How do you find out who you are at work?


“This is going to be very special,” the Australian reporter said Instagram Mail. How right he was. Accompanying a television crew to interview British pop star Adele, he discovers in hindsight that he has missed an email containing a preview of her new album, 30. Talking about the album was the whole reason for their meeting. “This is the most important email I’ve ever missed,” he said. The interview was neglected.

The story emerged on the same day that Boris Johnson gave a pseudo-speech about the UK’s creative industries to the CBI, the UK’s largest employer group. Instead, he lost his place in his notes – pleading “forgive me” – and veered into talking about Peppa Pig. I’m not an expert in public speaking, but asking the audience for forgiveness can be a mistake.

As examples, both were failures and were criticized for being unprofessional and disrespectful. We have all been to meetings, watch seminars or watch speeches where participants cheat, after failing to do their homework. Some (many?) of us may be scammers.

The wing is attractive. It’s a lot less work, for starters. And it can seem charming: it makes its practitioners human rather than robotic, fitting business vogue for the sake of originality. Few people can really pull it off.

However, beware of fake wings (FWs). Anyone who has gone to school will be well aware of the person who arrives at the exam claiming to have not done any revision, and is hiding the fact that he studied hard. Falling into the wrong direction of an attacker’s rotation could cause you to fall flat on your face.

Spontaneity is a classic FW gadget. It looks easy but it can be hard work. I called an attacker friend I’ve known since college, who was procrastinating by evaluating different types of biscuits. Today he is a great lawyer. Unsurprisingly, he leaves the biscuits behind, preparing issues with trained arguments, strategy, detailed answers, and reams of notes, including gags and similes that seem to be made on the spot, to keep the audience engaged. “You have to work harder if you want to get involved,” he says.

Another friend prepares sports stars to go to TV. He’s working with two athletes (frustratingly, he wouldn’t name and shame them) who had completely different situations. One puts the work down and appears fluent and natural at press conferences, the other makes no effort and tries in a clumsy and inaccurate manner to parrot the words he has been fed.

Chaos is Stitch Johnson. Broadcaster Jeremy Fine once wrote an amusing blog post about watching the Prime Minister prepare for an after-dinner speech by taking a few random notes as he was about to take to the stage and then forgetting half of the joke. Only to see him do the exact same thing – and the same thing – at another post. On many occasions, the Prime Minister has sounded like a classic striker.

Those at the top of their professional game may be allowed some real wings, and they don’t need much preparation because they are experienced. But as evidenced by Johnson’s recent performance (which appears to be a case of a real winger) and Adele’s interview, there’s no excuse for a seasoned pro to fail to cover the basics.

It can be difficult to distinguish between a fake player and the original winger. We’re not very good at evaluating performance, either in ourselves or in others, says Thomas Chamorro-Primuzek, an organizational psychologist who has researched confidence. As he says, the more “incompetent you are, the less good you are in evaluating your performance”. (In other words, the Dunning-Kruger effect.)

One of the paradoxes of the modern world of work, says Chamorro Primuzic, is that “the more complex, skilled, and well-paid your job is, the more difficult it is for other people to tell whether you’re performing well.” In other words, complexity makes it more difficult to judge performance.

Those who are overconfident often end up with very little work: they may succeed at it, but there is a strong chance that they will not succeed in overcoming it. Chamorro Primuzic points out that “having less confidence can boost performance because it means you prepare and study.” Which is a huge relief for all anxious people (like me).

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Biletta Clark away





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