You Had Me at Hello


Did you ever see that movie Jerry Maguire? It made Renee Zellweger’s career.

There’s a great scene where Tom Cruise’s character pleads to Renee’s character to take him back, that he loves her and wants to be with her. He goes on and on with his speech, trying to convince her to take him back, and at some point she interrupts him and says,

“Shut up! You had me at hello.”

Lately, I have been thinking about this scene as I’ve helped some clients with their interviewing and presentation skills.

It is so easy—especially when we are feeling nervous—to say more than we need to say to demonstrate our abilities and send the message we want to convey. It can prove disastrous when we do this in a setting such as a job interview.

Sometimes it is hard for us to realize that we have this tendency. Sometimes, we know it when we start to open our mouths and too much comes out. I have had the experience of not taking a breath, sharing in what feels like an urgent outpour of the message I want to convey.

Why is this an issue?

When we over-share and over-talk, we turn off our listening.

In our haste to make sure we are heard and understood, we concentrate only on the message we are trying to send rather than picking up cues—subtle and sometimes not so subtle—from our audience. The effect varies between a feeling of disengagement and lack of consideration to outright suspicion and doubt that the speaker (you or me) is trustworthy and possessing of good judgment.

So, what is the alternative?

Some strategies to help you stave off over-talking, especially in an interview, include:
  • Getting clear on the message you want to send ahead of time, in order to find the fewest words possible to express the essence of your viewpoint.
  • Staying grounded in the conversation. Try to feel grounded in your body so that even if the demeanor, environment, or other such cue makes you feel off your game, you’ll still find your center to share, and listen, from that place.
  • Practicing deep listening, which includes focusing on staying in the present moment. This fills the other person with a profound feeling of being honored and listened to, which is a gift that will stay with them long after you have gone.
  • Having confidence that by listening well you will grasp the other person’s viewpoint clearly and be able to contextualize and share the most poignant response. You can do that by waiting to formulate your response until after the other person has finished speaking, not before.
  • Practicing the art of what I call Progressive Disclosure, to unfurl your stories and information over a period of time during the conversation.

The Power of Progressive Disclosure

I enjoy making up new terms to represent coaching concepts and new ways to thinking and being. Progressive Disclosure means having a set of unfolding stories and examples that can add context and detail to a particular point you are making, but shared only over time and by invitation.

How might this look in an interview situation?

Let’s say that the interviewer asks you, “What are your strengths?”

Progressive Disclosure might look like this:

“Well, there are three strengths I’ll share with you today. I’m:

1. Resourceful. I’m always able to find a way to accomplish my goal.

2. Accurate. I have a reputation for producing 100% accuracy in my reports and budgets.

3. Diplomatic. My managers repeatedly praise me for being tactful and diplomatic in collaborating with different departments, and I am often chosen to work on high-profile projects with top leaders in the organization.

Then, stop and breathe, and wait to see what they say/ask next.

Make sure to have a story prepared that exemplifies each of your strengths, but wait until they ask for you to share it. If they don’t, then leave it and move on.

When you structure your sharing in this way, you respond to what the listener/interviewer wants to hear more about, and you show respect for that person and give insight into how your mind works, illustrating that you can pick up on social cues.

It’s a powerful combination and can produce the result you are longing for: a job offer for the position you are seeking.

If you recognize yourself here, I suggest you play with the idea of progressive disclosure, practicing listening before sharing and editing yourself to express the essence of your message, sparingly. See how it feels, and how your audience receives your message when you do.

P.S. If you want to see the iconic scene from Jerry Maguire, catch it here.

Photo credit: Sturtevant Falls (Michael Chen) via Flickr cc

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