You keep talking but I don’t trust what you are saying

I have worked closely with dozens if not 100 organizations and have also interviewed well over 1,000 people through the course of my career. This experience has provided a fascinating view of human behavior. The behavior of which I wish to discuss today revolves around the discovery of truth. People have a very interesting relationship with truth and all its ramifications, including me. I would like to focus this article on what organizations and candidates alike do with regards to discovery and how it has bugged me for over 2 decades. Admittedly, I did not know why it bothered me so much until I was finally able to put my finger on it.

I’ll start with organizations. When an organization engages me on a search for a new executive the first step I take with them is a discovery process; me discovering them. It is here that I start to create the narrative that will be taken to the candidate marketplace. I love this part of my job as I am infinitely curious about how businesses go about their business. However, it is also here that I am turned off by how organizations approach this process. More often than not a company wants to TELL me unprompted “stuff” about themselves. In essence, they drive the narrative AT me, which is exactly what bugs me. I wont even discuss the overly rosy picture most paint to describe their organization, which of course bugs me too, but that is a different article.

Candidates happen to do the exact same thing. Instead of allowing me to discover who they are their first instinct is typically to TELL me all the things they want me to know, unprompted. They drive their personal (also overly rosy) narrative AT me in the same way organizations do. And it bugs me when candidates do this as well. Maybe it is just me, but I don’t think so.

What does all this have to do with truth?  Well, what I discovered about myself as I pondered why I felt this way was fascinating to me – and then I realized I was probably not alone. What I realized was that I love to discover truth; it is exhilarating to do so. Like solving a complex math problem. So, when someone tells you a truth instead of letting you discover it for yourself it robs you of one of life’s great joys. Humans love to discover. Telling you the answer to a math problem before you attempt to solve it for yourself is annoying. Having the answer to a math problem allows you to cheat to solve the problem and in that “cheating” you feel less than fulfilled in what you have learned. You will likely even doubt that you have learned the concept properly.

When organizations and candidates drive their narrative AT you, doubt will inevitably creep in (like having the answer to a math problem prior to solving it) and undermine their story. Let’s face it, organizations and candidates have been trained to drive “overly rosy” stories at each other while each try to assess the realities of the stories being told.  When someone allows themselves to be discovered on the discoverer’s terms then what is learned is usually rooted in a deeper reality, especially if the discoverer is (like Einstein claimed to be) infinitely curious.

Great interviews become a process of mutual discovery. Neither party driving an unprompted narrative AT the other. Mutual curiosity, mutual exploration and mutual discovery happens – both parties can then experience the great joy of discovering the other on their terms – no one is providing an answer up front.

Yes, you must be prepared to tell your story, and tell it well (getting beyond the “whats” and into the “hows” & “whys”), but ONLY in response to what the other person wants to know.

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