Reading between the Lines

November 14, 2013 — 20 Comments

There is a life lesson that everyone should learn at some point – and I truly believe your personal success is directly tied to your ability to learn this lesson as early as possible in your career. In my office, I like to call it “gauging the temperature of the conversation” but most people reference it simply by saying “reading between the lines”.

Reading between the lines

When I first came to my new office, for about the first 2 weeks I was there, a specific person called the office almost every single day to see if we were hiring. I noticed that the people answering the phones would recognize the name calling and audibly groan and slump in their chair as they reached for the handset. After a while, I couldn’t take it anymore and I told everyone in the office to forward the call to me next time he called … which was the literally the next day. I politely told the guy that we were not hiring, did not foresee a change in our workload that would alter our circumstances, but if he would like to forward an updated version of his resume I would keep it on file should a position become available that suited his skill set. And I meant every word of it at the time.

I thought that would be it for a while … wrong! He still kept on calling, seemingly oblivious of the specific instructions and information I had shared with him.

In a way, I admire his persistence, but at a certain point, he became a nuisance. As a result of his actions, there is no way he will ever get hired at our office. At a minimum, he doesn’t listen to the message being delivered and can’t follow instructions. At worst, I find him an extremely frustrating person. Since I have the ability to choose the people who get to work in our office, his actions have had the opposite desired effect. Part of the reason I decided to share this story with you was that this person called the office yesterday and since he wasn’t gauging the temperature of our conversations, I stopped messing about and told him to stop calling our office, that his behavior had created such ill-will with the staff that we would no longer consider him a candidate for any possible future positions. I don’t normally like speaking so curtly to people, few ever actually deserve it … but I would rather get a homemade Turkish prison tattoo on my face from a blind right-handed inmate who only had their left arm than have to deal with this person every day … and call me old-fashioned, but I don’t really want a homemade prison tattoo on my face.

So what’s a pro-active person to do? Here are some tips that should help you “gauge the temperature of the conversation”:

Do your calls get taken?

When you call, is the person you are trying to reach ever available? Do you always get their voice mail? Are they never at their desk? Depending on what happens – or doesn’t happen – when you call, the person you wish to speak with doesn’t want to talk to you. This would be the time to either scale back on your persistence or ask if there i s someone else that would be more appropriate that you could speak with. It’s possible that you aren’t calling who you should be.

Follow Up

If you do get someone on the phone and they tell you there aren’t any current positions at your experience level, or that they are fully staffed – ask them if it would be alright to follow up with them in 3 months to see if circumstances have changed. [It doesn’t really matter the amount of time but be specific]. If they say they’ll contact you … move on.

Hero Worship?

If you are trying to land a spot at some super-duper-über firm and know that you are unlikely to get the right person to either talk to you or read your resume since you are an unknown and your information will go on a pile of 1,000’s of others, you have to find some other way to make a connection with that firm … the technique of “pester” rarely works. Most of the time, it’s all about who you know that get’s you to the right people and once you’re there, you can dazzle them with your skills and personality. The easiest way to describe this is by telling a story: Many years ago there was an architect in town whose work I really admired. I was the Chair of a prominent AIA committee and decided that I would use my position of authority to invite this architect to be a judge for my event. He agreed, and I had chance to casually spend several hours talking with him. Fast forward a few years and now we are good friends – he even offered me a job to come work for him.

The point of all this is not “how to get a job” but rather that it’s very important to pay attention to what is and isn’t being said when you are talking with people. The biggest hurdle I see that most young people have to clear is the ability to be sitting with someone and understand what they are saying, even when they aren’t saying it. More times than not, this skill will be the thing that will either put you in the right room or keep you out of it.



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  • Thaler

    I’m guessing this guy read the temperature correctly, didn’t care, and was hoping to pressure, coerce, and needle his way into a job where he would have continued to bulldoze people to get what he wanted. Not unlike some personal relationships (M or F). I say good call.

  • sarge

    every person has a communication “frequency” that must be found if you are intersted in effective communication and this involves listening as well as speaking. some folks need the amperage turned up and some do not.

  • my wife is a psychologist

    I would agree with scott, that this may be more a sign of mental illness, possibly asberger’s (caller’s inability to tak social cues and discern subtlety).

  • Thomas Onwong’a

    Well put forward. Normally when you are frustrated and pressured, you may have a notion of persistence…and persistence means you are putting pressure to someone/something. If results are not positive to you, frustration may increase…Consequently you may lose control of how you handle the subject matter. By not controlling yourself the environment will be curtly on you. Reading between the lines swiftly will avoid frustrations and/or curtly conversation.

  • Mark Mc Swain

    There is a parallel here for when this conversation is with a client–whether in the “No, we are clean full up with work, and have not a manhour to spare for more work” or the no-way-are-we-working-for-you sense of it.

  • thecaller

    When you have moral’s and take pride in being geniune when dealing with people’s lively hood, it creates great word of mouth about your company. In Bob’s case, a bad taste in your mouth & negitive thought’s is what you get.

    • if you are the person I am speaking about (pretty sure you are not) I have more than enough evidence at hand to show that I am incredibly patient and fair when dealing with people. It takes a long time to amp me up enough to become intentionally curt with people.

  • Wade Boggs

    Great post today Bob. I admire you for standing firm with the caller and being upfront with him. However, it sounds as if he didn’t get the message the first time. Unfortunately, n the information age we live in today, people think that more is always better.

    In the last few years, I have learned that the hardest part of getting something done isn’t the work itself ,but how you go about doing the work.

    Also, thanks for the quick post on such a recent event. It takes me a couple of days to get my thoughts together before I can post any kind of cohesive thought.

    • Thanks Wade.

      I have been learning one lesson at a time that how you go about your business is a lot more important that I ever thought.

      In my world, it seems like if I don’t get it done right away, I lose momentum or even forget altogether.

  • Tim Barber

    You reap what you sow. You were not out of place. It was unfortunate you had to be so direct, but it was his fault not yours. “I would rather have to deal with them, than be like them”…..Just sayin’

    • I like being able to say “No thank you” rather than “No Thank you, I don’t think you are very good at your job.”

      Same end product but hearing one is a lot harder than the other.

  • Courtney Price

    I agree with the previous comment- but it is true for any interactions in life, not just job searching or your industry in particular. People skills. Sensory acuity.

    • This is the difference between talking in person versus talking through email or text. There are a lot of things that reinforce the intent of the message being delivered – tone, body language, eye contact … sensory acuity is a good way to describe it.

  • TedKidd

    When taking the temperature of things you can guess, or measure.

    If selling of things or ideas is important to your livelihood, one thing to avoid is the bad habit of presumption. This starts out as “reading between lines,” then leads to assumptions you know what people think, then ends assuming you know what they need. Know any bad architects? Does this sound like their approach to design?

    I prefer to ask questions, and avoid “mutual mystification.”.

    The potential employee erred in not asking what follow up timeframe would be reasonable. But you might have assisted here by instructing him to call in a month, or three. Instead you left him guessing, at cost to you and him.

    A lot of time and emotional energy was wasted here, and all parties have stake in the blame.

    • TedKidd

      Let me be clear, I really like and follow your work because you seem to place great import on TRUTH. Not sure you’ve dug deep enough on this one to get there…

      • We’ll see – based on your comment I might not have done a very good job explaining my thought process. I don’t like to guess and I certainly don’t like wasting anybody’s time. In almost all aspects of life, you will be required to draw inferences to the message being delivered by listening – not just to what is being said, but to how it is being said. Ever had an issue where someone misconstrued what you were trying to say in an email, that some perceive tone in how you wrote something wasn’t received in the manner you intended it? Sometimes, simply asking more questions doesn’t make thing better, some of the clients I work with would prefer that I just “give them the baby and not the delivery”.

        In the example I listed in the post, I specifically told the person that we did not have any work that would require an addition to our staff, and I did not foresee a change in our workload that would change our circumstances … and then he calls back in two weeks. Every time he and I spoke on the phone, I would escalate the veracity of the message I was delivering until finally I had to say “I will not ever hire you because you can’t understand what is being said to you.” I can’t imagine one of my clients having to be so specific with every conversation that we have that they end up having to give me instructions on every thing required of me. I am the professional and I should be able to anticipate the direction and effects of the message, not just one or the other.

    • Scott

      Seriously? Calling daily to check on the availability of a position at a small architectural firm strikes me as mental illness, not the actions of a rational job seeker. Bob’s “mistreament” sounds like the first clear communication this fellow understood.

  • MarvinOne

    Although you used the context of someone looking for a job for this topic, I have to say that I see mastering this particular skill as the most important one for architects when working with clients.

    • absolutely right. We’ve all had moments in our lives where we thought to ourselves “they just don’t get it” and probably more than a few times, that phrase has been directed at us … well, not ME of course