a Risk-Averse Partner and More of Your Questions Answered

Our main jewelry designer, a genuine rare talent, is leaving and we need to replace him. Where do I find someone with the same talent and vision?

You don’t. Creative talents are special because their designs reflect something deeply personal. So forget about trying to find a like-for-like replacement. Rather than a watered-down version of what had been there before, look for someone who can forge a new path. If these new looks are a significant departure from what was offered before, even a little bit uncomforting, all the better. The same applies for any creative parts of your business, from marketing to window displays. There’s something invigorating about the shock of the new.

How do I keep improving as a manager?

Set smart, achievable goals (progress is a huge motivator), keep learning, and finally, get feedback, even if it’s self-generated. In his timeless classic on management, The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker argued monitoring yourself was the best way to gauge how you are progressing. “Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations … Practiced consistently, this simple method will show you within a fairly short period of time, maybe two or three years, where your strengths lie.”

My husband is conservative by nature, but it can be hard when your partner is so pessimistic about every new project you suggest. How can I convince him that growing a business involves risk?

Don’t be too hard on pessimism — it has its uses, especially in business. The key is to know when a situation warrants caution and when it calls for take-that-leap bravado. One good way to know is to ask yourself, “What’s the cost of being wrong here?” If the cost of failure is high, such as you’ll lose a lot of money, be sued or someone will possibly get hurt, then optimism is the wrong strategy. If it’s simply a loss of your time, energy or even a threat to your self-view as someone who never makes mistakes, then go for it. We expect that when you put it like that, your husband will get behind most projects. And if he still can’t stop worrying, suggest he learn worry postponement techniques, which often involve setting a later time and space to think about these worries (just not now when there’s work to be done).

Any tips on how to get better at small talk?

We view the ability to build a social bridge out of thin air as a vastly underrated skill, especially in business. The key to good small talk is an appreciation that banal (i.e, “Sure is hot out there”) is good. This is a social ritual to break the ice, not a meaningful exchange of personally experienced meteorological data. What matters is the action, not the content. All you want to do is show you’re not an oddball and establish a connection in a non-intimidating way. Stick to well-trodden safe territory — sports, the weather, pop culture, local celebrities — and you can’t go wrong. Just say something! Kio Stark, author of the book When Strangers Meet, advocates the “triangulation” approach to starting conversations. Picture three points: you, the person you’re talking to, and a third thing you can observe together: the weather, the food, or some eye-catching artwork in your host’s home. Once you’ve got a bit of rapport going, you can try those open-ended questions that lead to a deeper conversation. Four more tips to consider:

  1. 40 percent of Americans describe themselves as “shy”. So keep in mind almost half the people you encounter are scared of conversation. If you smile and say hello, most will be delighted you took the initiative. If they’re from the other half, they’ll happily join you in chit-chat.
  2. Practice when it doesn’t matter, in the post office queue or on the sidelines of your daughter’s soccer match.
  3. Keep an eye out for weird news — “Florida Man” stories are always good value — as opposed to anything polarizing like politics.
  4. Assume people are pleased to see you. It’s harder said than done, but the world will take you at your own estimation. Approach people as though you believe that you’re worth talking to. People will respond to your warmth and positivity.

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