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How to Manage Your Anxious “Tells” at Work

The senior director sighed. He had just conducted the third interview of the afternoon, and we only had a couple of minutes to debrief before the next one. “How well do these candidates stack up?” I asked.

“They’re kids,” he said. “They don’t stay very long — most of them only three, six, or nine months. Only a few go on to be long-term employees.”

“Some of them turn out to be great, and a few end up being better at something we really need that’s different than what we hired them for.” He explained that the open jobs in this bricks-and-clicks retail chain included front-line sales, administrative, social media, and stock management jobs, and that the challenge wasn’t “just about which ones to take; it’s that I have to do it so often.”

Showing Your “Tells”

As an interviewer, the senior director had been very skillful at drawing the applicants out. He picked up on their strengths and inconsistencies. He seemed low-key and in control, and was always on point, but his left foot was tapping at about 100 miles an hour. Then it was his right foot. At one point it was both feet!

So in the few remaining moments we had before the last interview of the day, I suggested, “First, let’s think about you. We can work on some of the structural issues another time. Why don’t you get up and walk around a little bit? Maybe shake out your shoulders?”

The senior director jumped up right away, and said, “Yes, instead of this?” and mimicked sinking lower in his seat. I said, “That’s good — and not just for your body! Get your blood back up to your brain, fresh and oxygenated, so you can be patient and stay focused. And when your shoulders are squared again, you’ll have more presence — and you’ll feel calmer, too. And the candidates will notice, and they’ll show you their best game.”

He laughed. I was pleased to see that he already had a good grip on what he wanted and what his practical range of options was. He was grateful to get a better grasp on presenting his best self and meeting the challenge of picking the right needles out of a very messy haystack.

The last candidate came in. The senior director greeted her, sat down, squared his shoulders, gave me a quick nod, and got started. Because he was willing and able to accept and apply feedback about himself so quickly, I’m hopeful that when we start talking about process and structural improvements, he’ll also be able to adapt and make changes to get better results for his organization. Win-win-win!

Onward and upward,


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