Networking

Stop telling us how busy you are, it’s boring and charmless

Ian Whitworth /

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Scene Change co-founder and Motivation for Sceptics blogger Ian Whitworth. Source: Supplied.

Hi, how are you?

Oh, you’re really busy? Snowed under, totally slammed, no rest for the wicked?

Do yourself a favour. Stop saying the b-word.

At this point, some of you work-life balance enthusiasts are thinking ‘yesss!’ Busyness is the false god of today’s status-crazed society. People are placing a higher priority on appearing to be busy than on actually achieving anything. Plus, if you’re busy all the time you have no free mental space for creativity to blossom! And so on.

All those things are true, but today’s point is a simpler one.

Busy is boring — and charmless

Drop the ‘I’m so busy’ habit because, frankly, it’s just really boring. It brands you as a really predictable, template-banter person.

‘I’ve been soooo busy’ is as boring as saying ‘it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity’ in summer. As dull as asking ‘how was your flight’ to anyone who’s come from somewhere else. As predictable as posting ‘today’s office’ if you get near a beach on a workday. As boring as shouting ‘taxi!’ in a restaurant when someone drops a glass.*

It’s not offensive, it’s just what everyone else says every single time. It is a pure brain reflex twitch.

Step one to get somewhere in the business world is to distinguish yourself from the swarm of others just the same as you. When  people say ‘hey, how’s it going?’ you have a golden opportunity to be interesting. And charming.

Don’t waste your chance to be interesting

The good news is, you don’t actually need to be a business wizard, a leading social influencer or a global TV naturalist to be interesting (so that will save you some time).

The best way to be interesting is to be interested. To find out what’s going on in people’s lives. To learn what they’re working on behind the scenes, once you dig deeper than their job title. Kicking off by saying how busy you are is a solid sumo wrestler-esque blocking move that stops you learning anything about other people.

Always saying you’re busy also traps the other person into having to say it too. A conversation that will never happen is:

Them: ‘Hey how are you?’

You: ‘Oh, so busy. And you?’

Them: ‘I am not particularly busy.’

Being face-to-face with an important, busy person like you, they would no sooner confess to being less busy than admit to selling Amway. So the whole busy echo chamber sustains itself.

It’s similar to those people who interpret ‘how are you?’ as a literal invitation for a detailed rundown of their medical or personal issues. Oh god, spare us this, we do not care, we were just doing the polite verbal version of a handshake and now your colonic problems cannot be unheard.

Also, note that people who really are busy doing cool things don’t say it. Because they’re more in control of their own time, and being busy isn’t something they regard as prestigious.

Banging on about how busy you are makes you look really … middle management.

A very simple management theory

You might have heard of the management model attributed to a 1930s German general with the outstanding name Kurt Von Hammerstein-Equord. He suggested people could be classified into four characteristics: smart, stupid, energetic and lazy. And that all people have two of those qualities.

As a behaviour predictor, its military roots mean this model doesn’t apply to every business, but there are many situations where it is so simple and so on the money.

According to the general, stupid and lazy people are necessary and useful. You need lots of them to get the grunt work done, and they won’t cause trouble because it’s too much effort.

Smart and energetic people are very useful 80% of the way up the career ladder, for implementing plans and ensuring that every detail gets properly considered. But they’ll only get so far because they get too involved.

Smart and lazy people are incredibly valuable. They’ll sit back and work out the best ways to get everyone in the other three quadrants to get stuff done. They have “the requisite nerves and mental clarity for difficult decisions” and enough spare time to think things through. “Promote them to the highest level,” Kurt Von Hammerstein-Equord said.

Energetic and stupid people are the absolute worst. They come up with stupid plans, then waste everyone’s time trying to make them a reality. These are the people who tell you they’re busy all the time. This is the Dunning-Krueger heartland.

I did this handy chart for your future reference. You won’t find this in your MBA textbook.

Substitutes for ‘I’m so busy’

What should you say instead? You don’t need a line.

LinkedIn success grifters think you need some cheeseball elevator pitch that you’ve practised alone in the bathroom mirror for hours like some friendless psychopath. This is just like deluded guys in nightclubs, with memorised lines they read in some pick-up book. But these guys have lots of short, unsuccessful conversations. That’s if ‘conversation’ is the right word given one of the people involved only says one word, and that word is ‘no’.

Sure, you need a clear, interesting answer when someone says ‘so tell me about your business’, but that’s not how you open a conversation.

I get people introducing themselves like: ‘Hi, I’m James from Eventzzzz, we’re the one-click solution for digital event planning.’

And I’m thinking: ‘Calm down James, this feels like when you visit someone’s house and their dog starts jumping all over you as you step through the door.’

Just say: ‘I’m great thanks. What have you been up to?’

Listen. And take it from there. Say things like ‘that sounds cool, ‘tell me more’ and ‘where do you think it’s going?’ Practice open questioning technique, not elevator pitches, until it becomes part of your personality.

They will remember you. And in a good way. You’ll never need to use the b-word again.

*I don’t know why people shout ‘taxi!’.

This article was first published on Motivation for Sceptics. Read the original article.

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Ian Whitworth

Ian Whitworth is a reformed branding and advertising creative director turned entrepreneur, who co-founded corporate audiovisual company Scene Change.

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