Details, dress & diplomacy: Why your big brain won’t always be enough

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LONDON — There are several converging thoughts in this article.  All of which are probably likely to get me in trouble. For this is a topic that we should be able to talk about, but many forces conspire against it.

As background to this, there are a few things going on in the business.  We are interviewing right now.  I am off to run another week of Leadership Communication courses. And some clients work doesn’t always turn out in ways we intended.

In many respects we at Able and How can be very self-assured.  We KNOW that we can make businesses better.  We KNOW that our approach improves the way you change and the way you communicate.  But that knowledge and the ability to implement it is not enough.  That knowledge alone would not make us a successful business.


Everyone is writing these days.  Texts, status updates, emails to lovers, friends, bosses and prospects.

So why are we getting worse at it, not better?

We are getting lots of CVs — probably the majority of what we receive — with basic spelling and grammatical errors.  I am quite sure that’s not because people are illiterate.  I really don’t think that’s the case.  I think they just don’t pay attention to detail.

“I wrote it.  I’m smart. Therefore my cleverness will shine through.”

Well… it don’t.

Take a minute to re-read it.

We sometimes struggle ourselves with that.  And goodness knows there are enough mistakes even in the series of blog posts to keep a sub-editor smug for months.

But a typo is the first sentence of your application letter is not going to help you.  Nor is spelling our company name wrong.

Same goes for all other work and planning.  Don’t say you’ll meet at 8 and show up at 8:15.  That’s not 8!

Don’t go over budget… Don’t.

Invest the time up front to master the details.  Re-read your letters, emails and texts.  Manage the little things properly.  That allows your big brain to shine through without anything getting in the way.


People used to be taught etiquette for things like Debutante Balls, or graduation ceremonies, or in case you met the Queen.  But somehow the idea of being presentable has passed out of fashion… It has been deemed to be anti-democratic somehow.

Apparently messy hair and manky shoes are the basis of democracy.

I always stop on my way into client meetings and buy mints.  I iron my shirts.  I don’t wear Homer Simpson ties.  I wear a tie!

Whether you are working with colleagues or clients (or interviewing) you want to project a favourable impression.  Sometimes that means having some mirrors in your house.

I also (controversially) feel that table manners are an issue.  I sat with someone recently who paused partway through a meal to lick her knife from end to end.  I had a physical reaction.

My rule of thumb (well it works for me) is “What if I ran into some of my grandmother’s friends?”  Essentially you want to show that the distance between your bed and the bus to work passed by some water and brush.  And that some of your clothes get hung up when your not wearing them. Etc.


So if you’ve got the details right, you’re dressed like Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn (careful which you choose), and so you’re sorted.  Right?

Except then you:
– make a joke about Mexicans (ah, yea, my wife is from there),
– you describe your current boss with a tangled urology-gardening metaphor,
– you volunteer information about a lost weekend in Amsterdam,
– to liven up your pitch you toss in a few unnecessary, four-letter Germanic words,
– and on it goes.

These are all real example.  And I haven’t spoken of the lady who came in in heavy green eye-shadow and a green body suit and said: “All I really want to do is dance.”  Or the guy who mock ‘shot’ me with his fingers at the end of an interview.

Yes, it takes all kinds, but a number of the errors cited above are mine.

It takes some discipline and practice.  But it’s worth it.

Show the world that the bits hanging off that big brain of yours can still hear, see, (smell?) and learn things.


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