Clone Wars: How to Stand Out as a Graduate

It’s a common paradox in today’s graduate recruitment market. Employers want to hire graduates who fit into their culture and, at the same time, to stand out. Yet, the job and career advice industry spoon feeds formulaic advice to young careerists about how to write a CV and LinkedIn profile, tells them to play safe, and apply for ‘dream jobs’. Then graduates discover recruiters didn’t find them to be unique enough! So says Mark Babbitt, my latest Learning to Leap podcast guest. He calls this phenomenon the Clone Wars.

cloneMark is a leadership and career mentor in the United States, a prolific blogger on many well-known sites (check out The Savvy Intern, one of my fave’s), in Inc magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers (he has just returned from a gig with 500 students at Hong Kong University), co-author of worldwide hit, A World Gone Social, and mentor to many college students, young careerists and military veterans. He is CEO of YouTern, a leading voice on experiential education, and is President of Switch & Shift, the second most socially shared leadership site on the Internet.

Listen to the podcast here

People are treating their corporate careers like a freelance career…and it’s not working for them. Mark Babbitt

A taste of our conversation

  • Mark’s journey from an engineer with the US Air Force via Silicon Valley before he switched and shifted to being a serial entrepreneur.
  • The perfect storm that is leading to graduates leaving their corporate jobs on average every 2.3 years.
  • Why he hates the ‘follow your passion’ mantra with a passion.
  • How some employers hype their brand to potential recruits and then don’t live up to the hype once recruited.
  • Why college students are playing it too safe and not standing out in the Clone Wars.
  • The absence of great role models in public life today and the disconnect between the behaviour of politicians and what employers are seeking from young careerists.
  • The dark side of social media when it creates false confidence and bad behaviour.
  • The most important soft skill and mindset for young people that would improve their confidence.
  • A tantalising glimpse of Mark’s next book.

You won’t want to miss this rich and insightful conversation with one of the career space’s most influential and straight-talking thought leaders. You can contact him on Twitter @MarkSBabbitt.

Until next time!

language learning

Virtual Language Learning: How To Boost Your Job Chances

It was my first time learning Spanish since high school and this time I was determined to do it right. I wasn’t going to class, or bringing a tutor to my house – I was doing it all virtually. I met with my teacher over Skype which would be the beginning of my long journey in language learning via Skype and my even longer journey in running a Skype language training service.

Why Language Learning via Skype Works

language learningTraumatised from all of those boring hours in high school trying to learn Spanish, I wondered if I was bad at languages as a whole or if it was just the language learning method that I was using. I was amazed at my progress after my first few sessions on Skype. Instead of sharing a classroom with 20 other people, all at different levels, now it was just me and my teacher. Rather than learning Spanish only during 9th period, I could learn whenever I wanted. Instead of having to go to school during the week, I could learn from anywhere in the world – whether that be my apartment or my hotel room when I was traveling for work. I had access to my personal tutor from Mexico whenever I wanted. She not only helped me learn Spanish but made it an enjoyable experience too.

Why Language Learning 1-on-1 Works Best

Fast forward a few years, and I’m the CEO of a company that teaches Spanish, in addition to 11 other languages, all via Skype. Why did I leave my cushy job as a tax accountant? Because I am obsessed with learning and convinced that this is the most effective and efficient way to learn something.

There are many different places where one can learn something – a book, an audio tape, a video, a class, or a tutor to name a few. Learning with a live person 1-on-1 is the quickest and most effective way for learning a foreign language. All of your questions are answered on the spot. The best way to learn a language is by speaking it as much as possible and immersing yourself in it.

A challenge that comes with learning with a live tutor is obviously the price – that’s why learning via Skype is a great choice! Instead of paying someone a competitive price according to the country you live, you are paying someone a competitive price to the world you live in. What may be little to you can be a ton to someone else – everyone wins.

Be Sure to Overcome These Challenges First

Language learning via Skype requires strong discipline. Don’t feel like attending a session? Rather than calling up your tutor apologizing for the cancellation and feeling awkward, you could do it all via the click of a button. The same holds true for scheduling lessons – sometimes, too much freedom can be a challenge. It’s just like working from home. If nobody is going to be watching over you, you need to make sure you have the discipline to stick to your regimen. Another challenge could be the internet connection. Not everyone has access to high-speed internet. Be sure to put yourself in an area where the connection is the strongest.

Stand Out in your Career

Learning a new language not only empowers you mentally, it also gives you an edge in your career. In the U.S. there are more than an estimated 50 million Spanish speakers – let alone the remaining 400m+ Spanish speakers in the rest of the world. And that’s not even the most commonly spoken language (it’s Chinese). Learning a new language will help your resume stand out. It will help you earn close to $10,000 more than someone who speaks just one language. The world is becoming more and more connected. The more prepared you are for the transition, the better off you’ll be.

Take the First Step

Now it’s time to revisit that foreign language that you always wanted to improve but never got around to doing. Language learning takes not only discipline but also consistency. If you haven’t given Skype learning a try yet, or you’ve had a bad experience, give it a go! Get a 30-minute trial lesson at Skill Silo and use coupon code LEARN2LEAP10 for 10% off your first purchase. Then you’ll be one step closer to speaking like a true native.

Thanks for this guest post to our friend Josh Aharonoff, Co-founder and CEO of Skill Silo.

Job role

Job Role Unclear? How To Remove The Fog

Many of my coaching clients struggle with their time. What that really means is they struggle to manage themselves and other people. We can all get stuck in repeating patterns of unhelpful personal behaviours without self-awareness. Annoyingly, other people also derail our carefully laid plans for the day. Wouldn’t you prefer to focus on the right things for you, be slicker and have more impact as a result? One common obstacle is being unclear about your real job role and responsibilities. This post looks at the causes, a lens to look through and some ways to help you clear the fog.

Job Role Foggers

You often get a job description and role specification in the application pack when you apply for a job and when you start your new job role. Your new boss will probably outline what the job entails and what to expect. Then the reality kicks in. Here are some common job role problems:

  • Overload – the role is too broad and deep (not the same as workload).
  • Underload  – not broad, deep or stretching enough.
  • Ambiguous – it’s not clear what you are responsible and accountable for.
  • Conflicting – duplication or in contradiction with other people’s roles.
  • Expanding – ‘mission creep’ where your role becomes a different one.

Job Role Reality

Here’s a lens to look through to understand why so many roles seem foggy. A job role is usually based on a mix of prescription, perception, and personality. The reality lies somewhere in the middle!job role

  • Must do – what the employer prescribes via job description, role specification, policies, procedures, values.
  • Can do – what other people like your boss and colleagues perceive the role is about, and what they think you should be doing (often because that’s how they would do it or how a previous manager did it).
  • Will do – what you bring as a personality, how you like and want to do the job role.

How to clear the fog

Try putting these fog lights on to see more clearly:

  1. Selfie – you can do it, you should do it, but you don’t want to. What’s holding you back? Is this the right role for you? Check out your attitude to the role.
  2. Clarify – you want to do it, should be doing it, but can’t do it. Have an honest conversation with your boss about what’s really happening, the personal and business impact it has on you and others, what you would like to happen and what support they can provide. Share assumptions and negotiate where possible. Then tell people so they get it.
  3. Empower – you can do it, want to do it, but it’s not in your job description. Check out if you’re stepping on someone else’s toes and get agreement. Otherwise, just do it!
  4. Develop – you want to do it, should be doing it, but you can’t because you lack the skills or confidence. Collaborate with others who complement your strengths and who can fill the gap. Seek coaching (check out your coachability here). Get a mentor (check out being a brilliant mentee here). Share issues with peers. Join an online learning community. Observe the way others do a similar role. Shadow them. Do something!

What fogs your role? Want coaching? Get in touch!

second language

Second Language: How to Boost Your Career Prospects

Competition among and between businesses is fierce in the face of globalization. They want to hire the brightest and the best. In the process, employees must step up their game to reap the business benefits. One opportunity to boost your career prospects and increase the salary you command is learning a second language. This post looks at two big advantages and what the research has to say.

A second language helps with relationships

A 2009 study by Ellen Bialystok into bilingual and monolingual children found that those who know another language other than their native tongue scored higher on tests. They had

greater attention focus, distraction resistance, decision-making, judgement and responsive(ness) to feedback.

Cathy Price is a neuroimaging research analyst from the University College London. She says the brain is rewired when a person learns a second language. It makes the grey matter bigger by working out how to accommodate new vocabulary, grammar, and nuances of the foreign language. A bigger grey matter in the brain means that the brain processes faster.

Having a different language to see the world enables you to be more empathic to potential clients. You communicate, analyse, and solve problems better. You recognize patterns quickly, enabling you to fully understand a new client situation. It improves memory and strengthens your mental ‘muscle’.

A second language helps with multi-tasking

Another advantage of learning a foreign language is that people can mitigate the challenges of multi-tasking better. The ability of the brain to switch from one language system (grammar, mechanics, vocabulary) to another is akin to juggling from one workplace task to another. Corporate work also includes having multiple projects at the same time. Both require a high degree of focus and attention. Being able to stay on track in the face of change is a much-valued skill in the fast-paced corporate world of metrics and KPIs.

We are in an era of significant change in trading relationships between countries across the world. Reach out to other cultures and understand how different nationalities do their business. Businesses adhere to set rules and regulations, but people make the difference through relationships and meeting the needs of clients. One such need is to understand their cultural context. Speaking your client’s language will help you to seal the deal and be a star in your field.

Thanks for this post to our friend Lucia Leite from Lingholic, a community hub providing information, experiences, and opinions on language learning.

summer internship

How to Capture a Late Summer Internship Now!

We’ve all been there. You had three exams to prepare for, a long piece of coursework and at least 17 pressing social engagements that you had to attend. One week led into another and before you knew it, it was the end of the term and all of the summer internship schemes had closed. Your more organised friends have started making you feel guilty.

But don’t fear, that summer internship isn’t necessarily a pipe dream. It might feel like you’ve missed the boat, but there’s still plenty you can do to gain experience, bolster your CV and learn some important skills.

Start looking smaller

Many of the larger companies and top graduate employers will have long, drawn out application processes for their summer internships. The same can’t be said for all businesses.

Employers can leave things until the last minute too. Small businesses or start-ups are far more likely to still be looking for people to work for them late into the summer.

They are not likely to benefit from the kind of established university relationships that allow the big employers to push prolonged hiring drives. The number of people they chose to take on is more likely to reflect and react to sudden changes within the business or in the wider world.

As a result, you’d be surprised at how many employers are still listing short internships right into late summer. You just need to broaden your search.

Search a range of job boards, as well as utilising LinkedIn and other social media where smaller companies are more likely to advertise their roles. Companies with smaller advertising budgets are also more likely to use niche industry job boards too. Consider asking for help from your university careers service. They will know who has historically been hiring right until the end of the summer break.

summer internshipConsider charities

If you’re at a loose end and are lucky enough to be living rent-free for the summer, a good compromise could be offering to volunteer for a charity.

This way, you’re able to work for a cause close to your heart, while gaining essential skills and experience in a role that you’re interested in. Whether applying for an official short-term placement or approaching a local charity to offer your services, there’s a wide range of roles that you can do which will boost your graduate CV.

For example, many charities require engaged, savvy university students to help with their marketing and PR teams. You could also put any data skills you have to use in an analytics position or get involved in communications and editorial work.

By working for something you believe in, it makes the entire process much more manageable. The training, achievements, and recommendations you get from the process could really help you in applying for another internship in the future or for a full-time position once you’ve graduated.

Get a DIY summer internship

Be bold to land your ideal summer internship. Start with a list of dream companies who you’d love to work for. Look round at local businesses who might have something to offer you.

From here, start getting in contact, whether by sending an engaging cold email, simply ringing up, or even dropping into their office. The key is to personalise each response. If these are companies that you truly want to work for then it’ll show.

The reason why you want to make sure that you’re personalising each response is that 10 amazing applications are much better than 100 inadequate, copy and pasted ones. Given that you’re approaching people unprompted, many might not get through. Once they do you want to make sure that you engage with whoever you’re dealing. Demonstrate what you can offer to a company and show how you’ll be an asset to the business.

Many managers will appreciate the tenacity involved in approaching them spontaneously. That’s why this approach can also be a great way to build future connections to put in use once you’ve graduated.

Don’t jump at any opportunity

When you’re getting a little desperate, you tend to lower your expectations. That’s Ok, but remember that you get to assess every offer too. Make sure you know your employment rights as an intern.

Work out why you want a summer internship in the first place. Fear of missing out is not a good enough reason alone and neither is getting your parents off your back. Think about your career after university and what skills and experience are necessary. Look at a dream graduate job specification to see what you need to complete by the time you graduate.

Faced with a less than ideal internship, develop your own skills and look at other ways of gaining relevant experience. Consider just taking some time out to organise your priorities and prepare for your next year of study.

It’s not all about the internship

Whether you’re not sure if an internship is for you or you really are still drawing a blank, remember that it’s not the only choice.

Your options are still very much open. Consider a temp office job instead of taking that part-time job in the café. Even a purely administrative role will show any future employers that you’ve got experience in an office environment. It’ll give you have a basic level of understanding that’s integral to succeeding in your graduate job.

You will have been taught certain systems and software. You will have a handle on some of the finer parts of working in an office. For example, negotiating office politics and dealing with management to how best to email your co-workers.

If money’s not a priority, then you might be better dedicating some of your summer to developing key skills. If your interest is in analytics, brush up on key Excel skills with Mr Excel. For coding, consider Coding Academy. It has a range of free online coding courses across different coding languages for all levels. There are all sorts of websites to improve your design skills, writing or website development.

Get in earlier to avoid missing the boat landing a summer internship with a top company for next year. Most applications will already be open, so start now!

Matt Arnerich works as a content writer at graduate recruitment agency Inspiring Interns. Whether you’re looking for graduate jobs in London, or graduate jobs in Manchester, they can help! If you want to read more of their graduate careers advice, check out their blog.

commercial awareness

Commercial Awareness: How to Get Consciously Competent

Employers want young people entering the workplace to have some commercial awareness. David Shindler talks with Nick Palmer of Bizenko on what it is, why it matters to employers and how you develop it in the latest Learning to Leap podcast. Nick has worked in the business world for over twenty years running his own company and in a variety of commercial organisations in the UK and overseas. He brings to our conversation his real world experience of start-ups, entrepreneurship, recruitment and business management as we explore what’s at the heart of employer expectations.

commercial awareness

Click here to view and listen to the podcast

In our chat, we cover:

  • Nick’s career journey and the role of commercial awareness in plotting a career course.
  • The part commercial awareness plays in building self-confidence.
  • The question he asked that flummoxed a group of graduates studying to be lawyers.
  • The surgeon and the offer to her students they chose to refuse.
  • The Employer Petition that Nick promotes to hold employers to account as role models.
  • The value of an entrepreneurial attitude and how you can develop your commercial awareness.
  • Why his company is called Bizenko!

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. Donald Rumsfeld

Young people venture into the world of work not knowing what they don’t know. One of Nick’s concerns is that students and graduates underestimate or don’t know the importance of commercial awareness to employers. That’s why he set up Bizenko to help job applicants understand  employers’ needs and to specialise in commercial skills training. Check out his Crowdfunding initiative and connect with him on LinkedIn.

Look out for another Learning to Leap podcast next month!


Mindsets and Skills: What is the Difference?

Jargon often gets in the way when we’re seeking clarity. The language and terminology used in the workplace can be a minefield. This post is about digging under the surface of some common personal development and workplace words and labels. What are mindsets? How do they differ from skills? What is the difference between soft skills and hard skills? What are talents and strengths? Let’s dive in.


Your mindset or attitude is your angle on things, your unique lens on the world through which you see and navigate life, a state of mind based on what you see, think and believe.

It’s internal and gets shaped by yourself (personality), your circumstances (education, economic, social, political) and other people’s perceptions and expectations (family, friends, teachers, employers). You can shape how you see the world and how the world sees you – to be more employable.

For example, Reed Recruitment CEO, James Reed, says having a global mindset is about

how far you see, reach and go to understand the everyday challenges and issues.

Carol Dweck talks about the difference between fixed mindsets and growth mindsets: 

In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.


A skill is an ability or activity you learn. The workplace jargon is a competence, often to an accepted standard. It differs from an innate talent which is something that comes naturally to you. Strengths are skills and talents you have grown to a higher level through lots of practice. 

Soft skills tend to refer to behaviours – for example, the ability to work in a team or to influence. Hard skills tend to be about a functional or technical ability – for example, the ability to use a spreadsheet. An example of a talent is picking up an instrument and playing by ear without being able to read music.

mindsetsYour ability is a mix of what you can do (and how well you do it), what you know and the mindsets you bring which influence how you behave.

Take parapenting (yes, that’s me). Skills include taking off, turning and landing; knowledge involves emergency procedures, wind speed, technical equipment; mindsets and behaviours include responsible,  courageous, calm in a crisis and prepared.

Mindsets trump skills

Mindsets are more important than skills, say employers. In a global survey of employers by Recruitment company, Reed, 96% picked mindset over skillset as the key element in those they seek and retain. You are three times more likely to get or keep a job because of your mindsets rather than skills alone.

Employers are hiring for attitude and training for skill. For example, when Sky Digital hires graduates, they do not fuss if you haven’t learned Java. Their interest lies in how you will fit into their agile, autonomous project teams. Graduates update their technical skills through Boot Camps once employed.

You can teach a bubbly person to repair shoes but you can’t put the personality into a grumpy cobbler. John Timpson, Chairman of Timpson’s Shoes

The global research by Reed found the top six mindsets employers want are:

  1. Commitment = effort, energy, aligned sense of purpose
  2. Honesty = open not closed, genuine, authentic, no agenda
  3. Trustworthiness = integrity, doing what you say you will, good intent, reliable
  4. Adaptability = fitting into the culture
  5. Accountability = the buck stops with you, deliver results on time
  6. Flexibility = willing to change your mindset, stepping in to support colleagues, give and take about your role and responsibilities, doing something new

Check out your mindset with Reed’s free assessment.

What mindsets do you bring to work? What might you need to develop or change?

young professional

How To Be A Young Professional Of Substance

We all know people who bull****. The ones who speak with ease and with endless reserves of confidence. Nothing shakes them when they are challenged as they have an answer for everything. They sound convincing. Their sureness instils doubt in your mind about your own view. They get rewarded by those who don’t pay close enough attention. Scratch the surface and their front can be exposed for what it is – bluff and bluster, and sometimes dishonesty and manipulation. What does the opposite look like? What are the qualities and behaviours of someone of substance to which a young professional can aspire?

Commentators and ex-footballers justify stopping another player deliberately and illegally as a ‘professional foul’. In that context, professional describes an action that is expedient, a lesser evil than letting in a goal (‘taking one for the team’) and an acceptable part of the culture. The same mentality pervades other areas of public life, including politics and the world of work, for example, large organisations screwing down small business suppliers on margins and payment terms. Professional is what professional is perceived and permitted to be. Time for a paradigm shift.

Here are 6 elements that I believe make a young professional of substance in the 21st Century:

The real deal with integrity

Authenticity has become an over-used word today for a reason. It’s absence. A soundbite, short-attention-span, and technology-driven world often fuel shorthand approaches to communicating complexity. The downsides are superficiality, loss of nuance and a lack of critical challenge. It makes it harder to discern what is real and genuine. How do you recognise someone who is the real deal?

The clues lie in depth, consistency, and alignment – they own their deeply-held beliefs, they have defined personal values and principles, they act and behave consistently in ways that align with what they stand for, and they have reliable and validated evidence to back it up. They don’t just talk to, they engage with, deliver and achieve. You get what it says on the tin.

Purpose-driven and inspiring

Passivity and lack of conviction are anathemas to being a young professional of substance. Having a sense of purpose fuels your direction and actions. It helps shape how you take other people with you. Purpose-driven professionals know and articulate their why. They express it from the head, heart and gut, and use it where and when it matters. They engender emotions in others that make those people step forward to be alongside them willingly and to do the same in their own way. Their drive inspires others to be fellow travellers and creates momentum. They lead.


Ethics can be sacrificed on the altar of expediency and the bottom line in the world of work. We have numerous examples in recent times from the banking crisis to self-serving politicians, the BHS, Sports Direct and South Yorkshire Police debacles to name but a few. A young professional of substance carries their moral compass with them at all times. They use it to guide them through uncertainty and ambiguity, and under pressure when they are the minority view. They stand up for what is right, knowing the consequences of their actions may have adverse implications for them. Behaving ethically requires resilience and mental toughness. Find out your ethical awareness and reaction style here.

Open and honest

Being open and honest is as much about mindset as behaviours. It often involves a judgement call. How open and honest are you when things go wrong? How do you approach giving bad news to your boss, colleagues, customers or users? A young professional with substance considers the impact on the other person of being open and honest. They think about if and how their actions are going to lead to the response they want. They are open and honest about what they are willing and able to do, and what they are not. They dare to dream and are not afraid of failing. They temper this with optimistic realism. They share their ethos, what they expect of others (including their manager) and what people can expect of them.

Outward-looking and curious

Learning is lifelong and lifewide. A young professional gains more substance and depth through looking beyond the boundaries of their existing experience and circumstances. They seek new knowledge, insights and alternative perspectives by embracing difference and new experiences. They are curious and questioning. Their sources of learning and inspiration come from a whole life perspective. They bring their whole person to work. They have a hinterland.

Emotionally intelligent

Work gets done with and through people despite the increasing automation of jobs and roles. A young professional of substance builds and maintains relationships of substance. They take an interest in other people and seek an understanding of their world. They invest in their self-awareness and seek out feedback on their strengths, weaknesses and how they come across. They use their natural talents to get on with people and consciously work on managing themselves. They constantly reflect and practise.

These are not the only things that make a young professional of substance. However, I guarantee you will make a difference to yourself and the world if all you do is focus on these ones.

Young professionals are influenced by their peers and need role models. If not you, who?


HE And Employers: How To Build A Community Ethos

Higher education and employers are constantly seeking ways to engage more closely in an era of student fees and with employability high on the agenda. Leeds Trinity University is no exception. This thriving institution is 50 years old this year having started out as a Catholic teaching training college. It has built on its heritage by putting its community ethos at the centre of its relationship with local employers. I caught up with Jess Sewter, Head of Partnerships and Placements, to find out more for the latest Learning to Leap podcast.


Click here for the podcast

Jess’s background is in teaching, marketing and development within further and higher education. Her global outlook was shaped by several years travelling the world. Here’s a flavour of what we discussed:

  • The changes in the HE and employer landscape Jess has seen in her 9 years at the
  • Professional work placements for both first and second-year students (the only UK university to offer this).
  • Introducing Higher Apprenticeship Degrees at the university.
  • The highly successful Leeds Trinity Business Network community that celebrated it’s 5th anniversary last week.
  • The co-location of businesses and students on campus in the Trinity Enterprise Centre.
  • Why being a good citizen is at the centre of their employability strategy.
  • What Jess loves most about her job and Leeds Trinity University.

My job is a great way to feel connected to the city I’m in. Jess Sewter

I know you will find this podcast beneficial if you work in HE or you are an employer wondering how you can engage with your local university. Please feel free to connect with Jess on LinkedIn, directly via email – – or give her a call on 0113 283 7182.

Until next time!

emotional intelligence

Emotional Intelligence: How To Deal With Tough Love

Employers are questioning young people’s resilience for today’s workplace. How fair is it? One school of thought is that they have the equivalent of a boxer’s glass jaw, have grown up mollycoddled and can’t hack it. The alternative view is that young people have had a rotten deal in a post-recession world and they want something different from the late 20th Century model of being managed. Employers and young people are both unhappy with the status quo. This mismatch of expectations plays out in myriad ways, for example, in how tough love is being used by managers and is perceived by young employees. Building emotional intelligence capability in young people can help.

Feedback on personal performance is part and parcel of most jobs. The benefits depend on how well it is given, how well you receive it, and the extent you take actions and they have a positive impact. Managers struggle with performance conversations and it’s a common development area. Employees also need to be able to receive feedback well. Done badly and badly handled is a toxic mix.

Honest and Caring

On the job learning happens when things go wrong or you fall short because of inexperience or lack of confidence. A good manager helps you develop and grow when you don’t know what you don’t know. Part of that involves feedback on your performance – what you do well and need to do better or differently. They are honest about what they expect from you and the realities of the job. It’s tough to hear, especially if you’re not used to it. Yet, tough love means being straight, not being mean. It’s having your best interests at heart. The aim is motivational, to test you out and to prompt a positive reaction. ‘Let’s learn from this and go again. I know you can do it and I’m here to help.’

7 ways to respond to genuine tough love

Managing yourself well is part of emotional intelligence. Here are ways to respond to genuine tough love from your manager:

  • Listen to understand first. You cannot hear if you are preparing to defend your position at the same time.
  • Be open-minded. What is demonstrably true? Does the specific evidence given about your performance stack up?
  • Look at it from the other person’s perspective. What would you say if you were in their shoes?
  • Pause before replying. Managing strong emotions is hardest in the first few seconds, the danger zone for uncontrolled and unhelpful reactions that you later regret.
  • Recognise your feelings. Are you angry, upset, surprised, flushed, composed or indifferent? What is your body language telling you? Use that self-awareness to inform how you respond.
  • Acknowledge the feedback. Summarising it back allows you to hear it in your own voice. It gives you space to think rationally.  ‘Can I check my understanding? So what you’re saying is…’
  • Take it on the chin. ‘I accept what you say and I’m grateful for your honesty with me. I want to learn and improve and I’d like to talk about how I can do that with your support.’

The culture of an organisation is heavily influenced by behaviours. It is not tough love when your manager blames or patronises you, vents their own frustrations, looks after their own back, uses their status or position to belittle you and doesn’t support you with information, resources, training or coaching. It’s sink or swim without explanation or genuine care for you as a person. ‘Man up or else’. I’ve come across that kind of lack of emotional intelligence plenty of times in predominantly middle-aged male, hierarchical, highly-directive, results-are-all-that-matter organisational cultures. And we wonder why employee engagement is at an all-time low.

Responding to phoney tough love

Use your emotional intelligence if feedback is badly done and tough love masks a poor manager by:

  • Being assertive. Own your thoughts and feelings. ‘When you talk to me in that way, it makes me feel….’  If you disagree with the feedback, say so and back up your argument with specific evidence. Calmly say what you believe and want. Stay in tune with your personal values.
  • Asking questions. ‘How does your feedback help me to improve?’ ‘How will you help me develop?’ ‘What works for you?’, ‘How can I help you?’

Poor managers are one of the main reasons why people leave organisations. Your attitude and behaviours are within your control alone. Develop your emotional intelligence by managing yourself well through conscious practice. Then there’s a better chance of influencing your manager’s attitude and behaviours even if you can’t control them – that’s their responsibility.

If things don’t change, remember, it’s more about your manager than it is about you. Choose to make a change internally or externally, but give it a go first. Effective relationships at work are a win-win because you are more likely to stay and develop and the organisation has a more productive and engaged employee.