Four words than can kill your career


My friend, a mid-level executive, told me her boss has been treating her differently. I asked her when she noticed the change and what led up to it. “Well,” she explained, “He told me to review my staff’s sales into our new system and I told him I didn’t know how.”  My friend had received training on the new system, but she hadn’t mastered it.

I explained to my friend that she had uttered the four words that can kill a career: “I don’t know how.”

In the rapidly changing workplace, those words signal defeat rather than adaptation. Today, the skill most in demand is agility.

Here are three words to use instead: “Show me how.”

With online tutorials, webinars and millennials eager to show off their abilities, it’s never been easier to learn a new skill or have someone teach you. It simply takes the right mindset. You need to tell yourself you are going be patient with yourself and eventually learn the skill, even if it takes longer than you hoped.  Your goal should be to come across in the workplace as someone who is comfortable learning how to use new tools or adapting to a more efficient way of doing a task.

When you are saying “I don’t know how”  your  boss is thinking “If he can’t show an ability to learn something new, he may not have the interest or desire, which means he might have the relevant skills today, but won’t be able to acquire the skills he needs tomorrow.”

If your job requires you now enter a report from your smartphone or use an iPad to take a sales order, practice until you get it right. Resist discussing with higher level managers or clients what you don’t know. Instead, cast yourself as at least  “somewhat” knowledgeable.

Quoted in, author Angela Duckworth says deliberately choose things you want to get better at and spend more time practicing and challenging yourself to meet new objectives. If you begin to feel like you just can’t get it, see whether there is another approach to try, an alternate path that’s “a little smoother, a little better lit,” says Duckworth whose book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” (Scribner, 2016) has helped readers understand what it takes to be successful.

The best skill all of us can master right now is learning to continuously learn. It’s easy to say “I don’t know how” and expect your manager to find someone else who does. The problem is, that someone else may soon move right into your job. Shifting to the “show me how” mindset is your first step for keeping your career on track.

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