Business Advice. Have You Received Any That Really Made A Difference In Your Career?

7 years ago

As the senior executive was presenting to the class, a man at the very front table dozed off, head dropping to his chin. I watched in horror, hoping beyond hope he wouldn't start snoring. No one moved to nudge him. As the facilitator, I knew it was up to me to do something. It was only 20 minutes into the presenter's 90-minute slot, and anyone who's seen a participant catch a little shuteye mid-presentation knows how disconcerting it can be -- for presenters and audience alike.

Had the incident happened a few months ago, I probably would have shook his arm and given him a knowing look to let him know that sleeping during a senior executive's presentation was not acceptable.

That was before I had seen another facilitator handle the situation with a lot more grace and aplomb than my natural tendencies. In that situation the other facilitator went up to the sleeping participant, crouched down so she would be at eye level and whispered, "Are you feeling okay?"

Her action was following some of the best business advice I have ever had, "take the most generous interpretation in every situation. "While that may seem like a politically correct way of saying "don't jump to conclusions," the "most generous interpretation" approach takes that concept one step further because it forces you to think of a reasonable explanation for an unpleasant or difficult situation instead of focusing on the worst possible explanation.

Oh how I do love the worst possible explanation. It's not something that I am particularly proud of, but there you have it. I'm a natural conclusion jumper. It's not a very attractive trait in business and taking the most generous interpretation approach forces me to look at situations with a fresh perspective.

Over the years I have received and given a lot of business advice. Most of what I've heard and given has gone in one ear, and out the other. It is rare when someone shares an idea or concept that I want to own as my own, practice on a regular basis, and pass on to others because it might just make a difference to them as well.

I can only think of one other piece of advice that I have adopted with as much fervor and passion as "the most generous interpretation," and that is to let clients know how much you appreciate their business.

That advice was given after my agency had lost a bid for a contract. When we debriefed with the client over why we lost the bid, she said there was one reason, "the other company seemed like they wanted the business more than you did." That advice was given over 25 years ago. To this day it is a rare meeting when I don't share with my client how much I do appreciate the work. It's easy to say because it's the truth.

Showing my appreciation for work and taking the most generous interpretation makes me feel better about myself. It makes me feel more professional. It's the kind of person I want to be rather than the conclusion jumper and blasé consultant who thinks clients should be thanking them instead of the other way around.

When you ask people for the best business advice they've ever received, most people have a ready answer. It's something they have thought about and are almost eager to share the nugget that they believe has made a difference in their professional life.

It's just when they tell you their piece of advice, it often doesn't have quite the same impact on you. While you politely thank the advice giver, you are secretly thinking to yourself, "that's the best piece of advice you have to give?"

So here's a collection of best advice that business owners say they have gotten. Do any of these resonate with you?

From Lisa Konecny of  Splendid Communications,

When I was feeling daunted by the “greats” that started in this business (in my area and beyond) I could literally sit paralyzed with fear and excuses. Then I heard, “When you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” It made me realize then and remember to this day that if it doesn’t make me nauseous, it’s probably not worth it

Helen Herman promises the best business advice you'll ever get is,

Do something.

Every day.

A successful business (and a happy life) is made up of both big and small actions taken every single day. The biggest killer of success and happiness is sitting around thinking about stuff, worrying about stuff, obsessing about stuff, reading and learning about stuff… and not doing stuff.

In an interview at Ladies Who Launch, Mary Crane, former White House chef and now a business consultant says the best piece of advice she received was,

The best business advice I ever received came from former White House Executive Chef Walter Scheib who, while we were chopping vegetables, told me, ‘Mary, never believe your own press clippings.’ He told me that what’s said in the media doesn’t matter. Only the client’s opinion counts.”

When American Express asked that question on a Forum, this was my favorite response because it is advice I want to take, I need to take, but in reality I probably won't take.

If your toes don't curl when quoting your price, you're pricing your services / products too low.

Patricia Sellers, editor at large for Fortune wrote a piece about the best business advice David Ogilvy, the legendary adman, gave her in 1991. He scribbled seven key thoughts on a piece of paper that Sellers keeps in her desk drawer.  He was  80 years old at the time.  That fact is relevant when you read his last piece of advice which sounds like a line from Don Draper of MadMen. Here's a sample of his business advice:

Remember the old Scottish motto: “Be happy while you’re living, for you are a long time dead.”

 If you have to reduce your company’s payroll, don’t fire your people until you have cut your compensation and the compensation of your big-shots.

Bear in mind that the consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Do not insult her intelligence.

As I approached my sleeping participant, I crouched down, put my hand on his shoulder and whispered the most generous interpretation I could think of.

"Are you feeling okay?"

Turns out he wasn't. The 90-minute presentation was being held right after lunch and the participant, a diabetic, was having a bad reaction to his insulin. He thanked me for my concern.

Elana blogs about business culture at FunnyBusiness

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