Jeremy Lazarus looks at how neuro-linguistic programming can help actuaries make a good impression when starting a new job
In the August issue, I wrote an introduction to neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and how it can help actuaries, regardless of their role or level of experience. In this second article, we will look at three specific NLP techniques to help actuaries starting a new job to use their existing skills to make an immediate contribution to the new role.
As a very brief reminder, NLP has three key benefits: it improves communication; it helps individuals to change their own thinking and responses, and also that of other people; and it helps us to replicate excellence, either our own or that of others.
Changing jobs or roles can often be stressful. Some of the challenges people face may include:
> Changes in expectations by bosses.
> Finding out what those expectations are.
> Getting to know new colleagues and clients.
> Discovering how the 'political' landscape works.
> Making an impact, justifying your new position.
> Creating new networks of contacts.
So how can NLP help? The previous article focused on mindset. All of the tips it covered can also help you to achieve a positive frame of mind to deal with the inevitable challenges of a new role. This is essential to success in not just the new role but many other aspects of life. This article moves on to consider three of the 'softer' skills that can make the difference between a competent actuary and a successful one.
Skill 1: Define your values
One of the most useful areas of NLP covers 'values'. This can be defined as what is important, or what someone wants or looks for, whether that's in a job, a partner or a car. The concept of values can be used in several areas, such as decision-making - which job to apply for or accept; selling - actuarial services, for instance; and influencing - colleagues, bosses and staff.
By way of example, think of an item you might want to buy, such as a car, holiday or item of clothing. If you were offered something that had all the elements you were looking for (price, style and comfort, for instance), it is highly likely that you would want to buy that item and would be happy with it.
So before you even look for or accept a new role, you should take the following three small steps to discover your own work or career values and therefore make a decision that's right for you. The process typically takes 10-15 minutes.
i) List all the important aspects you want from the role, for example challenge, variety and good people (values tend to be somewhat abstract statements rather than concrete ones such as 'having a tidy desk'). It may also help you to think of a time when you felt really motivated or happy in your work. What was it about that situation that caused you to feel happy? Typically, people will have between six and 12 values on their list.
ii) Rank the values A, B or C, where the As are essential, the Bs are nice to have, and the Cs are the icing on the cake.
iii) If you were offered a role with all the As, would you want it or is there something missing? If there is something missing, add it to the list of As. If the list is right for you, then you will feel a strong desire for the role.
You may find it useful to add a fourth step, taking each of the key values and asking yourself how you would know that value was being met. For example, if challenge is important to you in your work, what has to happen for you to feel challenged?
Once you have this information, you can search for roles that tick the boxes, and at interviews can ask relevant questions that will let you know whether the role would suit you, which normally impresses interviewers.
You could also ask your interviewer questions i and ii, using the fourth step if you need clarification. If you know what your boss is looking for, you stand a better chance of genuinely demonstrating that you can meet their requirements, or values, hence improving your chances of success.
Once you have been appointed to the new role, you can use values to:
> Manage your staff, by following the four steps above and then doing what you can (within the constraints of the organisation) to ensure their values are met.
> Sell more, by eliciting prospects' values and demonstrating how you can meet them.
> Enhance existing client relationships.
> Influence colleagues, asking what it is they want from you - their values - and then, as far as possible, delivering it.
In the four situations above, often it is worth taking the fourth step to clarify what is meant by a particular word; 'challenge' may mean different things to different people.
Skill 2: Other points of view
The other key NLP technique that will help you make an impact in the early stages of a new role is 'perceptual positions' or seeing situations from different perspectives, a technique I use with all of my executive coaching clients. As the saying goes, there are three sides to every story: mine, yours, and the truth somewhere in between. In NLP, there are three key perceptual positions:
> Your perspective.
> The other person's perspective (client, prospect, colleague, staff member)
> A neutral, detached, objective perspective.
You can use perceptual positions in many situations, for example to sell, prepare for presentations and meetings, prevent or resolve conflict, influence people, brainstorm problem-solving solutions, make important decisions and carry out strategic/business planning.
To see how the technique works, let's assume you have an important presentation to make in your new role. The perceptual positions technique involves an element of active imagination, a willingness to think outside your box and truly consider someone else's perspective, and will take about 15 minutes of your time.
i) Find a quiet room and mark out three spaces in an equilateral triangle. Stand in position 1, as yourself, looking towards position 2, the 'audience'. Ask yourself what you are thinking, notice how you are feeling. Stay in this position only as long as it takes for you to become aware of your thoughts and feelings about the presentation.
ii) Leave position 1, think of something completely unrelated to clear your mind and then go and stand (or sit) in position 2, taking on the mindset of the audience looking at the presenter over there (ie you). It is essential that you get into the mindset of the audience, and stand or sit as they would. Ask yourself (as the audience) what you want from that presenter, how would you like him/her to present, what key questions you want answered, how you are feeling about the presentation etc. Stay in position 2 until there are no more insights, asking 'what else'. Please note that while it may feel unusual to actively adopt the mindset of other people, being willing to do so means you will be better able to empathise and better prepared, and, as a result, will make a better impression - in this case, on the audience.
iii) Leave position 2, think of something unrelated to clear your mind and then go and stand in position 3, taking on the mindset of a completely neutral, detached observer. Ask questions such as: What advice would you give the presenter over there in position 1? What does the audience (in position 2) want from him/her? How do they want to receive the information? What are their key questions and concerns? How can the presenter prepare for and address this?'
iv) Take the insights and return back to position 1 as yourself. What have you learned? What action will you take before and during the meeting? If you would like to, revisit position 2 and/or 3, making sure you end in position 1.
As a tip, some people find it easier to have someone else (a colleague, friend, coach or partner) guide them through the process. If you prefer this method, please ensure that the person guiding you has read and understood this section and is aware that their role is purely to ask questions, not give advice or lead you to their conclusions.
Skill 3: Building rapport
A third NLP element is the key relationship skill of being able to quickly build trust and rapport. While there are common-sense aspects, such as behaving respectfully, being on time and prepared for meetings and having an appropriate amount of eye contact, there is also a deeper level of rapport that can be built by the process of matching and/or mirroring body language, voice tonality and the language of the person you are communicating with.
There is much evidence and theory available on the importance and effectiveness of building rapport, and it is covered in many books and training courses on influencing skills.
If you observe friends, partners and colleagues who get on well with each other, you will often find that they seem to be unconsciously copying gestures, posture and sometimes even facial expressions.
If you happen to be close enough to hear them, they probably speak at similar volumes or speed, and use phrases and expressions that are used by the other person. Building rapport by matching/mirroring is a natural for most people.
In order to build rapport quickly with people who you do not know well (such as interviewers, clients or colleagues), pick one or two aspects of their physiology or voice tonality and match or mirror it.
An example of matching physiology is if the person facing you has their left hand on their chin, you also have your left hand on your chin. To mirror them you would have your right hand on your chin.
Please use common sense - be subtle and do not make it obvious. It is better to do a little rapport-building than too much. For a more in-depth explanation, refer to the reading list.
NLP has several elements that can help actuaries who are new to a role make a strong impression quickly. The three discussed here - building rapport, discovering what's important to you and to other people, and putting yourself in someone else's shoes - will help you not just in the early days but as you progress.
Jeremy Lazarus is an executive coach and a certified master trainer of NLP at the Lazarus Consultancy Ltd
Lazarus, J. (2010). Successful NLP: For The Results You Want. Richmond, Surrey, Crimson Publishing.
Wake, L. (2010). NLP: Principles in Practice. St Albans, Hertfordshire, Ecademy Press.