How To Prepare For Unexpected Opportunities

“I Carried a Watermelon”

This is a line from one of my all-time favorite movies, “ Dirty Dancing.”We all have those moments. Moments where you wish you knew what to say. Instead, you just kind of blurt something out and immediately wish you could take it back.

That is how I felt, for the longest time. Every time someone very senior happened to catch me in line at the cafeteria or by the printer and asked “How is it going?” The best answer I had was, “Great…” followed by an awkward pause.

If you find yourself not knowing what to say when really senior people greet you, you’re not alone.

What are you supposed say? Does she really want to know how you’re doing? Has your boss told this senior person about the recent mistake you made? Should you give her an update on the new report you’ve been working on? Does she even know your name?!

Chances are, she was just being friendly. A detailed update on the new report would have been TMI but just saying “Great…” (like I was) is missing out on a chance to engage someone who could be important to your career.

Most of us realize that these are actually mini opportunities to raise your visibility and to leave an impression with someone you might not otherwise get “airtime” with. The trick is to turn these “watermelon” moments into such opportunities with the art of what I have been calling the “Greet and Give”: Greet the person and then quickly give them a sentence or two of useful information. 

This does mean you would have to do your homework and know what your senior managers really care about – something you should be doing anyway. Always having a good sense of what they are focused on or even worried about is the secret to engaging them in a meaningful way.

The next time you bump into your manager’s boss, try something like “Hi – I am about to go see (insert important client name), I will let you know if we get any feedback on the project we are working on with them.”

Don’t overthink it. Avoid TMI (remember just 1-2 sentences). And PRACTICE.

Over time, you will find that you are more confident and less likely to botch another chance to boost your visibility.