The best piece of advice I received in university (and a hack for surviving business school)

Post-secondary is inundated with pubescent exploration, a production line of essay writing and an endless number of readings. At least for an English major. 

When I decided to minor in Business, I welcomed the sharp contrast in studies next to my Arts degree.

The hustle, hunger (and fine, the fashion too) of the business world came naturally to me, however the subject matter, not so much. PERSUASION ISN’T A DIRTY WORD I survived business on the foundation of one fundamental skill: negotiation. Side bar: Arlene Dickinson wrote a fabulous book about refining this skill. The book is called Persuasion

It quickly became apparent which classes I liked, and which ones I didn’t. Marketing, Ethics - like. Finance, Accounting - dislike.

But what I lacked in hard math skills, I made up for in soft skills. And this self-awareness was highly advantageous.

I could maximize the skills that came naturally to me, refine the ones that didn’t come as easily, and offload the stuff I had written off. Now, I’m by no means suggesting you cheat, plagiarize or drop a class just because you don’t get it right away. The trick is figuring out how much time/energy you can afford to invest versus putting that time/energy elsewhere.

A thorough understanding of complex, foreign topics isn’t always necessary. Just like running a business. A CEO doesn’t do his own accounting, legal or advertising - he hires people that specialize in these tasks, and focuses his energy on what he’s good at, which is managing those people, guiding the ship and making “big picture” decisions. 

So I did what I was good at. 

I partnered with the more math-minded, left-brained students for group projects, and offered them my creative-minded, right-brained thinking.

The proposition was attractive to many of these students (predominately those where English was a second language) because while crunching numbers came easily to them, things like communication, spelling/grammar and design (which came easily to me) did not. And in business, being able to communicate your work is just as important as doing the work itself.

I took on a leadership role within the group, ran point on delegation and project management, specialized in the written, design and thesis of the project, took on a larger role in our class presentation and smaller role in the math department. While my partners niched in on the formulas and calculations. 

The partnership worked because it was mutually beneficial. A common misconception about negotiation is that it’s about exploitation. It’s not. And it will never work if it is. EFFECTIVE SMALL TALK FOR AROUND THE WATER COOLER During this time I was studying business marketing, and had a TA that shared another memorable tip.

He suggested downloading a real-time news updates app for desktop. This way, you could be the first to know about specific tailored news topics, relevant for your industry or colleagues’ interests. And never be devoid of water cooler talk.

He said by doing this, he could connect on a personal level with those he worked with. He could talk about who won the game with the sports fanatic, who won the Golden Globe with the entertainment junkie, or what the stock price of Apple was with those who followed the market. By connecting personally, he remained top of mind for these individuals, which came in handy at times of promotion.


© 2020 | Tieja MacLaughlin