Little Miss Chatterbox applies for a job

Last week was tough. I applied for a role and got rejected at the very final stage with some soul crushing feedback. I woke up at 3am for days in a row thinking about the comments and just thinking about it made me embarrassed. I realised it’s because the feedback touched on an insecurity I’ve had for years, decades in fact. But I’ve decided to try and flip the discomfort and embarrassment and own the feedback so here goes…

I got to a ‘casual coffee meeting’ stage of a recruitment process. I nailed the panel interview (including a 15m strategy presentation that I had just 12hrs to prepare) and my references were excellent. This was just a confirmation that I was right, right?

I prep for the coffee meeting. I look at the managers LinkedIn page and jot notes. He has interesting experiences I’d like to hear more about. I think about some questions I can ask so I can ascertain where he’s going to take the team and if it’s a direction I’m keen to go. I also want to understand the organisation’s drive for change- I’m not keen on change for compliance only.

I arrive at the venue. We shake hands. I ask how he’s settling into his new role and how different it is from his previous organisation. He replies. I ask more questions. I share relevant experiences. At the end of 30 mins I think it’s gone well. We’ve conversed. I understand a lot more about the business and his priorities. I’ve shared how I believe my experience can support his aims. I feel ok.

A day goes by and the dread sets in. A call late Friday afternoon confirms my fear. I’ve been found unsuitable. The words ‘not conservative enough’ echo in my ears. Apparently I talked too much, asked too many questions and didn’t let him lead the meeting. On that basis it’s determined I couldn’t effectively influence the leadership group. I’m crushed, but I gush that it’s fine, that culture fit is important blah blah blah.

But it’s not fine. After the madness of the witching hour is done and I jump in the shower, the tears start. I’ve let myself down again.

All my life I’ve been branded a chatterbox. It's always had a negative connotation for me and it’s something I’ve always been hyper-conscious of. One Christmas I got a pair of Little Miss Chatterbox pyjamas much to the amusement of my family. I think I laughed it off, but inside I was mortified.

I don’t talk deliberately to silence others. Quite the opposite! I love engaging with people and finding ways to connect with them. One of the ways I build empathy or demonstrate I’m listening is to share experiences so they know we have common ground. I also put myself out to make others feel comfortable, so if a group is standing awkwardly, I’ll be the one that wades in with some random question or comment.

I know people have found it off putting in the past. It became a part of my personality that I despised. It’s caused a level of social anxiety where I rehearse conversations in my head to try and make sure I don’t monopolise the situation. To this day I assess every social interaction to determine if I let other people have their turn to speak. I work hard to manage my enthusiasm and my nerves, both of which makes me chattier than usual.

And still, despite all of my planning and awareness, my big mouth lost me a job I was genuinely excited about. I was (and still am) gutted.

During my self-reflection this week, I remembered that a friend of mine once called me a ‘social chameleon’. Initially I was offended by the comment, thinking it meant I was false or flaky, but she reassured me that it’s because I can fit in with anyone, in any social situation and make them feel okay. The way she talked about it, it was like I had a mini superpower; the ability to get along with anyone and genuinely connect with them.

Then I remembered the time a very senior manager, after a brief conversation in a lift, told me that he appreciated the way I just engaged with him like he was a regular person. He admitted most people just mumbled hi and then avoided eye contact because they thought he was too senior to chat to.

Then today I was setting up my home office and found this.

I can’t remember which colleague gave her to me, but I do remember they told me that like Little Miss Sunshine my personality lights up a room.

And then I remembered the lady who approached me at a seminar a few weeks ago and said ‘I picked up great energy from the comments you made to the room and I had to come introduce myself’.

And it’s these reflections that have lead me here. To own the ‘chatterbox’ feedback.

Yep, I talk a lot. Too much sometimes when I’m nervous. But I’m aware of it and I take steps to manage it. But it’s as much a strength as it is a weakness.

- I put people at ease really quickly because my energy allows me to connect with them and make them comfortable.

- I build trust well because I’m genuinely open and share things about myself to create rapport with others.

- I’m a great connector because I know lots about people and can find common ground between strangers (I’m great at awkward office parties!).

- I drive enthusiasm because I’m not afraid to share my passion and energy with others.

- I make compelling arguments because I can take boring concepts or data and weave them into an engaging story.

- I know stuff other people don’t because I engage people in conversation. I’ve been able to facilitate a ton of promotions and transfers because people have shared their dreams with me, similarly I’ve been able to proactively stop poor behaviour because people felt safe sharing concerns with me.

I’m not completely disregarding the feedback. I’ve enrolled in a 6 week ‘speaking with influence’ course and I’ll continue to self-reflect on situations and aim to continually improve. But I’ve decided I’m going to take a more balanced view and cut myself some slack.

That one person didn’t appreciate my style in that particular situation, but my style has value and it has stood me in good stead in many situations over many years, and I’m going to keep hold of that.

Now I’m off to go order a new Little Miss Chatterbox t-shirt…

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