Say the Magic Words
By Stephanie Taylor Christensen
Being an administrative professional sometimes feels like a thankless job because you’re often required to be the background to someone else’s foreground. But it also offers one key advantage that other professions don’t: access to the “movers and shakers” in an organization and complete control over your experiences with them. How you use that exposure is in your hands, but when done correctly, it can fuel your career potential. Amazingly, it starts by regularly using one simple phrase: “How can I help you?”Here’s the science behind these magic words and how to use them to get ahead in your career.
Proactive equals partner
Whether you work with a dream team or a nightmare boss, the key to finding professional success is recognizing that you can’t control the moods of others or the day’s many events. However, you can control your outward reactions to people and tasks, no matter how frustrated, stressed or overwhelmed you feel inside. When times are challenging, “How can I help you?” diffuses negative situations. During smooth-sailing times, it offers an opportunity to learn new skills and information. In either scenario, the phrase empowers you and allows you to gain control over an interaction and its outcome. Offering empathy and help also improves your perceived value. Instead of viewing you as a person who handles tasks and takes direction, co-workers and superiors will see you as you are: a problem-solving partner.
Boost your competitive advantage
If you possess fewer technological skills, education, work history or training than others in your field, you can leverage other personality traits and skills that are positively associated with career growth, such as empathy and good listening. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology also found that demonstrating self-control, along with a positive attitude, is a key motivator in establishing trust. “How can I help you?” simply demonstrates and embodies in one simple phrase all of these important career-building aspects. Few people take the time to sincerely offer their help in the workplace, and it’s one of the most powerful, free and virtually effortless changes you can make to your approach.
You’ll be more creative
Why should you offer help when your plate has already runneth over? In short, you will help yourself. A 2011 study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that people who solve a problem on another person’s behalf are more likely to succeed. When you imagine that the solution you’ll provide benefits a person, purpose or cause outside of your own needs, the mind actually processes differently, putting forth more effort to reach less obvious, more creative solutions.
You’ll lead by example
Administrative professionals are in a unique role, interacting with more levels of staff and clients than anyone else. Your role often positions you as the “proverbial” glue that holds the rest of the team and department together; your approach and style set the tone for the company at large. When you offer help to others, you set a precedent for teamwork and creative problem-solving throughout the department. Personally, you’ll also build valuable skills that you can apply to your current job and future accomplishments. You may even uncover opportunities to get involved in other areas of the company that you didn’t know you had interest in, which will further build your professional acumen.
You’ll expand networks
Asking the simple question “How can I help you?” can invite you into new social circles, too. You will build not only your knowledge of other areas in the company but also relationships. In turn, you’ll expand your reputation and professional networks and find a deeper sense of belonging in the workplace. All these components will prove invaluable to maintaining career momentum, especially when asking for a raise or promotion, professional references or uncovering new job opportunities.
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