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Karin Hurt was fighting a literal rather than proverbial fire in 2012 when she decided to thoroughly update her boss. She blew it. And to help you avoid the same mistake, she recently shared some lessons on her blog.

It was 2012. She was leading the outsourced call centre channel at Verizon Wireless and canyon fires in Colorado Springs were threatening two of her locations.

She was handling a bunch of issues, she recalls, as you might be when facing a crisis:

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“What’s our capacity at other centres? How fast could we cross-train the specialty functions that were handled from those centres? Could we bus employees to the nearest centres? How much overtime could we squeeze out, and for how long? What if the centres were destroyed? Could IT pull off a temporary centre or a work at home strategy? How would we keep customer data safe in a scene like that? How should we modify our HR policies during this time? The list was long … and complicated.”

So she decided to update the C-suite, pulling together the details. One e-mail summarized the HR and cross-training strategies, another updated IT concerns and a third dealt with real estate contingency plans. Very thorough. Also thoroughly wrong.

Her phone rang; it was her senior leader heading in to brief the C-suite, complaining about all the e-mails. “Guess what I’m doing now? Highlighting them all and hitting delete … yup now they’re all gone,” the boss said. “I get that your world is literally on fire and what you and your team are doing is very important. I trust that you’ve got it handled. But I can’t handle all this info. I’ve got five other major issues to read out on and I’ve only got 20 minutes.”

Now came the lesson: “Send me a new e-mail with five bullet points. Tell us how you’ve got this under control and what else you need.”

Ms. Hurt was crushed. But she realized that less is more: She had not pared her information down to the critical strategic information the top bosses needed. So she says that if you find yourself in the midst of a firestorm, focus on answering these five questions in your executive briefing:

  • What happened? Like a newspaper headline, summarize what happened and the current and potential impact, human and business.
  • What have you done? Summarize key actions, timelines and impact.
  • What’s next? Give next steps and timelines
  • What’s in jeopardy? Honestly outline what’s at stake and what could go wrong, as well as the impact on other projects and priorities.
  • What do you need? What additional resources are needed?

You still must know the details and be prepared for a deeper discussion. But she says a strong, short executive summary saves everyone time and focuses on the support you need to move ahead.

How to display curiosity in job interviews

Increasingly, executives are citing curiosity as an important job criteria. Sometimes it’s singled out in job postings, sometimes it lies under the surface. Either way, it’s useful – but difficult – to display.

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Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at both University College London and Columbia University, suggests these four approaches:

  • Ask a few thoughtful questions: “Interviewers aren’t just interested in your answers. They also want to evaluate the questions you ask them,” he writes on Fast Company. “Asking too many questions may derail the interview and annoy them, but asking none will make you look uninterested or unprepared.” Opt for open-ended questions, such as “Why do you see X as important?” and try to zero in on the interests the interviewer expresses.
  • Talk about your own interests and hobbies: You can indicate your curiosity is wide-ranging by bringing up your passions when they fit in with your answers, drawing connections to the role and displaying a broader sense of who you are.
  • Bluntly explain how much you love learning: You can’t expect the interviewer to necessarily read between the lines. So if it feels appropriate, state flat-out that you’re an avid learner who loves to broaden your skills and knowledge base or mention that you’re looking for a role that lets you fulfil your potential. “This may feel too overt, but it’s a surprisingly effective tactic to persuade an interviewer of your curiosity. And remember, too, that nobody gets punished for showcasing their curiosity, while telling people that you’re incredibly smart, likeable, or humble will probably backfire,” he says.
  • Think before you answer: Pause before you answer a question. Think and reflect, and display that you are thinking and reflecting and thus are, by proxy, thoughtful. “It’s not just performance, either. If you give yourself a moment to collect your thoughts, you’ll wind up giving more thoughtful answers over all. This will help you stand out – which is ultimately the most crucial requirement for getting any job,” he concludes.

The five levels of listening

Failing to listen properly can jeopardize relationships. Sometimes we struggle, says consultant Derek Gaunt on the Black Swan Group blog, because we fail to recognize there are five levels of listening. Pay more attention to them in upcoming conversations:

  • Listening for the gist: Paying attention long enough so we capture the main points and aren’t wrapped up in our own internal reactions.
  • Listening to rebut:This is powerful, and harmful, underlying communications as we put our agenda first.
  • Listening for logic: Why does this make sense to the other person?
  • Listening for emotions: Check how significant this is and what is driving the other person’s comments.
  • Listening for their point of view: At a broader level, what are they telling us about who they are and what this represents to them?

Quick Hits

  • Here are some interesting metrics you might want to consider to compare your meeting patterns, gathered by the software meeting app Pinstriped from its users: Meetings started on time, 71 per cent; meetings with positive feedback, 69 per cent; and meetings where the app participant followed up, 87 per cent.
  • Probably the most common goal not being met by people is their own career advancement, says career coach Penelope Trunk.
  • Leadership professor David Burkus says skip your next networking events and instead devote the time to serving on a non-profit board, organizing a charity drive or playing in an amateur sports league, which combine conversation with a higher purpose and more diverse set of people.
  • The three ways to influence people are logical appeals, emotional appeals and collaborative appeals – the latter the chance to work together to accomplish a mutually important goal.
  • If you have an organizational rival, try self-discipline to control your actions, advises Insead professor Henning Piezunka. Reflect on your core values and use that to set a steady course in upcoming exchanges with that individual, not letting your competition take precedence over organizational needs.

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