by Steve Adubato, PhD

I was recently coaching a top level executive in a major insurance company, whose organization was about to be merged with another insurance company. The new management was looking to make some tough decisions as to who would stay and who would go. They were stressing the importance of the professionals being “excellent communicators” who “stand out.”

When I spoke to my client, Jim Smith, I asked him what his greatest strengths were as both a leader and communicator. He said; “I’m fair and I am a great team player…oh yeah, and I can make tough decisions.” In our coaching session, I followed up by asking Jim if he had any concrete examples to demonstrate his point. There was a long pause and he finally said; “You know, Steve, that’s hard to do on the spot. I have to think about it.”

Why does this matter? There is a good chance that Jim is going to be a part of a very tough interview over the next few months, because there is only one person needed to perform his responsibilities. Simply put, Jim’s ability to communicate as well as to effectively “brand” himself is more critical than ever before. Yet, at 62-years-old, and as strong as Jim is in his current job, he feels more anxiety and less confidence than ever.

In our session, he also said; “I really don’t feel comfortable selling or promoting myself.” Part of the problem for many professionals is that they look at confident, proactive communication, laced with concrete examples about themselves and why they stand out, as “promoting or selling” themselves. That’s a mistake. For many, it is a legitimate response. But for others, it is a way of hiding behind the need to communicate in a much more clear, confident and persuasive fashion. It sounds innocuous to say that you don’t want to “sell or promote yourself,” but it’s not. There’s a real danger here. Instead of thinking this way, reframe your communication by saying; “It is important for others to understand my strengths, so they know how I can be helpful to them and their organization.”

Your goal is to be more relevant in all your communication, so just saying you are a “team player” or “fair” is not relevant to the receiver of your communication. Those terms are abstract. Anyone could use them, but until the other person truly understands what your words mean to them, you are not really connecting.

Further, when it comes to a job search or any situation in which you have to stand out, particularly for older professionals whose organizations have merged, changed, downsized or whatever, these issues become particularly relevant. Consider the following communication tools and tips that will help you “sell yourself” in a fashion that will not only build your professional brand, but will also help others understand why you are important to them:

--Identify two concrete examples where your actions have had a positive impact in the workplace.

--Proactively communicate about those accomplishments in less than two minutes.

--Make sure you think of all your communication from the other person’s point of view. Ask yourself; “If I were on the other end, what would I want and need to hear right now?”

--Hear yourself using terms that are too broad or abstract like “team player” or “fair” and get in the habit of communicating in a more substantive fashion. Say, “For instance, when I talk about being a team player, what I mean is…”

For Jim Smith and countless other professionals in these incredibly difficult economic times, this type of communication is not an option. It is an absolute professional requirement. Simply put, it’s a deal breaker.