Say thank you, and then stop

Last weekend, my children went to a semi-formal dance held by their high school.  My husband and I hosted a pre-dance party for my daughter and her friends to put the finishing touches on their hair and make-up together and for the parents to snap some photos. When my son came downstairs dressed for the dance, someone said that they liked his tie. He said, “Thank you.” And, then he added a bit sheepishly, “It’s my Dad’s.” One of the moms kindly suggested, when he gets another compliment on it, to say just “Thank you.” There’s no need to let anyone know you borrowed it.

A few days after the dance, I happened to watch a keynote from the 2012 Grace Hopper Celebration, an annual conference for women in computing. The speaker was Nora Denzel, a talented computer scientist, well-respected executive, and engaging public speaker. Towards the end of her presentation, she shared some career advice, including control your career PR by not disclosing your faults or limitations. Nora told a story where she complemented a woman after she gave an outstanding presentation at a customer briefing. The woman replied by talking about the mistakes she had made, how she was up half the night with her sick son so it wasn’t her best work, and even that she didn’t think she wore the right dress. Nora’s advice is to say thank you, and then stop. Don’t share your inner critic’s voice!

Just like that woman, my inner critic’s voice can be much too loud. I remember a time when I was responsible for managing the localizations of the company’s software portfolio so that we could sell them in other countries. Just two weeks after I joined the company, the CEO asked me to give him an overview of all the localization projects. I had barely figured out what I was supposed to be doing, and the CEO wanted to hear from me! Well, I met with him and presented each project, the risks, and next steps. At the end of the meeting, he told me he was impressed with how I presented the information and that he was confident I would see each project through to completion. Instead of just saying thank you, I told him that all I had done was some formatting of the information that my manager had given me. To this day, I don’t know what I was thinking.

As a leader and as a parent, I’m going to look for coachable moments when people should say thank you and then stop. How about you?


p.s. While I highly recommend all of Nora’s keynote, I understand your time may be limited. Her career advice about saying thank you and then stopping begins about 36 minutes into the video.

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.