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The Benefits of being a Chameleon

17 Jun 6:00 by Mani Rakhra
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chameleon – noun, often attributive
: a person who often changes his or her beliefs or behaviour to please others or to succeed
: one that is subject to quick or frequent change, especially in appearance.


When I was working in the UK, my former manager once used the term above to describe me. When you read this particular dictionary definition, as well as descriptions from other sources, words such as “fickle” or “inconsistent” are referenced, which sound pretty negative, but I beg to differ. Being a chameleon, particularly in a sales role, is an art form that can give you a huge advantage.

To be a chameleon you must be able to quickly adapt to changing situations, people and environments. The “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work; the rules change depending on geography, to whom you’re talking, and what the challenge is, and so it takes a well-rounded individual with varied experience to be a chameleon. My father works for an airline, so I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled the world from the moment I was born, experiencing cultural differences and meeting a vast range of characters throughout my formative years. Since then, I have lived and worked in London, Beijing, Hong Kong and now Singapore, and over time, have identified three key skills that us chameleons have, which enable us to survive and thrive.

1. Transparency

Being upfront with people and stating clear intentions and purpose has always served me well. Transparent communication, especially if the message isn’t wholly positive, is essential. I have quickly learnt new markets, job disciplines, industries, and have launched desks from scratch, by honestly communicating my desire to learn from people, telling them that I am new to the space. Similarly, in BD, doors have opened when I have been frank and not exaggerated my capabilities. 
  
Example: Despite having never worked with the company in the past, a new client came to me with three exclusive roles, solely based on the hiring manager’s experience with me as a candidate. I had been honest with her at that time and given her advice on how to approach the market, which led to her securing her first role in Singapore. It was the fact that I’d been open and transparent that impressed her the most, and why she came back to partner with me on these exclusive roles.

2. Empathy 

Adapting to your environment with a certain cultural sensitivity is vital. Understanding Cockney in London, Mandarin in Beijing, Cantonese in Hong Kong or Singlish in Singapore is only the first step to being able to communicate, especially in markets where English isn’t the first language. You also need to modify your working practices to incorporate local cultural ways.

Example: When I first moved to Hong Kong, I got increasingly frustrated with candidates not committing to things we had discussed during briefing phone calls. I was advised to put those same points into an email and ask the candidate to reply with their commitment and see what happened. I immediately saw a commitment change among these same candidates, who were more devoted to their job search and kept to their word. 

3.  Agility

Like an actual chameleon changing its colour, agility enables you to quickly change focus without diluting your proposition. Throughout my career, I’ve adjusted my focus in response to shifts in the market or global changes. I took a step back during the collapse of Lehman Brothers; the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong; and now COVID-19, to align to a market that would (in theory) perform well, remaining a consistent and top biller for my firm.
 
Example: In the face of adversity, certain markets will thrive. During the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, people still needed daily provisions, and 7/11 stores couldn’t stock their shelves fast enough – they had opposite issues to declining sales! Whilst not specific to any short-term market conditions, here at Argyll Scott, Jason and Hazel both pivoted (from their previous focus) into the Digital market to take advantage of the tech boom caused by lockdowns as well as shifting trends towards digitisation.
 
These three key chameleon skills, of course, need to be complemented by (non-chameleon) traits and workplace skills, but they have helped me to develop my sales skills and transition them across different market propositions when the opportunity or need has arisen. 

So, if your manager ever uses the C-word about you, take it as a compliment!