The strangest piece of advice I’ve ever got…

Actually, there are two equally strange pieces of advice I got. One was when I was 15 years old or so, and I joined a DJ pool (think of Birchbox for vinyl, but you get vinyl records 1-6 months before they go on the radio), and the manager of the pool told me “don’t f*** up!”…in front of my dad. I still don’t understand why he said that…

But we’re here to discuss a more relevant piece of advice I got…

I had to do a total of 6 co-ops/internships as part of the University of Waterloo’s Engineering program. One of these co-ops was at NexJ Systems as a Professional Systems Consultant in 2009 where I helped customize financial CRM software for clients.

It seemed like I got chummy (although I didn’t think this was the case) with a manager (whose name we will leave out) and he told me this:

You smile too much. Nobody will listen to you…You should stop smiling so much

At the time, I just brushed off this comment thinking it was just like this manager to say something like this. And I didn’t think there was anything wrong with smiling at work…if you’re not smiling at work, time to change your job. ‘Nuff said.

But a couple weeks ago, aka almost 6 years later, his words popped into my head. Why all of a sudden? Who knows…

But it got me thinking, is there any merit to his advice? Do people only listen to serious people or people that don’t smile? Is that the kind of workplace we want where people don’t smile because they are worried people won’t listen to them?

As a Product Manager, this is a very important question. If people don’t “listen” to you, then you will be ineffective and your product will fail.

I started reflecting on my (almost) three years in product management and being in the “real world,” and asked myself, “on average, at each position or in each year, did I smile a lot and did people ‘listen’ to me?”

Turns out, yes I did smile, on average, a lot. I like to think of myself as a happy person and, as a result, I like to show my (beautiful) smile. And yes, people did “listen” to me.

I want people to want to want to be around me so that we can build a beautiful product and experience together. We need to create that sense of trust so people are feeling free enough to let their thoughts and feelings out. And smiling is something that can do that. It can even disarm clients who are a little too serious/refrained.

But you need to know when to smile and when not to, but I prefer to “smile.” Only in the most dire, dire situations will I refrain from smiling (eg. somebody died, got fired, etc.). But, on the contrary, even when I broke my ankle, I was laughing and joking around with the doctor just to put him with ease (I still remember asking him if I would ever dance again).

What’s the moral of the story? Not sure, but probably along the lines to think carefully about the advice you receive, act on it if it aligns with your character and be yourself.



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