Thursday, February 21, 2013


A simple arithmetic question for you: ‘A bat and ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?’ If you answered ‘10 cents’ you also probably are not aware of the ‘less obvious rules of success’. I will try to discuss a few here – the most obvious ones at least. Just as the obvious answer that 90% of the readers gave was actually the wrong answer (the right answer is 5 cents for the ball and a dollar and five cents for the bat), similarly the rules of success are the ones we most often tend to overlook. Success comes from strange quarters and with strange reasons too. Decades ago, an interesting book “What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School” became a best seller. The author had then tried to show how the most obvious things are not being taught, the things that actually impact our careers. Even today, most people are not aware of many similar things.


A research by Classes and Careers revealed some interesting secrets about how to successfully crack interviews. While most of us will spend hours learning the important answers and pouring over the course and trying to mug up as much as possible, as many important points as possible, it’s the smart ones who do that little bit extra, which is the difference between success and failure. The biggest game changer in the interview process are the ‘non-verbal’ cues. It is not so much what you speak, rather what you don’t speak which creates the maximum impact. If you falter here it might cost you your job!

Failure to make eye contact is one of the biggest mistakes. A good eye contact shows a confident personality. When you look at people, they look back at you! When you do not look at people they do not take you seriously and they do not trust you either. It’s a simple rule – liars tend to avoid eye contact. Eye contact is in fact the most important rule for survival and yet it is one of the most overlooked aspects of communication. In the animal kingdom, the dominant male is the one who can outstare other animals in his pack. If the contest turns out to be a draw, a battle ensues. If you stare at an animal, there’s a good chance it will either attack you, or pee on the floor. We humans aren’t much different. Keep looking at the person with whom you are having a conversation; however, do not stare. This is the tricky part. The most frequently asked question is “How do I look and not stare?” Well, there is a formula to help you get it right and solve this problem of yours. The simplest way to get started is by putting the 5 & 7 guide into action. This means, when speaking maintain eye contact for 50% of the time, when listening maintain it for 70% of the time. When you use eye contact properly, you avoid staring but still display interest and confidence. Eye contact is a powerful tool, and should be used wisely. In the end remember never ever to look at your cell phone to check a text message or a call. This not just causes loss of eye contact but also your job. The non-verbal message you send is ‘this interview is not the most important thing right now’.

The second thing to keep in mind is the way you dress. This is probably more important than the way you answer questions. An interview is all about making the best impression and the right dress will help you do that. A good degree, knowledge etc will take you a certain distance, but the right clothes will take you all the way. Ignore the rule ‘dress to impress’ and you may lose your job. The best way to impress is to be yourself. No one knows this better than Indira Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo and today one of the most powerful women of the world. For her first interview she went dressed in an ill-fitting business suit and orange snow boots. Her appearance elicited a collective gasp of horror from the people there and as expected she did not get the job. For her next interview, she decided to follow the advice of her professor at Yale University and went in a sari. His advise to her was, she had to be herself and most importantly be proud of who she was. She went for the interview relaxed, more confident and smart, and Boston Consulting Group recruited her immediately. At the interview table, you are being sized up continuously and it’s these little things that count. Ask yourself, who do you remember after watching a talk show or a reality show? Not necessarily the person with the best points but the one with the best dressing sense. Many people tend to overlook this one point, but its importance cannot be denied. Years ago, Mark Twain said the same thing: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” Even today, your clothes could decide your success or failure, especially so if the interviewer has to decide between two similar candidates! You could influence his choice and swing the vote towards you by just dressing right.


The most non-obvious rule is, “Most of the times, people do not care about what you speak at all!”

Most speeches are forgotten faster than you can say ‘forget it’. Most of what we learn while attending a lecture is forgotten in the first one hour. In fact, education itself is defined not on the basis of what you remembered, but what you could not forget! “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school,” said Einstein. This is a fact. We very quickly forget most of the actual words, sentences, but what we don’t forget is how we felt.

While giving a speech, the focus should be on the way of speaking and not on the content. More often than not, it is the tone of the voice, the expressions on the face that matter, more than anything else. The most important thing is how you made the other person ‘feel’ with your words and actions. This is the one aspect, we do not think of at all in most of our communications and it is the most important. The most important rule to remember here is ‘if he feels cared for, then he will care for you too’. Be it the audience inside the auditorium, be it the stakeholders, the rule remains the same. A research has proved that it does not matter in business whether your project is on time, or if you do things within your budget, etcetera... Rather, the factor that decides whether the stakeholder will be happy with you and your company is if he ‘feels cared for’!

Many times, we underestimate the importance of non-verbal cues when meeting with stakeholders. In an experiment, it was shown that customers who were physically greeted when entering a place of business rated their experiences significantly higher than if they were met by someone behind a counter. Even within an organisation (remember employees are your first customers), it is better to walk down the corridor and speak to an employee than to call, e-mail or text. You make them feel special. Just like a mother who rushes to greet her child with open arms. She does not need to say it, but the child feels wanted and loved. We all thrive on non-verbal cues, yet most of the time we forget to use them or read them.

It is the ability of a person to read the non-verbal cues, which decides the success of a relationship, a business meeting, negotiations or even a game of poker! According to David Hayano, author of ‘Poker Faces’, if a player suddenly throws his chips forcefully on the table or suddenly behaves in a brash manner, it may be a non-verbal cue that his cards are weak. Similarly, while negotiating, if a talkative party suddenly becomes quiet, it could be an indication that he is hiding something. The author says that if someone starts over-talking and backslapping, it is an indication that he has very little to offer. It’s these non-verbal cues that determine the success of a negotiation. It is the many revealing body signals that may indicate a hidden agenda. When executives sit on a negotiating table, very few have the ability to read these cues. One simple rule to follow is never lose eye contact with the other person. Even if he tells you to read the papers, don’t make the mistake of looking down. Instead, ask him to give a gist of it as this will give you the chance to not lose eye contact and assess his non-verbal cues better. As decades ago Lord Chesterfield wrote to his son, “Learning is acquired by reading books but the much more necessary learning – the knowledge of the world – is only to be acquired by reading men, and studying all the various editions of them.” The one who can read people like a book is the best player, the best negotiator.

Before I end, one last teaser: “A clerk at a butcher shop stands five feet ten inches tall and wears size 13 sneakers. What does he weigh?” Answer is “He weighs ‘meat’”! Come on, he is a butcher after all!

The bottom line is, we as humans tend to overlook the obvious. Success comes to those who are most aware about these small, seemingly insignificant rules of success. So start looking.


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