Career Development – Part 1: Return on Empathy. Be Unforgettable to Your Boss Using the Impossibility Question

By Dr Mark Goulston | January 06, 2020

There are few things as impactful and memorable AND differentiating than accurately and specifically getting where someone else is coming from without their telling you, bringing it to their attention and then proactively delivering on it. THAT is “empathy on steroids.”

As the New Year begins, wouldn’t it be great to be at the top of your boss’ mind when at their next performance review, they receive a sizable raise and promotion and know that you were specifically and largely responsible for helping them get it?

Here’s how to make that happen by using empathy to tap into their unconscious.

In the next week, ask your boss if you can sit down and have a conversation with them about the upcoming year, because you had a specific question to ask them that directly impacts the measurable results and success of your group and them.

Hopefully that will intrigue them enough to say, “Yes.”

When you sit down with them say, “I have a hypothetical question that I wanted to ask you that will directly impact your group and your results and success. Might I ask it?”

Again, hopefully they’ll say, “Yes.”

Then say, “I’d like you to imagine that it’s your next performance review. What ‘impossible’ result, in other words just ‘blue sky’ it, that if our group and you achieved would not only result in your receiving the largest raise and promotion possible, but would also get you noticed as a ‘go to’ person by the most senior people when other challenges/opportunities reveal themselves. That’s because having achieved whatever you and we achieve singles you out as an incredibly valuable resource.”

Using the “impossibility” question - that I learned from Dave Hibbard at Dialexis - enables people to think beyond their limiting thoughts and beyond thinking, “Yes, but, it will never work.” It is also a way of using a “proactive” (vs. reactive) aspirational line of questioning that is certain to set you apart from everyone else and make you memorable, because so few people have a proactive mindset.

When your boss comes up with their answer, ask them:

1.     “Why that?”

2.    “What would make it possible?”

3.    “What would be the requisite tasks needed to get it done?”

4.    “What would be the requisite skills to get those tasks done?”

5.    “What singular task, if accomplished will cause everything else to flow naturally, until that ‘impossible’ goal is achieved?”

6.    “What singular skill would be key to successfully performing that task?”

7.    “Do I have your permission to become expert at that and other skills to make the task happen and achieve that impossible result?”

8.    “If so, can I check in with you every couple weeks to give you an update on how it is going and ask for your input to make it even better?”

By doing the above and practicing it to make it a more natural conversation it will cause three things to occur that will make you memorable.

1.    If you develop that special skill to accomplish that crucial task to make the impossible possible, you will know that you were key to its success.

2.    Your boss will know that you were critical to its success.

3.    Your boss will know that you know, you were critical to its success.

Caveat emptor: There is always the possibility of your having a boss who takes all the credit for anything their team accomplished, and you might find yourself disappointed and resentful if that is the case with yours. Nevertheless, still do this, because it will demonstrate to you that you can accomplish learning a crucial skill to accomplish a crucial task that you’ll be able to use later in your career when you have a more magnanimous boss.

Originally published on LinkedIn on January 4, 2020. 

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