ask the readers: what are you really good at?

We’ve done a “talk about your job / ask about other people’s jobs” thing here before. This time, I want to do a different version of it:  What are you really good at? It could be a work-related skill (like bending Excel to your will, explaining complicated tax concepts to laypeople, or making all of your managers love you), or it could be a non-work one (like parallel parking, decorating, or making friends with strangers).

The challenge before you: Name something you’re great at, and then — and this part is important — share at least one trade secret / key to your success at it / something that could make others better at it too.

Bonus points if you’re then willing to answer questions from others about how they can get better at your skill too.

{ 828 comments… read them below }

  1. Christy

    I’m really great at explaining technical concepts to non-technical people. Or at least, I’m really great at explaining to non-technical people why we can’t do a certain technical thing that seems easy. I think one thing that really helps me is my use of metaphor and how I can break an issue down to talk about a technical detail or explain the entire gestalt of a system.

    Oh! I’m also great at letting non-technical people be listened to about technical things. I’m great at it because I’m patient and I don’t act like they’re stupid for not knowing something simple. I’m also great at answering their technical questions, even when their questions don’t make any sense at all.

    1. OriginalEmma

      I wish I were better at using metaphors! I feel it’d help me explain things but I worry my use of metaphor and simile make things worse.

      1. Christy

        I am thoroughly unafraid to switch metaphors mid-explanation if my chosen metaphor isn’t working well. I think that’s key.

    2. CollegeAdmin

      I have this skill too – now it’s a big part of my job. My two biggest recommendations are using analogies and reading facial expressions.

      Analogies – Take a technical thing (e.g., moving files in Google Drive) and compare it to a non-technical thing (e.g., moving clothes in a dresser). I was able to explain to my last boss why it was better for me to move each folder (drawer) than move each file (article of clothing).

      Facial expressions – Don’t just ask if someone understands, because they will often lie rather than admit they are clueless. If they are biting their lip and/or moving their eyes randomly all over the screen, chances are, they’re lost. Re-explain the concept from a different angle. I guess that’s a third thing – if someone doesn’t get it, going over it three times in the same way is not likely to make them magically understand. Approach it differently.

    3. Ordinary World

      I’m pretty good at this, also, and I’ve realized one of my go-to tricks is finding a way to draw a simple diagram that illustrates the concept. We’re talking really simple, just shapes and how they relate, and I both draw them ahead of the meeting if I think there’s a point they’ll be helpful, or on the fly, in the meeting.

      Visual thinking paired with a simple verbal description can be a big help for some people, and I have to admit, I really like seeing the relief of realization on a frustrated person’s face, that AHA! moment. It makes me feel like I made someone’s day a little less sucky.

    4. schnapps

      Can you come work for my org? Our IT department just has a standard response: “No, we can’t do that”.

    5. Meg Murry

      This is one of my skills too, although it is almost a detriment now, because when I have to write a technical paper or give a technical presentation, I get told I’m “dumbing it down” too much, because I don’t naturally speak in a super tech-y way. Most of the time it serves me well, but I have to remember to turn on the “tech speak” when writing for a technical audience instead of the average person not in my field (or parallel to my field – for instance, our marketing or sales department, who know some of the tech speak, but often only enough to get them into trouble for using it wrong.)

      I am in STEM, but not computer/IT/high tech – more lab science.

      Along the same lines, I worked at a company where a lot of upper management was brought in from the parent location, where English is not the primary language. They had to pass a written test to get a US assignment, but written English skill does not always translate into verbal English skills. I was brought into a lot of meeting that weren’t necessarily my project to act as “translator” – not because I spoke the other language (other than a few words – a kind coworker taught me how to listen for our names plus insults like “stupid”) but because I was good at getting information from one party to another. The key is: write it down. Draw pictures, diagrams, flow charts, matrixes, etc. Make use of whiteboards or notepads. That way, you at least have a chance of all agreeing upon what the project/task is before you leave the room – as I learned the hard way after doing a project involving 40-some conditions, I had missed a key word in the setup – “duplicates”. I went back thinking I was complete, and had a conversation going around in circles about “where is the rest?” “what do you mean, rest? This is what you asked for” “well, yes, but there should be more”.
      After that, nothing was done without a diagram, picture or matrix showing what the expected final number of samples, with a count. And then that diagram was re-drawn, or a picture was taken of the whiteboard and emailed to all stakeholders.

    6. Liza

      This is huge! I have that skill (& talent) too.

      I have a great metaphor for explaining the difference between a hard drive and computer memory, and why computers get slow when they have too little memory for what you’re trying to do with them:

      Say you’re putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You need a closet to keep your puzzles in, and you need a table to assemble the puzzle on. If you have a nice big table you have plenty of room to spread out all the pieces and start assembling the puzzle, and maybe even work on a few different puzzles side by side, but if you have a small table and a big puzzle, you might have to leave most of the puzzle pieces in the closet and go back and forth to the closet every time you want to try another piece. That will really slow you down! (And if it’s a REALLY small table, you might not be able to complete the puzzle at all.)

      In this metaphor, the puzzle is a program your computer is running, the table is your computer’s memory (aka RAM), and the closet is your computer’s hard drive. (If you want to take the metaphor even farther, the person assembling the puzzle is the computer’s processor.) When you don’t have enough memory (room on the table) for what you’re trying to do, your computer will start using part of the hard drive as memory; this is called swap space. It slows things down just like having to go to the closet every time you need another puzzle piece slows you down.

    7. Sarah

      Nice. I’m good at this too, but not just in a technical field – I often find myself translating between disparate groups. Tech & non-tech, army and higher ed, policy and faculty (I work in higher ed).

  2. OriginalEmma

    I’m actually awesome at parallel parking. I’ve had to park other people’s cars for them because of the combination of narrow street + snug spot.

      1. CobraRon

        There’s a great explanation of how to parallel park on “Canada’s Worst Driver”, season 8, episode 5, starting at 4:07 (it’s on youtube). Teenager in the house… :)

        1. schnapps

          You know, I watched at episode and went, “Hey. So THAT’S how parallel parking works!” and I have parallel parked perfectly ever since.

          Pull up next to the car in front of you, shift to reverse crank the wheel and reverse until you see both headlights of the car behind you in your drivers side mirror. Then start turning the wheel the other way (keep an eye on your front end in case the car in front is a bit far out from the curb). Pull into the spot and straighten out. I once got my car into a spot that was about a foot longer than my car using that technique.

          1. Elizabeth West

            I once got my car out of a spot where the people who parked after I did left an inch of space in front and behind. It took me forever, but I didn’t touch either car. :)

            1. Michelle

              I once got my car out of a spot like that, too, except I was kind of in a hurry and so pissed that the other drivers would park so close to me that I just sort of used their cars as guides: when I felt a little bump, it was time to change directions. As you would expect, this involved about 20 little bumps.

              If I really cared about little scuffs on my bumper, I wouldn’t park to close to someone.

              Call me a criminal, if you like, but I don’t feel guilty about it.

              1. Paige

                These are called “love taps,” and are never a source of shame! In fact, I wish more people did that here; where I live, people are ridiculously terrible at parallel parking and thus lose space for at least one or two cars on each block. Were they trust their bumpers a bit more, street parking would be better for everyone!

              2. Josh S

                Those things on the front and back of your car are called BUMPers, not MISSers.
                Ain’t nuthin wrong with using them for what they’re for.

          2. Whip It

            I parallel park by first lining up my car with the car in front, then back up until their bumper is in the middle of my back passenger window. Then I reverse in, always leaves enough room and flawless execution every time and I can whip right into a spot without holding up traffic. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that is how it was taught to me and has always worked no matter the size vehicle I am in.

            It does help now that my truck has a reverse camera, and I think a lot of cars come standard with them now, but I do not rely on it, its just nice for the final backing in to let me get close to the car behind while adjusting for perfect fit.

            I will never trust those cars that parallel themselves either lol.

            1. OriginalEmma

              Yes! You explained my method better than I did. It’s how I was taught by my driver’s ed instructor and hasn’t failed me yet.

              1. Mabel

                Me, too, although sometimes it’s helpful to go straight back for a second or two after step 1 and before you turn the other way to complete the maneuver. This is especially helpful if the car in front is further out from the curb than you want to be.

          3. Christina

            This is kind of the trick I learned by accident. I’ve been city-parking for about 6 years and realized recently that the best way to figure out if I’m angled right (and if I have enough space) is to back up and turn until I can see the whole front bumper of the car behind me, then start turning the other way to straighten out. I’ve become very proud of my parking skills (especially since I have a station wagon).

          4. Honeybee

            Also a tip for making sure you are far enough ahead when you are next to the car that will be in front of you: line up the back of the car next to you with your rear window.

      2. Anonymous Educator

        I don’t know if this method will work for everyone, but I basically back in and try to align my backing-in path to the driving-forward path I imagine I would take when pulling out of the spot later. Not sure if that makes sense to anyone else…

        1. Michelle

          Well, golly, that’s genius! Not sure if I know the path well enough to do it in reverse, though.

    1. Almond Milk Latte

      Parallel parking is one of the reasons I feel compelled to take a mate in life. So jealous of your skill!

      1. MashaKasha

        Ugh I hear you about the mate! I got together with my last ex three weeks after I traded in my Altima (which I could parallel park anywhere) for a Forester. My ex had learned to parallel park in New Haven, and perfected the skill in Manhattan (yes, I kid you not!!) so of course he’d been doing all the parallel parking for the two years we were together. The man could park anything anywhere, so I never bothered trying myself. Then one day he walks out and I am left with this giant car that I don’t know how to parallel park… 1.5 years later and I’m still learning!! Ugh! Thing is, where I live, I hardly ever need the skill – even in the more urban areas that only have street parking, there’s always a larger spot that I can slide into. But on a rare occasion when I do need this skill, I REALLY NEED it. I’m tempted to borrow some cones from friends and practice using the steps given on this thread!

        1. Have to be anon for this one

          my husband can parallel park my car from the passenger seat (just telling me when to brake). ask me how I know… ;)

        2. Mabel

          What would be really helpful to me is if someone has a trick for getting into a spot when the street is so narrow that you can’t turn hard enough in step 1 to get anywhere near the curb. If the available spot is long enough, I can still do it, but if it’s too short, you run out of spot before you’re ready top turn the other way.

        3. Honeybee

          I honed my skill in Manhattan, too. Now I can parallel park anywhere, because the amount of space you have to parallel park in pretty much any other city is MUCH larger than the space you have in Manhattan. I saw a parallel spot just yesterday that seemed like you could fit a monster truck in it.

    2. OriginalEmma

      Lots of practice, being attuned to your car (easy with a manual transmission) and paying attention to cues particular to your car and the vehicle you’re trying to park around. I always back into a spot, never forward, and use the triangle window pane on the rear back passenger side as my guide.

      1. AnonyMiss

        Yup, stick shift makes it a lot easier! My driving instructor gave me a really good step-by-step, and I’ve been giving this to people everywhere:

        1. Pull up next to the car in front of you until your passenger side mirror aligns with their driver side mirror.
        2. Put the car in reverse
        3. Turn your steering wheel all the way to the right and slowly back up until your car and the one in front of your parking spot are at about a 45-degree angle.
        4. Straighten your steering wheel, and slowly back up until you can see both of your taillights reflecting in the headlights of the car behind you.
        5. Crank the streering wheel all the way to the left, and slip right in. If you need to adjust, do it in a similar way, turning right for about 1/2 of the distance ahead/behind you, and straightening for the rest.

        If you live in an area with a quiet, flat driveway or empty street, put down two “cones” (can be two empty buckets, even) about 1.5 car length apart, and practice, practice, practice.

    3. KT

      I’m a champion parallel parker…because I have a tiny car. People are astonished at the tiny spaces I can squeeze in.

    4. Lmgtfy

      I once received applause from bystanders for parking in a tight space. Sometimes if I get a really good spot I snap a photo and brag about it.

    5. knitcrazybooknut

      I have a Smart Car. It makes this so much easier! But I had to adjust my skills. Because there’s no car behind the rear wheels, you approach at a different angle to maximize your manuevering space. It took about a month of parking on the street every work day to really get a handle on that change.

    6. MaryMary

      Practice, practice, practice! I also try to back in whenever possible and cut the wheel pretty sharply when initially backing in, and then turn the wheel all the way to the other side to straighten out and back he rest of the way in

    7. F.

      Having a Honda CR-V with a backup camera GREATLY improved my parallel parking skills, even though I have to use them only a couple of times a year. The backup camera was the one thing that tipped my Toyota loving husband into buying a Honda Civic this year.

      1. Honeybee

        My current car has a rearview camera and I refuse to ever buy another car without one. It’s so useful!

    8. RedWheel

      I am a hella parallel parker. My specialty is getting in and out of super tight spaces without tapping other cars. I am annoyingly smug about it too. I am a NYC native so I think I come by it naturally.

      1. Cautionary tail

        Obviously you don’t live in Boston where parallel parking-by-ear was de rigueur. Do a parallel park till you slowly, carefully and politely hit the car behind you then push it back on its shocks to gain another few inches. Pull forward and repeat with the car in front. Etc. With this technique I parallel park into spaces that have only 3″ of clearance in the front and another 3″ in the back. People who don’t wish to use this method tend to walk up to a half-hour from their parking spot to their home.

        1. RedWheel

          Nope. That is cheating. However, car nudging was an acceptable method of parking when I lived in Cairo. Drivers would leave their cars in neutral for that reason. When you returned to your car, it could easily be a half a block away from where you originally parked it. Good times.

          1. Beck

            Lol. There’s no cheating when you park a car. As long as both cars are free of scratches and you’re parked properly.

          2. OriginalEmma

            One time I was parallel parked with my wheels turned in, car in neutral. Imagine my surprise to return from work to find the front of my car on the curb, a nice note on my windshield from an observer who saw a minivan ram my car up onto the curb so she could let her adult children out. I was fuming.

        2. VivaL

          If you don’t hear yourself tapping another bumper, how else do you know when to stop?!

          – a fellow Bostonian ;-p

          1. RedWheel

            Haha. Good one. That is the thing. I just “know” when to stop.
            Seriously, I think you need to have a good feel for your car size . Also copiously use the mirror closest to the curb.

          2. Mabel

            When I moved to Boston, I learned to parallel park I the left side. So many one way streets! And, unfortunately, so many very narrow streets.

          3. Not So NewReader

            My husband used to call it backing up by sound. You wait for the sound and you stop three seconds BEFORE the sound occurs. (Yep, useless advice. But sometimes it feels like this is the technique I am using to park the car, I can see where he got that idea from.)

        3. MashaKasha

          OMG OMG OMG

          This reminds me what a friend, who’d grown up in NJ, told me about driving there: “In New Jersey, you need to drive like you’re not afraid of a little body damage.”

          I’d probably walk, I need exercise and would probably really suck at parking-by-ear!

          1. Honeybee

            I lived in the NY/NJ/PA area for 7 years and that’s absolutely true. Jersey drivers don’t seem to care if they hit you as long as nobody dies.

    9. The Optimizer

      I, too, have this skill. I once parked my SUV on one of Denver’s busiest streets and when I finished (quickly and with no adjustment) the people in car in back of me that I was holding up and a few more on the street were actually applauding. My husband even makes me drive downtown because of my skills.

      1. Jules the First

        I used to be awesome at parallel parking and then I moved to the UK. I cannot, for the life of me, parallel park from the other side of the car (no matter which side of the street I try to park on, since both are legal here).

        1. The Optimizer

          I have to say, it was a moment of pride especially since I had a car full of coworkers that I was driving to lunch!

    10. SerfinUSA

      I learned to drive, and parallel park, in a 1967 Impala the size of a small yacht. I could parallel park like nobody’s business, but hated doing it due to the usual spectators, so I started parking where I didn’t have to, even if it meant walking farther.
      Now I drive a spiffy new Outback, with back up camera and a sweet turning radius. Do I parallel park? Nope.

      1. Emmie

        You rock! That’s no joke. I can parallel park on both sides of a one way street up to a mid size sedan.

    11. teclatrans

      Hunh, I was unaware of the mirror alignment thing. Does that work even if you are driving a Honda Fit and the car next to you is, say, an Escalade?

      My dad taught me to use my rear wheels. Pull up alongside the car in front of the space, getting as close as safely possible. Align your rear wheel well with the back of the neighboring car. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Turn your wheel all the way right and reverse. Turn your wheel back the other way [when the front wheel has cleared/back wheel needs to turn so as not to hit the curb] — I am afraif I don’t recall the exact instruction and this is the part that I fudge a bit depending on how far the front car is from the curb, relative car sizes, etc. The primary goal is to get the rear wheel to slide right into place with a secondary goal of not hitting the car in front.

      For tiny spaces and mismatched size/location, there might be some back and forth required. The key principle to remember is that your steering wheel is manipulating the front tires (this may not be applicable for a small subset of drivers, but you will know who you are; for all others, assume these instructions apply to you). Thus, your challenge is to position your rear wheels, which has to be done by overcorrection of your front wheels. Say you have ended up bumping the curb while still at a 45 degree angle. In order to end up with your wheels an inch or two to the left, you will need to end up with your front wheels further left, so as you retrace your turn, you would need to pull the wheel to the left at some point and make sure the car is at a new starting point, and then once again pull hard to the right. (Not sure if this is making sense? I find it easier to teach when someone is in the car with me.)

      Finally, it helps to be willing to scrap your efforts and start over. If something was off with your initial trajectory or you corrected poorly, you could spend ages making small corrections but still being stuck. (I find this mostly happens when I start too far away from the front car and/or don’t have my rear wheel aligned properly)

    12. Anonathon

      I rock at parallel parking. Or just parking in small spaces in general. However … I park 100% by feel and have no idea how to help other people learn. I’m not helpful :(

  3. The Cosmic Avenger

    I’m really good at troubleshooting/solving website issues, to the point where I often solve things that I previously would have sent to IT, or I at least document what I’ve found so that, say, I can point to the Teapot Integration module not being able to accept a specific type or method input, which is why our online teapot listing is missing some information.

    One of my secret weapons: Inspect Element. In Chrome or Firefox, right-click on the part that is in question, and look at the code. Also, in Chrome (not sure about FF), you can type in different HTML right there and get a preview of what the change looks like. This helps me when the style sheet changes the look of what I entered, and I need to figure out how a certain change will actually look once implemented. It’s also handy for tracing layout issues, checking the size of an area or image on the page (so you can match it or fit something inside of it), and checking source URLs for page elements (not just images, but iframes and scripts).

    1. Phoenix

      You can do this in Internet Explorer, too – at least, you can in IE11 and higher. They’ve made their developer tools much better in that version than they used to be.

    2. Tau

      I LOVE that inspector feature. So handy for those “okay, for some reason the page is too wide, which bit of the super-complicated layout is overflowing?” issues.

      Aaaand I did not know that you could actually type in new HTML there. Handy!

      1. The Cosmic Avenger

        Oh yeah, that reminds me, all of the styles are in the right sidebar, WITH CHECKBOXES, so you can go through and uncheck them and see if unchecking one of them fixes the issue you’re working on. And at the bottom of that sidebar is a diagram of the paddings, borders, and margins, and if you point at one it’ll highlight it on the page.

        Which reminds me, for those of you who haven’t used it, Inspect Element will highlight the part of the page you’re pointing at in the code, which saves a ton of time. You can also right-click on a new part of the page and choose “Inspect Element” again, and the code part on the bottom will jump to the part of the code that builds that part of the page. Try it!

        1. Tau

          !!!! I think I love you. You have no idea how messy my CSS gets. Or maybe you do.

          (I swear, sticking things in particular places on the page with CSS should be a lot easier than it is. Sticky footers, egad.)

          1. The Cosmic Avenger

            If you have any questions, take the spaces out of my commenter name, tack “23@gmail.com” on the end, and email me about it. I love to share stuff like this. But I don’t really write CSS, I identify issues and then usually send them to the design/front end team. Our current base style sheet is 77K; from scratch, I am lucky if I can put together p, td, li, ul, and h styles.

        2. Mabel

          OMG! I have got to try this as soon as I get back to my computer. I have never found a decent HTML editor, so I do a lot of it “by hand,” & then I have to open it in the browser to see what it actually looks like. Sounds like Inspect Element will be very handy!

          1. The Cosmic Avenger

            I’ve never liked any editor other than Dreamweaver. I don’t know why, but I haven’t found anything that comes close. It’s easy to switch between source and design views; it will show you a list of all possible tags/attributes as soon as you start typing one; it makes it really trivial to highlight any tag, even with deeply nested ones; the 4 levels of pasting into the design window (plain text, basic formatting, some formatting, all formatting).

  4. Snarkus Aurelius

    Crisis. I’m good in a crisis. If the world is ending or there’s a natural disaster or a US citizen can’t get out of a foreign country because of the Arab Spring, I’m your woman. Also that last one is something I worked on a few years ago.

    Trade secret? I don’t know. Staying calm and making others stay calm. Mapping out the knowns and working with those limits.

    1. OriginalEmma

      Crises are definitely situations where the the person I am meets the person I wish I was…and doesn’t rise successfully to the occasion. Any secrets of developing the ability to stay calm? Is it awareness? Emotional intelligence?

      1. Snarkus Aurelius

        This is going to sound horrible but it’s the truth.  I have anxiety-ridden parents and sister.  Growing up, all of them would frequently freak out and yell.  That behavior used to make me anxious, but as I got older, it got on my nerves.  It still does.

        I keep in mind that such behavior isn’t helpful, and it makes the situation worse.  That motivated me to deal with the situation at hand and find a solution.  After awhile, I liked it because I knew there was a solution in there somewhere and digging to find it would be a challenge.

        It takes practice.  You have to remind yourself that freaking out isn’t going to help.  The very first question I always ask is, “What do we know right now?”  More information helps me feel more secure and motivated.

        1. Chinook

          “You have to remind yourself that freaking out isn’t going to help. The very first question I always ask is, “What do we know right now?” More information helps me feel more secure and motivated.”

          Having been through a few crises (School burning down while teaching? -check. Mass hysteria on a bus in the literal middle of nowhere with students who stop breathing? check. Friend falling down on the ice in the middle of a busy skating path and passing out from the concussion? – check. DH calling on day 2 in new town telling you to NOT leave the hotel until I hear from him due to an emergency? – check. Student hitting bashing another student’s face into a desk? – check), I have to agree that not freaking out and assessing your situation are the biggest things to remember. The next step is to either follow the instructions of those in charge or take control and give specific orders to specific people and not let anyone undermine you. I still remember telling a mother that she wasn’t allowed to leave the evacuation centre with her children because I didn’t know who she was and that, legally, they were still my concern no matter how many stretch marks they gave her. I allowed her to stay with them in the centre but no one was leaving until I had permission from the principal to let them leave and a way for guardians to sign them out.

          1. Not So NewReader

            I think that experiences take some of the edge off the anxiety. And I think knowledge helps also. One thing that I have learned is very seldom does the Thing I Fear The Most actually happen. While the situation was Not Good, I can still think of ways it could have been worse.

      2. katamia

        Not Snarkus Aurelius, but I’m good in crises too. What helped me develop this skill was, weird as it might sound, daydreaming–I’d think up some bizarre scenario when I got bored, examine it from a bunch of angles, look up things I didn’t know, etc., and then if I wound up encountering them in real life (nothing as extreme as getting someone out of an Arab Spring country or anything, but minor crises), I’d already know what to do because I’d have already thought through the angles and looked up what I would have otherwise needed to look up in the moment.

        1. ExceptionToTheRule

          My job requires split second decision making & this is how I’ve developed my reactions over the years. Thinking about what could go wrong when things are calm & deciding a course of action in advance.

          1. WorkingMom

            I am a lot like this. Staying calm in an emergency is a strong suit of mine as well. Now, I’m not getting people out of foreign countries during a political crisis or anything… but if you’re going to have an “average” emergency – like a need for some basic first aid, or a calm head in a tough spot – I’m your gal.

        2. the gold digger

          I have already planned my husband’s funeral.

          I imagine the worst things that can happen and figure out how I am going to deal with them. It relaxes me when I can’t sleep.

          1. Mabel

            I’m the opposite. Thinking about what can go wrong (even if it includes solutions) would keep me up all night. Although I am calm in a crisis – probably because I CAN’T plan for it.

      3. Rat in the Sugar

        I have no idea; I also can be surprisingly calm in a crisis, despite normally being anxious and flighty. I just started looking at things differently after a certain incident at my high school job–on two different occasions, I dropped a metal kernel scoop into the spinning kettle. The first time, I tried to retrieve the scoop with one hand and turn the machine off with the other, bungled both and got badly burned on one arm as well as damaging the machine. The second time, I took a breath, reached down, and turned the machine off FIRST, then grabbed the scoop. Me and the machine were both fine. Something about it just stuck with me ever since, don’t know why! It’s like once I experienced that weird calm the first time, I knew how to do it after.

        1. cuppa

          I’m a little like you, sometimes I perform better in a crisis. They key for me is focusing on the relevant details/options. Hyperfocusing on weighing the factors, coming up with a solution, and getting others to help/follow is what keeps me calm.

          Another way of looking at it is like mindfulness on steroids. Thinking, “ok, here I am, and this is what’s going on.” You can say it out loud even if you need to. Then you look at your options and pick the best one.

        2. Tara R.

          Yes! Another very, very anxious person who is really calm in crises. I try to tap into my big sister place– looking after my brother, I have to be a calm, responsible authority figure. I just fall naturally into that headspace when there’s something immediate to be dealt with.

        3. Chalupa Batman

          Yet another “calm in crisis, anxious the entire rest of the time” type here. Tying into Tara’s comment, I think what keeps me calm in crisis is making the assumption that someone needs to be in control to take care of the other people who are worse off, and I feel a whole lot better when that someone is me. I’ve been in crisis with other people who behave similarly, and we immediately teamed up to get things back under control by identifying necessary tasks and carrying them out or delegating to the panickers to keep them calm. In non-crisis I hate being a “co-captain” (either I’m in charge or I’m not, just let me do one or the other), but when things are really crazy, it seems to work.

      4. Lanya (AKA Camp Director Kim)

        Honestly, I believe it is practice and having a plan in place that helps me remain calm and collected in an emergency. There is really something to all the First Aid, CPR, AED and Lifeguard training I’ve had over the years. If your subconscious brain already knows how to handle a problem, it takes over when the problem actually happens.

      5. Purple Jello

        This doesn’t always work for me because I don’t always remember to do it, but:

        – Look at the crisis as a challenge or puzzle.
        – Turn on the analytical portion of your brain. I make charts & lists; it helps me think. If possible, I draw rudimentary flow charts.
        – If possible, think ahead about what you would do in a particular crisis (worst case scenario). If you know an event will probably happen, it helps me consider what can go wrong and how I want to handle it. (Moving the household; going into labor; surgery; blizzard) Even if none of the possibilities I consider happen, if something else does, I’ve already thought of possible responses, which I may be able to modify.

        1. Not So NewReader

          The response to the WTC was along the similar vein, they used a number of crisis plans that had been created and molded them to fit the actual situation.

          I agree, think of the worst possible thing, build a plan for that. Everything else will appear simplier (maybe not a lot simpler, but a little simpler) and you can build a customized plan quicker.

    2. KathyGeiss

      Are you Olivia Pope?

      I find that I am only ok in a crisis if I have to be. If everyone is panicking, I will be calm. If someone else is willing to take the reigns, I will panic.

      1. Tau

        I know this feeling!

        The outwardly-calmest I’ve ever been in a crisis was when I was travelling with my then-six-year-old niece. We were hiking and there was an incident with a bull of uncertain temper standing in the middle of our path. I was terrified, but it was like a switch got flipped in my head and I just went “okay, you are an adult and when kids are around adults are not. Allowed. To. Panic. Now grit your teeth and smile and act like everything is going to be fine so the kid doesn’t get scared.” Wish I could bottle that feeling for future use… or borrow someone’s six-year-old on hairy occasions, ha.

        1. Catherine from Canada

          Ha! Me too. I had exactly the same thought when my four-year had a fresh pot of tea dumped on him accidentally. I managed to keep it together for the screaming drive to Emerg, the examining and bandaging and all. Then I fell apart rather spectacularly in the privacy of my bedroom.

          Funny thing, up until that point I was the master of every crisis, cool and calm and doing what needed to be done while all around me panicked. After son’s scalding ? Can’t do it. I’m useless. I think I used it all up in the three weeks of sterile bandage changes and fainting-from-the-pain.

        2. Not So NewReader

          I was robbed one time. And the thought I had was that if anyone else had been with me, that my concern for their well being would have been enough of a distraction that I would not have been the puddly mess I actually was. Sometimes it is easier to protect others than it is to protect ourselves.

      2. Jessica (tc)

        This…makes so much sense now! I’ve always joked that I’m great in a major crisis, but crap in a minor one. The real issue is exactly what you described here. At a time when everyone else is a blubbering mess, I look around and think, “Well, someone has to keep a level head here, so I guess it’s me. Let’s get this figured out!” If no one else cares about the situation, then I think, “But these things are going wrong! Panic! AAAAHHHHHH!”

    3. olympiasepiriot

      That was going to be mine — ever since I was a kid. I’ve enhanced that over the years by acquiring additional skills that help…first responder certs, first aid, etc. Advice for that is, if you’re not already good at it, take classes, acquire confidence, practice.

      I also have *cough*, uh, the sadly occasionally extremely useful ability to perform well in a fight. No, I don’t fight clean. Also, a fight is not what it looks like on TV. Only advice there is your goal should be to immobilize or mix up someone sufficiently in the first 15-30 seconds and then run like hell.

        1. olympiasepiriot

          Also, anything – really, Anything – can be used as a weapon with enough imagination, for a broad definition of ‘weapon’ which would include ‘distraction’. That means that you should practice not being distracted yourself.

    4. Brett

      I’m good in those situations too. I think it stems partly from having been through really stressful situations. Ever since I had to drive my car through an EF4 tornado, I really have not had much issue dealing with disasters or being freaked out by tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, etc.
      (Though I am still have trouble dealing with human caused disasters like civil unrest.)

    5. Walnut

      Yes! I am the master of crises. I used to get through them with knots of anxiety in my stomach, but I’ve recently reached a zen-master level of calmness when it comes to crises. I think what helped me level up was entering the situation with the rock-solid conviction that whatever needed to happen was definitely going to happen, no question about it. We need to create, edit, publish this impossible thing in the next six hours? Sure; it has to happen, so we’ll make it happen. And then I just work as fast as humanly possible & delegate like a madwoman.

      I haven’t done anything as impressive as hustling people out of civil unrest situations, so I can’t say if I’d hold up in that situation, though.

    6. beachlover

      Thats me too! I have a split second of OMG, them my analytical mind takes over. I access the situation and the usually end up being the one to organize a response. I am also good at analyzing and developing processes. Can’t tell you why, just the way my mind works. Recently, I had a pipe leak under my sink, flooded my floors etc. I was home alone at the time, and my BF was in Europe. For a split second I freaked. Then I walked outside, turned the water off to the house, called my neighbor who came over and crawled under the house and found the leak. I proceeded to wipe up the water, as best I could and then turned on fans to start drying it out. Then next day I called a friend in construction, he came over and fixed the leaking pipe in 5 mins. Highlight of this, is I am getting my kitchen remodeled – and the majority is payed for by my home owners insurance.

    7. BAD in a Crisis

      Um so if someone gets hurt I usually end up laughing. Like, totally don’t mean to, involuntarily laugh while they’re bleeding out or something. It’s been that way my whole life…

      When I was 6 my neighbor friend fell of his bike in front of our house and shattered his orbital bone. My mom threw us all in the car and rushed to the hospital and apparently I laughed the whole way. BAD BAD BAD.
      When I was 24 a colleague ran down a ~60 degree embankment thinking it wasn’t as steep as it was. Faceplanted at the bottom. I laughed to the point of crying uncontrollably while he was BLEEDING uncontrollably. I managed to get out that this is just a weird compulsive reaction I have and excuse myself but JEEZ that was awful.

      ANY TIPS?

      1. BAD in a Crisis

        So maybe I’m not THAT bad in a crisis. Mostly just if someone’s hurt type of crisis. If I’m in a large group and we’re all lost/missed our train/have a serious work ’emergency’ I’m OK and cool as a cucumber. But as soon as someone gets hurt/there’s blood involved I’m hysterically laughing.

        1. CV

          Oh man, me too.
          I stand around giggling nervously waiting for someone else to tell me what to do. Once I have instructions, I’m okay.

      2. OriginalEmma

        Ugh. Reminds me of when, as a teen, a buddy fell right on his butt while hackey-sacking. My immediate reaction? Not to ask if he was alright. Not even to laugh. But to make that smug tsk noise and say something like “You’re an idiot.” I still feel awful about that immediate reaction 10+ years later. It’s a cautionary tale on how NOT to react to another’s mix-up.

      3. misspiggy

        Mindfulness. Bite your lips on the laugh and ask yourself what you’re feeling inside. Is it horror? OK. Horrifying situation, correctly identified. What would help the situation most at this point? Switch your focus to doing that, as quickly as you can so that you don’t have to think about trying not to laugh.

        1. Not So NewReader

          Agreed. Telling yourself not to laugh is just going to make you laugh more. Look for distractions, such as hands on helping if you can. Make yourself get busy helping out in some manner.

          For some people laughter is the same as panic or tears or any other expersion of horror or fear. The problem with the laughter is that it could cost you some meaningful relationships in life if you laugh at an inappropriate time. If you can get a handle on it, that will be a benefit to you. Interestingly, it could turn out that you have a sort of grace under fire and actually have the ability to handle difficult situations.

    8. SerfinUSA

      I’m the go-to in crisis situations as well.
      Some of that stems from my personality. Even as a kid, I needed to have as much data as possible so as not to be caught out by novel situations. As I got older that translated into a general awareness and constant inventory of my surroundings.
      Then I moved to a neighborhood considered the most dangerous in my city and lived there 15 years. I dealt with running gun battles in front of my house, machine gun murders on my corner, facing down armed gangster wannabes on my sidewalk, attempted robberies and worse.
      I also ended up being first on scene for some terrible accidents and somehow managed to get myself moving, and get bystanders moving, to help the injured & recover the dead. Not because I wanted to, but because it had to be done and no one else was stepping up.

      So after decades of being that person, there is no kind of workplace shenanigan that can ever match that level of crisis, so when something blows up I appear calm & collected and can offer help and direction while keeping the ‘crisis’ in perspective.
      It’s helpful to just narrow your focus on taking things one at at time, triage-style. Prioritize and delegate is a good mantra.

      1. Honeybee

        Some of that stems from my personality. Even as a kid, I needed to have as much data as possible so as not to be caught out by novel situations. As I got older that translated into a general awareness and constant inventory of my surroundings.

        This is one of the reasons I tend to be good in crisis situations. Like right now, I know where all of the exits on my floor are at work, but I can guarantee that most of my coworkers don’t. I take notice of things like fire extinguishers and AEDs and that kind of thing.

        But it’s also because I have been jokingly described as “aggressively positive,” so I tend to try to keep a level head and take on the mantle that we’re all going to get through this, and people respond positively to that.

    9. Bunny Purler

      Yes, this is my superpower too. With me, I think it’s from years of working with animals. If your horse is freaking out, you just have to keep your heart rate and adrenalin levels down so that you become the safe, reassuring presence for the poor creature. Difficult lambing, sheep stuck in the ditch, veterinary emergency? If I don’t keep my head and sort it all out, one of our much loved flock could die. That’s quite a motivation! I don’t really know how I do it; I think it’s experience and the knowledge that I CAN cope with whatever it is that’s happening. I think back to a time when I did successfully do something similar, I take a deep breath, and I remind myself that the sheep have me around because they can’t phone the vet or drive the tractor…

    10. blackcat

      I am a go-to person in medical emergencies. I think it’s because I grew up around livestock and helped the adults deal with veterinary medical emergencies as a pretty young kid. I have a lot of first aid training, but the ability to assess the situation, stay calm, and take appropriate action was developed as a kid.

      I am also awesome when I have had medical emergencies, but I think that is out of necessity. I have a few severe allergies and have gone into anaphylaxis three times. The first time was no good (“sense of impending doom” is actually a symptom!), but afterwards, I learned that staying calm actually helps tremendously. Worrying about not breathing makes it harder to breathe! And I think staying calm helps the body use less oxygen, making the dizziness less severe.
      The most recent time, the EMTs who came were totally astonished at how calm I was (despite having epi-pen-ed myself, which is a dose of artificial adrenaline). My husband was a mess, but I was completely fine.

      I am completely a wreck *afterwards* though. Sobbing, panicking, etc, if another person or myself was actually really in danger. Because of that, it’s good I don’t work in the medical field!

      1. Jenniy

        This is me. My dad had his 1st heart attack when I was 4, and we were moving so our phone had already been disconnected. Mom had to leave me there with him to go to 711 and call 911 and they got there before she got back. I went and got the pillow and baby blanket from my doll crib for him.
        As his health got worse, I got better at crises. I could calculate how long was left on an oxygen tank based on tank size and rate of flow in my head (it’s a special formula) by age 6.
        When emts came, mom was giving one history while I was giving another current stats (this much o2 for this long, x mg of this med how long ago, vitals are x,y,and z)
        Now I’m in charge of all the medical stuff for the whole family- mom and her fiance (dad died when I was 16) hubby even his family sometimes.
        And I deal with all the Dr.s and interpret medical results for everyone

        And no I’m not in medicine. I work at a shipyard

    11. Honeybee

      This is mine too. Something in me just clicks when everyone else is panicking and it feels like the world is going in slow motion, I can see the Matrix code, etc.

    12. Lisa P

      I’m calm in a crisis too. I think it’s part personality (I tend to be a detached observer) and part problem-solving. If you view emotions as an impediment to finding the solution, being calm is an easy choice to make in the interest of getting through the crisis with minimal damage.

  5. Cambridge Comma

    I’m great at giving presentations and love doing it. Three secrets: (1) give all the presentations you can till the fear wears off; (2) introductory improvisation classes; (3) watch good presenters (for me it was the TEFL author Jeremy Harmer)

    1. MaryMary

      For me, as long as I’m prepared and know my material, I’m fine. If you’re not comfortable with your material, do everything you can until you feel like an expert. Then you feel better about not being caught off guard or surpirsed.

    2. BeeBee

      I can’t even stomach the idea of doing one presentation. I literally feel sick right up till I present. Any tips to overcome that?

      1. non-profit manager

        I am told I am very good at presentations, but I am a nervous wreck, feel sick to my stomach, and am sure everyone can hear my voice shake.

        Cambridge Comma is right about (1) – do as many as you can. What also helps me is making sure I know my material, just like MaryMary, so that way questions don’t throw me. And also don’t be afraid to say you don’t know, but be willing to find out and make sure you follow up. For me, taking these steps to deal with the possibility of the unknown helped a lot. But I am still nervous and probably always will be.

      2. Can't think of a creative name

        It’s cliché, but Toastmasters is really helping me get over my dread of public speaking.

      3. Stan

        I do a lot of presenting and I used to get terrible anxiety. My stomach would be roiling uncontrollably. The trick for me was to spend time before the presentation visualizing it. What did I need before I walked out? How would I walk out? What would I do with my hands? etc. all the way through until the end. I would always arrive early so that I could sit in the audience spot and visualize what would happen. Then, when the time came for the real thing, it was a piece of cake since I had already completed it at least once mentally. After doing this a few times, I got much more confident and now I can blow in at the last minute and be good to go. (Not my preference, but I can make it work.)

      4. Purple Jello

        Know your material.
        Know that you won’t know everything they ask you. Be prepared for someone to try to stump you.
        – It’s okay to get back to an individual or the group. (Let me check the details on that and I’ll email everyone). or I you think they’re just trying to make you look bad – (let’s take this offline and discuss later)
        Look up frequently. Don’t read your notes or the slides. Look just over everyone’s heads; change where you are focusing. If you can, look at spots in the audience – someone’s scarf, the back of a chair.
        Speak ALOT slower than you think you need to and enunciate, even with a microphone. If you’re stumbling over words, slow down.
        Practice your presentation ahead of time, out loud and in your head.
        Smile (if appropriate)

      5. Cereal Killer

        Our bodies react the same way to nervousness/anxiety as it does to excited anticipation. Butterflies in the stomach, faster heart rate, etc. One thing that helps me when I am feeling nervous is to tell myself that I am really excited to talk to this room of people about whatever I’m presenting.

        1. Aussie academic

          This is what I do too and it has made such a difference for me. I think we’re so used to identifying that butterflies feeling as nerves that we don’t realise it can be a sign of excitement too. Once I realised that, I was able to treat presentations like wonderful treats given to me. (Plus yeah, do it a huge number of times until you get comfortable.)

        2. Honeybee

          This really does work. It changes the interpretation psychologically to a positive one and makes me feel revved up.

      6. Tara R.

        Practice practice practice practice until you could give it in your sleep. Then practice it in front of a loved one. Then if it’s a large presentation at a conference or something, do a dry run in front of your coworkers. Just go on autopilot!

        I was a mess the first speech I gave in high school. I shook the whole time I was at the podium. But the second two were easy.

      7. Chalupa Batman

        Know your objectives for the presentation. Not everyone is a presentation genius, and that’s ok for most jobs. If your bar for success is that the information you were trying to provide was conveyed clearly and accurately, there’s a lot less pressure. If your job great presenting skills or persuasion that probably won’t be enough, but if you just occasionally have to get up in front of a group with specific information, remember that all you have to do is share the information. Your coworkers won’t hold it against you that you’re not some kind of dynamic speaker if they got what they needed out of it.

  6. Bekx

    I’m really, really, good at finding solutions to software problems. My trade secret is honestly Google. I just know what to Google to find the answer.

    Today my boss was complaining about our new website. There’s a reservation form where you have to put the dates you want. It was letting you pick dates from the past which we don’t want. So I googled “[PluginName] date picker past” and found the answer in 2 minutes.

    I’m also very good with Photoshop. But I’m not sure if that’s really a skill that I can help people with. Ctrl + J (duplicate layer) is my favorite shortcut though! Layer Masks pretty much encompass 95% of what I do when I’m retouching. An exec in my company has bad sweat stains all the time…. using a levels layer adjustment layer and masking the parts I need to be lightened fixes those problems easily and accurately!

    1. Jen RO

      I am regarded as somewhat of a tech whiz in my office… and no one really believes me that it’s just a combination of googling and clicking all the buttons to see what they do.

      1. LQ

        I’ve tried to convince people that all I know about computers come from ooo what does this button do?! No one believes me. If there was a giant red button that said do not push me I’d have to try it.

        1. cuppa

          I’m with you, I’m always clicking on stuff to see what happens (within reason!). When I was working with students, I told them to do it a lot with software that I was pretty confident they couldn’t break. :)

      2. Ordinary World

        Exactly!!! I always figure the software ‘wants’ you to be able to do something, you just have to find the maybe-a-tad-secret way to do it.

        And if not, then some friendly genius out there has figured a workaround, and has been kind enough to share.

        Relatedly, I share whenever I find those tricks out with people who I know can use them. User groups are a wonderful resource for that.

      3. hbc

        Same here, with the additional skill of standing next to electronic devices and they magically work. At least that’s the rep, but I’m positive that at least 90% of the time, it’s people going through the steps more carefully to show me how it’s mysteriously not working.

        1. Swoop

          I’ve a co-worker with that skill! I will literally try something in the same way 5 times (following exactly the same steps at least the last 4 because I’m all about reproducability), tell them it isn’t working (with screenshots), they come over, and then it just works. Infuriating :)

        2. Jen RO

          Haha, I’m the opposite with hardware – everything seems to break around me! (And I hate troubleshooting hardware…)

      4. Merry and Bright

        I tend to remember stuff more when I find it out for myself. I browse round buttons and menus, and Google and YouTube have got me out of so many holes I can’t tell you.

      5. Kelly L.

        Same here! Lots of googling “Word has this blue blinky thing and when I tried to make it go away, it played the Battle Hymn of the Republic backwards” and somehow, somewhere, someone else has had the same problem and I can find the answer. Microsoft Help is…less than helpful if you don’t know the exact trademark name they’re using for something.

    2. Meg Murry

      Yup, I do a combo of google, plus years of reverse engineering other people’s Excel spreadsheets. Send me a spreadsheet that uses formulas, I can not help but try to track down what exactly the formula is doing – and if I don’t know the function you are using, I will google it.

      Same with VBA. I know a teeny tiny amount of VBA, and then I’m really good at googling and finding examples other people have written and using their code. I’m not doing anything cutting edge, so there is no point re-inventing the wheel. One of my bosses was so impressed when I put a date picker thing into a spreadsheet (click on the cell and it pops up a calendar). All I did was google “date picker” excel VBA or something similar, and make tiny tweaks to the code for our use. I always comment the code as to where I found the original though, I’m not taking credit for someone else’s code. The Mr.Excel message boards are a great source (or at least they were, I haven’t used them in a while).

      1. Jadelyn

        This is me, right here, and it’s how I’ve developed a reputation as the Excel genius in our office. (Literally, the VP of HR – my boss’s boss – called me the other day for help on Excel and opened the call with “Can I just admit you’re smarter than me?”) I promise, no matter how weird the issue, you will never EVER be the first person to struggle with it, and there are people out there who’ve already fixed it whose work you can piggyback onto.

        With formulas it’s a combination of googling (god bless StackOverflow and the Mr Excel forums!) and tweak-til-it-works; with VBA I did the same thing I did years ago when I taught myself HTML: take existing code for a functioning page and change one thing at a time to see what it does. I developed this big macro to clean up the spreadsheet report one of our systems spits out because the raw report is godawful ugly and half-useless, and I got sick of going through and manually fixing all the crap to make it usable. I started by recording a macro of what I wanted it to do, then opened up that code and started researching the various functions it was using. It started as a horrible monstrosity of redundant code because that, apparently, is what MS does when you record a macro, but by the time I was done it was a sleek little one-click fix for the ugliest spreadsheet I’ve ever seen. (I was even able to reuse that a few months later, when I was asked to train a couple of higher-ups on how to pull data from one of our surveys and put it into a specific graphical format. I wrote a new macro based on my existing one and set it up so all they had to do was port the raw data in and click the button to set it up correctly for the graphical output piece.)

        As far as the rest of my tech prowess, I literally describe it as “poke it with a stick til it does what I want”. And yet it still apparently amazes the hell out of my team that I can sit down with new software and have it more or less doing what I need within half an hour or less.

        TL;DR: Judicious googling – StackOverflow is your one-stop shop for tech fixes – Take existing code and make small changes to teach yourself what each piece does – PUSH ALL THE BUTTONS until you find the one that does what you need.

    3. Jenniy

      Omg yes this… I’m the Google queen. Hubby and mom and MIL can Google for hours on end with no results… and I find it in 30 seconds
      It’s just a matter of typing in the right words

  7. Beebs

    Run a tight ship, I always meet or exceed deliverables on a project. I am very organized (I use my neuroses to my advantage) and create a work plan that is easy to follow. For the team I set high expectations, support and coach them, but make it clear that subpar performance is not acceptable. I feel that a lot of people are used to being given slack on things, and that doesn’t fly with me. They learn quickly that I am fair but firm.

  8. Former Diet Coke Addict

    I am really good at organizing. Not in the typical “oh I’m super organized” sense, but honestly. I am a wizard at folding fitted sheets. My cupboard is arranged by how often I use things and their types. My drawers and closet are arranged by clothing type and colour, and I switch out twice a year. Same for my work area–everything is sorted neatly into its section, alphabetized, and so on.

    My secret is that I visually enjoy order and hate looking at mess, so I constantly make time to sort (plus I enjoy it), I make judicious use of boxes and files and shelves (GET SHELVES if you can and you need them! Shelves have made a huge difference in how neat I can be!), and I’m not afraid to throw stuff away after the end of its useful life.

    My other talents include writing, cleaning (seriously), lecturing and giving presentations, and perfecting the no-makeup makeup look.

      1. Former Diet Coke Addict

        You kid, but I seriously had the most fun ever at my job this summer when it was dead and my horrible boss was in Italy and I had free rein to sort and organize the whole damn office. It was great. I was able to throw away fliers from stuff we haven’t sold in eight years. I was able to throw away specs for stuff companies don’t even make any more! Everything got organized! It was amazing.

    1. Isben Takes Tea

      Do you have any specific tips at folding fitted sheets? That would be worth price of admission.

      1. Former Diet Coke Addict

        It’s a little tricky to do without a visual, but I can try! You’ll need a flat open space like a (made) bed or the floor.

        Shake the sheet out so you’re holding it by one end and it’s not twisted. Make the corners lay like they would on the bed. Take the point of your finger and put it into the corner of one seam and hold it up so the sheet is hanging on your finger at that point. Then take the opposite side and put it on the same finger so both sides of the sheet are settled on one point. Arrange the sheet to lay flat so the elastic is all together.

        Lay that part down and do the same for the other two corners. Then you’ll take both corners and put them on one finger so you’ll have all foyr corners of the sheet on one point. Arrange the sheet so it’s relatively smooth.

        Then lay the sheet down and smooth out all the air. It should lay relatively well together if it isn’t twisted anywhere. It will be almost a square, so flatten and smooth appropriately to fold it into a nice flat shape to look decent in the cupboard. Practice! Much practice! There are some good youtube videos. Mine now look neater than a flat sheet when folded, but it took a lot of practice to get there.

        1. Texas HR Pro

          I also love the trick where once the flat and fitted sheets are folded, you store them inside the matching pillowcase (plus store the second pillowcase in there if you have two of them). It’s a little more bulky than stacking everything separately, but it’s all together!

        2. SerfinUSA

          It’s also important to fold items with the size & shape of where it’s going to go in mind.
          I just went from a normal-sized dresser to an itty bitty (but very cool) antique one, and I can still fit a lot in it if I fold things so the finished size can be stacked in multiples that fit the drawers. Like instead of folding jeans into 1/4ths I fold them into 1/6ths (in 1/2, then the 1/2 into 1/3rds). I can fit 6 stacks of 2 or 3 into the shallow drawer. And my socks have to be ‘bundled’ so when I stand all the paired socks on end and pack them in the drawer, they stand just under the top of the drawer so it can slide freely. This means I can fit a ton in, like color crayons standing up in a box.
          My poor partner has learned to either let me fold my own clothes, or doesn’t look when I refold all her work.

    2. Alexis

      How do you do no-makeup makeup?? I’m really great with general makeup application, dressy makeup, etc. but I never have liked how I look when I try to do the no-makeup look.. I just look tired/the same as I do without makeup.

        1. Alexis

          I rarely if ever wear eyeliner on my lower lash line unless it’s an evening event, but that’s also because I usually wear black winged liner on top, so more liner doesn’t usually help too much. I should probably invest in a decent medium brown liner that I can use on my lower lash line for natural days.

          1. Former Diet Coke Addict

            Hmm, that makes me think it may be the colors involved? I definitely rely on my neutrals for a no makeup look, including light brown and medium brown eyeliner with a light hand. I also stay away from liquid or gel and use a pencil or powder for a softer look.

      1. Former Diet Coke Addict

        If you’ve got the general basics of makeup, the no-makeup look is really similar! I’d think the biggest thing is getting your skin to look clear and glowing (I am a fiend for moisturizer, but a little blush and highlighter will help). I use a Benefit cream to tone down the dark circles under my eyes, and I use a light eyeliner (usually brown or a plum) just at the outer corners of my eye, top and bottom. That helps to define without looking too Done. Also a huge thing is doing the eyebrows. If my eyebrows are shaped and filled in with a little powder, my whole face looks awake without overdoing it on eyeliner, mascara, and lips.

        1. pop tart

          YES TO EYEBROWS. I use one of those mascara spoolies, either the tester ones at Ulta or Sephora or you can get a $1 elf one at Target, rub it in some eyebrow power and swipe it over my eyebrows. Instant drama without looking like I did anything to them. Really helps bc I have blonde hair and blonde eyelashes, otherwise I look washed out!!

          BB creams are also great for the no makeup look – they’re sheer enough that you can see freckles and other details through them, but even out skin tone.

      2. Lebanese Blonde

        Google Man Repeller no makeup makeup. Literally released a thing about it today, putting no-makeup makeup on their resident guy blogger.

        For me, it’s just cover-up on any spots/under-eye issues, combing eyebrows and adding a tiny bit of brow powder (Anastasia duo! I swear by it!).

        On days where I want to look a little prettier but still like I’m wearing no makeup, I add mascara just to the ends of my lashes.

      3. Jadelyn

        For skin, BB cream is your friend! It evens you out and has a very smooth finish, and if you get a lighter-coverage one it still looks natural. Or you can mix a couple drops of regular liquid foundation into your moisturizer to dilute it and get subtle evening of your skin tone without looking like you have foundation on. Skip blush entirely, or use a duo-fiber brush (stippling brush) with a super light hand to buff a tiny amount of peach-tone blush along your cheekbones.

        For eyes, a basic mascara – none of that super-volume-ultra-mega-whatever stuff – and brown pencil liner on your lower waterline. You can also use a thin, flat brush and powder eyeliner to “push” eyeliner onto your lid right at the base of your upper lashes without creating a noticeable line around your eye, this makes your lashes appear thicker and helps define the eye without having visible eyeliner. Use a spoolie brush (you can get them in 10-packs at Target or drugstores) to groom eyebrows and maybe add a light dusting of eyebrow powder to help define them.

    3. Shan

      I also think my talent is organization! My boss and coworkers frequently comment on how impressive it is. It comes to me naturally, but things that really help are shelving and investing in the proper organizational tools, like storage boxes, etc. Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate your systems, either – what worked a year ago may not work now. I also make lists for everything!

      The biggest secret, though? Purging. Often. I go through my desk, purse, makeup bag, etc. very frequently – like once a week. It helps that I don’t have the tendency to hold onto things. To be organized, you can’t afraid to throw things away…if you haven’t used it in 6 months and it’s not seasonal, toss it.

      1. pop tart

        Oh my god I love purging so much. I worked in restaurants for a while, one was a market where we had a small island for refrigerator space sandwiched in the middle of the cheese and meat cases, and that was IT. My manager was giving a new employee a tour and came to me, half my body inside the island with only my legs sticking out and said “here we see your supervisor in her natural habitat…. throwing things away.” IT IS SO IMPORTANT. Purge at work, purge at home, purge the purse, purge the car, get rid of it all.

    4. Snargulfuss

      This totally resonates with me! My favorite chore as a kid was reorganizing the pantry cupboard. Unfortunately that needed to be done way less often than mopping the floor.

    5. C-Suite Diva

      We are “good at that” twins! I firmly belief the secret to good writing and good presenting is organizing your thoughts in a way that other people can follow. So it all ties together in my mind.

    6. Buggy Crispino

      I’m not great at organizing, but I am good about keeping the closet laid out properly and getting rid of stuff that’s no longer being worn. I don’t have a large enough closet to fit summer and winter clothes so I have to swap them out – but when I do put stuff in the closet for the first time, I hang them on the rod with the clothes hanger facing the wrong way. As you wear something and launder it, put it back in the closet with the hanger facing the right way. At the end of the season you know exactly what never got worn and you toss or donate it. I sometimes give myself a 10% allowance of keeping something that didn’t get worn but might be useful in the future (a jacket, dress shirt or something that an occasion just never arose). I do the same with shoes that go in the closet with toes facing out and get returned toes facing in.

      1. Former Diet Coke Addict

        It’s makeup, but the goal is to look like your best self, if that makes sense–like you’ve come back from a restful vacation where you got a ton of sleep and had a ton of fun and feel the best you’ve ever felt.

        It takes some work to accomplish. Usually I start with moisturizer plus BB cream to smooth out skin tone without giving the really finished look of foundation. I have my eyebrows threaded and fill them with powder to create a face frame. My eye makeup is usually shimmery neutrals, slightly darker on the lid and lighter near the brow and blended. A little bit of eyeliner (for me, light brown or plum) just at the corners of my eye to define. Some eye cream if necessary underneath the eye for dark circles. I use a nice non-dramatic mascara that just lengthens and darkens the lashes without stretching them allllllll the way out. Then a bit of blush on the apples of my cheeks and maybe a touch of highlighter above my brow or on my cheekbones. Ta-da!

        For me, this makes me look bright and alert and awake but not Made Up. If I go without, I get a lot of “God, you look tired!” Or “are you sick?” from people, which does suck. A lot of people have told me “You don’t wear makeup and you look great!” only to be baffled when I tell them I am wearing a not-insignificant amount!

  9. Interviewer

    I’m crazy good at putting babies to sleep, serious Baby Whisperer skills. I love love love holding & rocking babies.

    1. emily

      I’m crazy good at it too…but the weird part is that I wouldn’t really say I like it! I like helping out people who obviously need the breather, but am not at ALL a baby person in general.

      1. HR Empress

        I’m crazy good at this too! My “go-to” is the “standing easy bounce and sway” method. For a fussy baby, I sometime have to start out “not so easy” and add in a “bottom/back pat.” Once the kid starts to relax, I start to down-shift.

        One more trick…sometimes when they are “yelling”…I start “yelling” too (ahhhhhhhhhhh….ahhhhhhhhh.ahhhhhh)! Works like a charm!

  10. Rat in the Sugar

    I like to think I’m pretty good at MacGyvering weird solutions to problems when the normal ones won’t work. The trick is to go back to the problem and ask questions like, “What, exactly, needs to be happening that isn’t? What is preventing that from happening? What specifically needs to happen first before this needed thing can happen?” When you can’t find a solution, always go back to the problem!

    1. Cautionary tail

      At a previous (toxic) job I was nicknamed MacGyver. The company wouldn’t spend a dime on technolog (or anything else) and we were using 12-year old servers supported by DOWNS (that’s a UPS that goes down whenever the power fails). The rest of the tech was just as bad. I became an expert at dumpster diving into our 30 foot wide by 50 foot long scrap heap in the back and coming up with parts that could repair stuff, even if it needed to be duct-taped in place to fit right.

      One person wanted an office fan so I made one out of old server fans and put them into a chassis that would hold them. I made a fan speed control switch and it worked great. My nickname was sealed after that.

    2. cajun2core

      That is excellent advice. Always keep asking “what” or “why” until you get to the root of the issue.

    3. Not So NewReader

      Yep, I always say, if you can’t figure out how to fix a situation go back to square one. What happened at the very beginning of the process. Check the inputs, this can be materials, equipment, people, etc. What was put in to the situation BEFORE the problem started happening. Follow the path until you get to the point the problem occured. Question each thing you see. Try not to say every question out loud because the constant stream of questions can drive others nuts. You probably won’t get to the point where the problem occured because you found a predecessor that triggered the problem.

  11. Chantal

    I’m a speed-reader. Not Guinness book of world-records speedy, but I can finish an average newspaper article (frex) while most people reading along are still on the first paragraph. Comes in handy with many random job-related tasks.

    As for how to learn it yourself, well, practice is key. Also, years ago I saw an interview with the guy who is in the Guinness book for speed reading, and he said the trick is to group things in ever-larger chunks. When you’re just starting to read, you have to spell each word out letter by letter. Then you recognize whole words as a unit, then sentences, then paragraphs. He was able to build up to entire pages that way. The other trick with this is that you have to be able to pick out what’s important and what can be skimmed over, while retaining the overall meaning.

    1. KT

      I’m a speed reader (my claim to fame is reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows cover to cover in 3 hours, and was able to parrot direct quotes out).

      I’m dyslexic, but wasn’t appropriately diagnosed until i was well into my teens. Up until then, teachers described me as “slow”. My parents didn’t listen, and threw me into 2 speed reading classes when I was kid, then I read, read, and read some more. It helped me compensate for the dyslexia and had me reading at a “normal” rate. Once I got good at it, I became faster than everyone else.

      1. Jules the First

        I can read upside down almost as quickly as I read right way up, which is very handy in meetings, presentations, and when training new staff. Unfortunately, the trick seems to have been that someone once bet me (as a child) that I wasn’t smart enough to keep up in class with my textbook upside down. Practice makes perfect….

        I can also write backwards (mirror writing), though not quite as quickly as I write forwards (and that’s a pretty useless skill, except for entertaining bookish children….)

        1. RedWheel

          I am great at reading a book and walking at the same time. This used to be impressive and inspired awe when I was a kid. Now with smart phones and other devices, everyone can do it ( and does) and I am nothing special. Sigh.

        2. Blue_eyes

          I’m pretty good at reading upside down too. My dad is great at it, so I learned from him. (My dad can also type with a keyboard behind his back). Comes in handy as a teacher. I can do alright in Spanish, but not as fast as in English.

      2. Winter is Coming

        Deathly Hallows in 3 hours? Now that’s an accomplishment. It took me an entire weekend of doing nothing but!

    2. Tau

      I’m a speed-reader, but honestly for me it’s that I somehow developed the habit of skim-reading everything very young. Usually it’s fine and I’m at most a bit confused on occasion, but I came to deeply regret the habit during my PhD… let’s just say that mathematical papers are probably some of the densest pieces of writing known to humanity and skimming through them is a very, very bad idea.

  12. Isben Takes Tea

    I’m really, really good at learning new systems quickly, whether software programs, accent rules in a foreign language, or running a dishwashing station for a Girl Scout camp of 200. Part of it is brain wiring, but the other part is three-fold:

    1. Focusing on how each step fits together. What happens to the teapots before and after they get to me, and what is the purpose of my actions on the teapot?

    2. Pattern recognition. How is this teapot task similar to the sugar bowl and creamer tasks? What makes it different?

    3. Curious experimentation for fun, with research. What if I wanted to attach two spouts to a teapot–how would I do that? Could I design a raspberry-vanilla swirl handle? What are the licensing restrictions on frosting rose knobs?

    1. LBK

      I’m really good at this, too, and I would agree completely with your tips. I think in general I would say that when learning a new process, imagine you’re designing the process from scratch with the person who’s training you. That mindset helps guide the kinds of questions I ask, because ultimately I don’t want to just memorize the steps. I want to be able to organically and logically work through the process as if I were being asked for whatever the final result is for the first time. The benefit to having someone to train you is that you can eliminate the trial and error that’s usually involved in designing a new process.

  13. Katie the Fed

    I’m really good at writing emails, especially at work.

    The key is to say the most important message up front, and what action you need from the recipient. The give pertinent background and suggestions if appropriate.

    1. non-profit manager

      I do the same thing, and I get great response to my requests. Along with thanks for the request/action item/important point being up front.

    2. Rena

      I spend far too long trying to formulate emails. Would you be willing to give a brief sample of a solid email?

    3. OriginalEmma

      Good ol’ BLUF – learned it from a retired Navy dude and have relied on it ever since.

      BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front.

  14. Bend & Snap

    I’m an excellent writer.

    Tips:
    Don’t just follow the typical steps like outline/draft/polish etc–use downtime to think through angles, key phrases, flow, sentence structure and how to make your piece entertaining/compelling etc.

    Don’t overthink the first draft. Just let it flow onto the screen and see how it goes.

    FOCUS. For me that means classical music and minimal distractions during the time of day I’m sharpest (early morning).

    1. SP

      I’m an excellent writer as well. One of my tips, similiar to yours is start with whatever part comes out first. You don’t have to start from the beginning, and in fact I often write the beginning last.

      1. Elizabeth West

        This is my tip. I don’t write in a linear fashion—I write scenes and chapters from an outline, skip around, and then cobble it all together later. That’s actually my favorite part, putting it together and smoothing it out. :)

    2. Brett

      I curiously hate writing, but write well. My unique take on this is that I consciously think about sentence structure and variety as I write. I purposely intermingle simple, compound, complex, and compound complex-sentences. I also very sentence length; vocabulary complexity comes into play too. While I consciously follow structure as I write, with practice I can flow through interesting structure in single drafts. Unfortunately this process is also exhausting. A separate consequence is that my wife (also a strong writer) hates my editing because I am so critical of structure and variety.

    3. Phoenix

      “Don’t overthink the first draft. Just let it flow onto the screen and see how it goes.”

      Very timely advice, seeing as it’s currently NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)!

    4. OriginalEmma

      Don’t overthink the first draft. Just let it flow onto the screen and see how it goes.

      Reminds me of the chapter “Sh*tty First Drafts” in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Good stuff right there.

    5. John

      Nice!

      When my wife is writing a rough draft, she’ll name the file “Ruff Draft” just to remind herself not to try to make it perfect.

    6. mondegreen

      I’m a decent writer myself, and I agree with everything Bend & Snap said.

      When writing anything technical, I start by thinking about who the reader is and what their goals are. I write down some questions I could imagine them asking, then go off and find the answers to those questions. (I cast a broad net at the research stage because missing anything can spell disaster, so most of what I skim and about 3/4 of what I thoroughly read is not explicitly referenced in the final document. YMMV depending on the consequences of error.)

      Then I make a traditional-looking outline. I start with the factual/descriptive portion, or summaries that I know draw on only one source, and write the intro and conclusion at the very end. When I’m not sure where to go, I’m comfortable writing in very casual language to put words on the page. Once they’re there, I can edit more easily than when the ideas are floating around in my head.

      I used to find it helpful to skip over minor facts and figures to be looked up later, leaving a highlighted note/ comment in Word, so as to not break the flow of writing. Now I tend to take out most of those one-and-done details unless I have some special reason to be exhaustively thorough. Anything *really* important ties into what comes before and after in such a way that it needs to be in there from the start. Color/engaging asides can be added in subsequent drafts once the cohesive structure is there.

      When I’m writing a document I want to be perfect, I print a copy and edit pencil in hand. Then I read as much as I can out loud for flow. (Disclaimer: I’m writing this on a computer from the Jurassic Age with a sticky keyboard, so this comment probably sounds terrible. It would be better if I could scroll up and edit.)

  15. Almond Milk Latte

    This sounds minor, but my tactical Googling skills have served me SO well in my career. Troubleshooting everyone’s PC issues, figuring out why our server is misbehaving, learning how to use InDesign, managing VLOOKUPs.. Fixing a coworker’s issue makes me endearing, fixing company problems makes me useful, and learning new skills makes me efficient.

    How do you learn this skill? You’re gonna have to Google it. Seriously though, replace all of your “I don’t know”s with Let me check”s, and actually check. It’s not that hard, but it seems like a lot of other people I’ve worked with don’t do this.

    1. KT

      YES. Being a top-notch Googler should be a major life skill. People think I’m a genius, but I just really make use of my search button.

      1. Lore

        Totally. Also, learning to filter reliable information found by Googling from internet junk is really useful. I have to do enough fact-checking at my job that I’ve gotten really good at parsing results in a number of ways.

        1. Anon369

          Yes, and knowing what words to use to search to find things. . .you want to find a slightly obscure word related to your search, but not so obscure that the writer/content provider wouldn’t use it.

          1. cuppa

            And look for clues for better words if your words aren’t getting you what you want! Sometimes you’ll get a hint of something that you want in a result, and you can take a keyword from that, search on it, and get something better :)

    2. V2

      Yup! As an IT guy, one of my favorite memes is the picture of an IT guy with the text, “I have a job because you don’t know how to use Google.” It’s obviously an exaggeration, but it’s amazing how many problems can be solved in seconds with a search. I always try to tell people that there really aren’t any novel problems, almost everything they’re encountering has been encountered and documented by someone before, but the vast majority of people just don’t want to take the step of trying to solve it themselves.

      1. Merry and Bright

        Definitely. And while the IT guys in my office are pretty awesome, by the time my request has been processed and ticketed, Google has the answer for me so much faster. I prefer to save the IT team for the more serious problems such account and server issues – things they actually need to do.

    3. LQ

      I’m pretty good at this too. The thing I have found myself surprised I need to tell people is if your first search doesn’t work, try again. Sometimes it can take several tries to get the results you need, especially when you aren’t a frequent googler.

      1. CAF

        THIS. I basically Google for a living (with some other databases for research), but my top hint to people would be to try different searches. I usually need to make a number of searches in different ways on a topic because I’ve covered the ground I want. Which means knowing search operators and how they work.

      2. Joanna

        If you find yourself past page 2 of search results on your first search, you’re probably doing something wrong.

    4. Cath in Canada

      Bad googling is so frustrating to watch. My lovely, nice, polite-to-a-fault-even-for-a-Canadian friend once told some random guy who was trying to find the name of a song on his phone during the party “wow, you’re a really bad googler”. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard her say to anyone.

      1. fposte

        But it’s a horrible thing to be a bystander to. “I need to find out the name of the song that we were crazy about at camp in 1996, and the lyrics I remember are ‘Eat the guava, eat the melon.'” And then they type in “fruit” and “camp.” Augggh.

    5. Squeegee Beckenheim

      I also consider myself a master googler. My main tips are searching by date (if you know something is old or recent), using site: to restrict the search to one website, using quotes, and actually reading the results to figure out if what you found was relevant or not.

    6. OriginalEmma

      Is it a generational issue? Or a facility with technology issue? If you spent most years of your life *not* being able to readily and easily access information related to any given problem (which has been the reality of life until the past 10 years), you may not reflexively think “let me research that.” Of course it’s an attitude and skill that can be taught, but that might explain the immediate response of “I don’t know” whose silent partner is “because I’m not used to be able to find the answer, and I don’t know how to find out.”

      1. Joanna

        I think good web searching comes from experience, like so many things. Whether you get that experience because you are young and have always been exposed to computers, or not, I don’t think it makes a big difference.

        This reminds me of how I learned to touch-type. I took a typing class in middle school but it didn’t click for me. After that, I got very into computers and I always just did hunt-and-peck, but I could type faster than many touch-typers I knew because I had through mere experience (not training) learned where the keys were. Eventually, I wanted to learn how to touch-type properly, so one day I just decided that I would do all my typing at the home row, looking if I needed to, no matter how long it took, and my fingers caught up with the new positioning pretty quickly.

      2. Not So NewReader

        I think you can retrain your brain. I started by leaving little notes by the computer of things I thought of through out the day that I always wanted to know more about. After a bit, I did not need to do that so much. Now I have to leave lists of tasks because I get side tracked reading on various topics. I get a lot of joy out of googling my questions, the enjoyment is very motivating.

    7. pop tart

      Yes! I just replied with this. I use it to find weird items we need to purchase for work, to find a list of the best places to eat in a city i’m going to (I’m vegetarian so it involves scanning a ton of menus for key words), learning how to do stuff in photoshop, fixing my email when icloud is freaking out, you name it I’ve googled it.

    8. Kara

      Yes! It’s not so much that I’m good at any one thing (although I do have a couple of guru level items) but overall I can hit up Google and come away with knowledge when other people are still floundering around.

      The trick is to phrase things correctly (e.g. don’t just Google two words, but actually form a sentence: What is XYZ? or How does GBC work?) and to go past the first page. Well, and use common sense and some kind of critical thought – not everything that comes back will be valid.

      You’ll be amazed at what you can find out with a simple Google search.

  16. Cruciatus

    I am apparently really good at super weird/awkward encounters. The thing is, while it’s happening I’m in a panic trying to figure out what solutions I can offer and just hoping the encounter ends soon. But nearly every time one is over, at my old jobs and new one, people say “You handled that really well.” I wish I knew how to advise people in what to do. I usually just keep talking, trying to make sure I understand what is happening then I throw out anything I can think of until something sticks. But I manage to keep a calm front, even though my insides are screaming “AHHH WHY WON’T THIS END!” Fortunately this doesn’t happen too much. But when it does it’s usually really weird and uncomfortable.

    1. Lulu

      Same! Several years of customer service have taught me a few important people skills:

      1.) Articulate your thought process. Like you said, just keep talking until something sticks. Don’t make whatever you’re telling them seem arbitrary–explain why the rules are the way they are, or why you came to a certain conclusion and ask if they think it sounds reasonable.
      2.) Be honest. If a customer is frustrated with a policy that you also think is stupid, but you have no power to change, tell them! Or, if a cheaper product is better quality than a more expensive product, tell them that too! People can *really* tell when you’re being phony, and they appreciate honesty because it’s incredibly hard to come by in sales positions. It will pay off in the long run–making a smaller sale now but retaining a lifelong customer and increasing traffic by forging a reputation for honesty > a slightly bigger sale right now, made on a basis of dishonesty. This method goes especially well if you work for tips.
      3.) Sympathize, make people feel *heard,* and offer accountability proactively. I have a lot of folks walk into my store unhappy about one thing or another (I work in an industry with a lot of rules, which results in being unable to serve about 1/3 of the people who walk in the door), and my fire-extinguisher monologue usually goes something like this: “I totally understand that this is frustrating for you–I’d be upset if I were you too! Believe me, I want to get you in here as badly as you want to get in here. Let me check on XYZ for you right now and I’ll call you back no later than tomorrow. My name is Lulu and I’ll be here until B o’clock tomorrow. If you don’t hear from me by A o’clock, please give me a call. I’m going to leave a note for myself to call Suzie in the morning to check on that for you and I’ll let you know the minute I hear anything.”
      4.) THANK THEM FOR BEING “SO UNDERSTANDING” ~BEFORE~ THEY HAVE THE CHANCE TO ARGUE/SCREAM AT YOU. I have literally watched people’s frowns turn upside down by saying: “I know this situation is so frustrating for you, so I just want to thank you so much for your patience. Some people would be biting my head off right now, but you’re really taking this unfortunate situation in stride. Why don’t you go grab a coffee and get some errands done, while I take care of that for you? I’ll call you as soon as I get it worked out. Thanks again for being so understanding; you’re great and I really appreciate it.”

      Those are just a few things I’ve figured out over the years in customer service roles. One last tip I would offer to new CSR folks is to not take criticism personally. People will come in and yell at you after being in your store for 30 seconds. It’s 100% because of THEM, and the bulls**t that THEY are bringing to the situation, and 0% because of you. It can be difficult to take criticism in stride, but if you can learn to laugh about and/or pity an unreasonably angry customer, it will make your job a little more bearable.

  17. KT

    I have a few skills I know I’m really awesome at that make me excel at other areas.

    1. I am a social media whiz. Whether it’s a brand new platform or one of the classics, I know how to tailor messages, analyze demographics, and gain huge followings-but more importantly, I know how to mobilize those followings to take action.

    -how? I listen. So many people think OMG I MUST HAVE A FACEBOOK PAGE, then they churn out content about themselves…that’s not social. Social is listening, taking input, and creating/sharing things that benefit your audience. By using this approach, whether it was for big-pharma or a small non-profit, I created really awesome social media communities.

    2. I anticipate. I am usually 3 steps ahead of people in terms of their needs, concerns, etc. So whether it’s already having talking points prepared for a crisis BEFORE it hits or having a backgrounder at the ready for the CEO before his trip, I always am ready before I’m told I need to be.

    -How? I pay attention, listen, and ask questions. Admins are my best friends–they can tell me what big meetings are coming up, who is interested in what, or what one-button issue is taking up the most time.

    3. I figure things out. I’m known as a wiz at a variety of things, from Excel to graphic design, but I’m not. If I don’t know how to do some crazy mail merge, I’ll google it, I’ll play around, but I’ll figure it out. It gives me the reputation of being this amazing problem solver, but really I’m a champion googler.

    1. Nikki T

      That is interesting about social media. I work at a college and my director knows nothing of social media and will get in a tizzy if anything comes up about it, so I’m careful about what I post and only share posts from others units on campus, or local junior colleges. We can’t pay to boost posts so I never have much to say!

      I may start culling information from industry publications and sister institutions and float things for approval. We have GOT to get our numbers up to bring more awareness of our department’s existence and the services we provide.

      Thanks for giving me something to think about.

      1. pop tart

        That works extremely well. I have a blog to promote my side business, and I gained a huge following by posting other people’s work that I thought was cool. I have found the key to getting people to look at your presence is to not just shout ME ME ME all the time. Be a part of the conversation!

  18. Kristine

    I have a somewhat different job from a lot of commenters here: I’m a TA for adolescents with moderate-to-severe autism. It’s a hard job, but I love it. I think (and my boss agrees!) that I’m great at de-escalating students when they’re in crisis. I’m also great at anticipating the needs of the students and my coworkers, which often prevents crises in the first place. It’s a real challenge sometimes, but I’m proud of myself for sticking with it :)

    1. AVP

      This is fascinating! It must be a real challenge to work with people who are nonverbal but clearly have needs for you to meet. (Not that every autistic person is nonverbal but I imagine that must be something you have to deal with.)

      1. Kristine

        Yup, I do work with some nonverbal or barely-verbal kids. It’s honestly just comes down to getting to know the kids, their preferences, their signs for certain items, etc.

        They also have “talkers” (iPads with a program that they can use to form sentences), but unfortunately can’t use them functionally yet.

      1. Kristine

        A lot of after-work drinks with coworkers? ;)

        Really, though, I just love the field. I get to make a real, tangible difference in people’s lives every day. I’m on the front lines; I’m the first responder in the many behavioral crises we have. I’m never bored and always busy. And most of the time, it’s really fun!

        I guess my one tip would be to make sure you have hobbies and interests outside of the field. It’s so easy to get really emotionally invested in this job, and that can make you burn out quickly. Take time to de-stress and find a hobby outside of work!

  19. Sascha

    I’d say I’m great a recognizing patterns. This skill is helpful in tons of things – troubleshooting, programming, writing essays about literature, etc. I’ve gotten better at it simply through exposure – I’m curious about how everything is done or made or works, so I’m constantly looking things up. Wikipedia is hands-down my favorite website. Also, Google makes you a tech deity.

  20. AMG

    I am good at communicating. I keep everyone in the loop, my documentation is on-point and accurate, I leave myself calendar entries to follow up when there’s a deliverable, and there are no surprises about what other groups are doing related to my projects. I take detailed notes and meeting minutes for myself and when in a formal meeting, for others so that nothing falls through the cracks. I even had 2 college professors base their tests on my class notes.

    I also collaborate well. I frame it as helping to make everyone’s voices heard and making sure that the impacted people on my projects get the help that they need as much as possible. People come to me with ideas to improve the project and I become a SME with key information that comes in very handy in meetings.

  21. fposte

    I’m going with two things, one of which I have no tips for.

    The first one is that I’m really good at detecting glitches in the lexical universe. This isn’t just proofreading; it’s even seeing a name from a fantasy novel I’ve never read and guessing it’s misspelled, or having a vague unease that reminds me this author whose name I read once twenty years ago has an uncharacteristic spelling. This is hugely handy in my work, I fear losing it as I age, and if I knew how to teach it I’d be all over doing that. I think it’s just a very language-specific mild OCD.

    The other is that I’m really good at finding stuff via Google (I see a sister talent upthread :-)). I think the main tip there is to be willing to dive in and persistent. Search query development doesn’t matter nearly as much as the willingness just to Google in the first place and scroll through the results.

    1. Lore

      That is so true! I have learned that it’s entirely reasonable to teach someone how to mark up a manuscript like a copy editor, but I’ve never figured out how to teach that “alarm bells” skill. I do think some of it comes from reading widely and being willing to be diverted onto a research tangent just in order to see what there is to be seen, but some of is just a sensitivity/sensibility.

    2. Honks

      please do tell how your glitch detection comes in handy in your work – I do that to, but I never know how to sell it in a cover letter

      1. fposte

        It’s pretty specific, I’m afraid–I’m a book reviewer and editor of a review journal, so it’s about raising the accuracy rate in the reviews.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger

      I was considering responding to one of the other Googling comments, but your comment is the perfect confluence.

      I find that the biggest “trick” to Googling is to focus on the language you’re using. I pick my keywords very carefully, and some of my word choice comes from experience, but also if my first search for “teapot lid grip” finds a result or two indicating that the nobby thing I meant is actually called a “bulb”, then I need to start a new search for “teapot lid bulb” if I want the official Lid Bulb specifications, or less technical terms if I’m looking for user-generated experiences with them.

      1. fposte

        That is an excellent point. It’s training a search the same way you’re digging in via Amazon or Pinterest or Etsy, but the goal is information rather than the thing.

    4. katamia

      Oh, I have a similar glitch detector, although mine isn’t spelling-related. Where I shine is contradictions, when an author says X on page 17 and the opposite of X on page 312. I have no idea how I do this because chances are I’m not even paying close attention to X when it first shows up, but somehow I do.

    5. Tomato Frog

      Oh, I’m really good at unconsciously remembering the spelling of names! Every so often in my work I have occasion to proofread lists of names and it fills me with satisfaction.
      I think an interest in linguistics and the development of language can help develop those alarm bell skills. In my case, I’m really interested in historical names and naming practices, so even though I’m not necessarily well-informed on the topic, my brain takes note of patterns and aberrations

    6. Kelly L.

      YES! I can sometimes be reading and I’ll know there’s a misspelling on the page, even if I haven’t gotten to that part yet. Something’s just…wonky.

    7. alexcansmile

      Kind of like your first one – I can figure out how words are spelled just by hearing them without ever seeing it written down. I call it “instinctual spelling” and my trick is just reading a lot and paying attention to language conventions. I blew my mother in law’s mind when I could spell their friend’s last name off the top of my head – it was a french last name with more vowels and silent consonants than one would expect. I’m not always 100% correct, but I’m often in the neighborhood.

    8. Tau

      I think I know what you mean about detecting glitches – I have what’s effectively editor-vision, with misspellings just jumping right out at me. I don’t even have to read the sentence/parse the word to see “oh, right, that’s spelled wrong,” and sometimes it hits things like fantasy names and the like as you mention. (The exception to this are words with multiple could-be-double-could-be-single letters – embarrassing, necessary, committee, etc. – which I’ve had to learn by rote.) Don’t think I can teach that, and it does have its disadvantages in that I have a very hard time reading something with misspellings in it.

    9. girl on fire

      I’m also pretty good at this, and it’s also part of my job. The main trick for me is to get good at listening to the alarm bells in your brain when something seems off, and then checking up on it. Most of the time, people rationalize away those alarms, but if you get good at tuning into them as you’re reading it can be a huge bonus.

      Merrill Perlman (formerly of the NYT) has a great presentation about doing something similar: http://cpestore.mcmurry.com/?controller=product&path=4&product_id=646

    10. Joanna

      My theory is that “glitch-detection” is a result of keeping high standards.

      To illustrate: Why do a lot of people speak with good grammar even though they don’t know what a subjunctive clause is? Because they have heard so many grammatical sentences flying around and so few ungrammatical ones that ones that don’t fit the pattern stick out as unusual.

      I have the same sort of glitch-detection skills you mention and I think it is related to how I used to look carefully at how words were spelled when I was a kid and also to how I try to make sure everything I write down is spelled correctly. After seeing properly spelled words enough, my mind has learned to notice the things that don’t seem correct.

      To me, what is amazing is how the mind can learn things like this so well from experience and yet have no idea how to formulate rules for those things.

    11. Rowan

      This is a nice way to put it! I am also very good at this – I have no clinical background, not even any university education, but nobody else here can proofread a medical document like I can because I have a sixth sense for when a drug or illness is spelt incorrectly. It’s also very useful in my work.

  22. AMG

    Also, this is already my all-time favorite post. I have skimmed and can feel my heartbeat accelerate reading things I need to strengthen within myself. I can’t wait to read through all of these. Thank you, Alison!

    1. Joanna

      True! When I read the question, I thought, “Oh, great, this will just be a bunch of people bragging and making me feel bad about myself, like Facebook,” but it has actually been enlightening.

  23. CrazyCatLady

    I’m really great at fixing and streamlining things and coming up with solutions to problems.

    I’m also pretty darn good at Excel, but definitely not an Excel wizard like some people out there.

    1. CrazyCatLady

      I’m not great at reading comprehension though because I didn’t include the second part of the question.

      I think the reason I’m good at this is that I’m good at recognizing patterns and seeing inefficiencies. I do this in my own life (for example, when I take a shower, first I wash my hair. Then I put shampoo in and leave it on, while doing everything else, then I wash out the shampoo. When I get gas, I swipe my card, THEN open my gas tank, then go back to the machine and type in the zip code for my CC, etc. I hate wasting even seconds). I worked at a software company for my first job, and realized almost anything is possible with software, so I think even impossible things are possible … so I almost always make an attempt to do something, even if I fail.

      1. evilintraining

        I’m the same way with the same talent I think it has a lot to do with being the kind of person who thinks visually. I can see logarithms in my head. I became fascinated with efficiency from the first time I saw the old version of “Cheaper by the Dozen.”

        I think the key, really, is giving yourself TIME. Everyone is so rushed these days, but it’s important to shut everything else out and take the time to visualize a process and think about it. What takes a long time? What are the steps? Very important: what do people most complain about within those steps? And how can we eliminate that frustration? If you can look at your work processes with feedback and without interruption, you may surprise yourself. Do it frequently, and it becomes easier over time.

      2. Anon369

        Are you an INTJ, by chance? I’m the same and it’s a key part of this personality type, apparently. :)

      3. SWriter

        I’m like this, too! I like to think that I am a master at multi-tasking or finding a solution that saves the most time. I am always thinking three (or four, or five) steps ahead of everyone else.

        I think it’s because I have anxiety and a little bit of a control problem. For example when I go to the grocery store, I write my list out in the way that we naturally move through the store. That way I can cross everything off my list in produce, dairy, frozen goods, etc. It makes me absolutely crazy when we have to backtrack because we forgot something (which usually happens when my boyfriend is in charge of the list. Sometimes he’ll just wander aimlessly around the store. I can’t do that.)

        Some people will say, “I want to do XYZ,” and immediately I think of all the steps and roadblocks involved. I guess it’s a gift, but sometimes it makes me even more anxious because it really flares up whenever I’m on vacation and trying to plan my day.

      4. Excel Millennial

        This is kinda me, too. I’ve only been in the workforce for about 2 years, but I have coworkers who have been working for 10 years asking me how to do something in Excel. Truth is, I only really know how to use about 15 functions in Excel. But I can combine them as necessary — in general, I’m good at re-combining my existing knowledge in novel ways. This allows me to solve relatively novel problems without much difficulty. I don’t know, I just “see” solutions easily, and I’m a good guesser (if my first proposed solution doesn’t work, my second will, generally). But yeah, that’s what makes me good at Excel — not raw Excel knowledge, or years of experience, but the ability to combine different parts of my knowledge to solve problems I’ve never seen before.

  24. Katie the Fed

    Oh, one more- I’m really good at difusing tension and coming up with win-win solutions. Like she two people are talking past each other I can easily jump in and clarify and say “ok, Bob is asking you this. Susan, you seem to want X instead” and then help them work out a solution. I had a senior who would ask me to help “translate” him to others because I seemed to be the only one who could figure out what he wanted.

    The trick is figuring out what each party is trying to say and what their end goals. It’s fun. I like to know what drives people and what they want. Usually a lot of conflict is rooted in misunderstanding. But I think much of this is ,y INFP empathy

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Oh! I have this too. I thought it was an INFJ thing. It can be weird, because it can feel really obvious to me what each person is trying to say, but it’s clearly not obvious to the person they’re talking to. I swear, at one job, half my value was as translator.

      1. KathyGeiss

        I’m pretty good at this too but for me I think it comes more from a desire to understand the situation fully than a true place of empathy. I’m ENTJ which also lends to my theory of this skill coming from a desire to be efficient and effective in communications.

        Often (almost always) it’s more efficient and effective to use some emotional intelligence when communicating so empathy does play a large role.

        1. Blue_eyes

          That’s really interesting. I’m also an ENTJ and I actually think I’m fairly good at this skill, but I feel like I’ve had to consciously develop it because it doesn’t come naturally to me.

        2. So Very Anonymous

          I’m an ENFP and I love creating win-win situations. I’m good at this kind of translating in general, but at my current workplace I can’t seem to do it well because the two areas I’m good at mediating between don’t seem to actually want to resolve anything, understand each other, or listen to any kind of mediation. I’ve ended up focusing on creating new partnerships instead.

        3. Effective Immediately

          I’m an ENTJ (and female, which may have some bearing on what I am about to say), and I find the difference between when I do this and when an IN does this is that people tend to get annoyed with my me. I think the INs are trying to create mutual understanding, where I am trying to cut out the fat and get to the core of whatever the problem is. Sometimes those two are one in the same, but sometimes they’re not, and I get the death glare and, “I understand Susan fine, thankyouverymuch.” or whatever it is.

          I’m genuinely trying to be helpful, but I fear it doesn’t come off that way at all! If the IN crowd has any specifics of how they approach this, I would love to know!

      2. saby

        Yes! Also INFJ. I think it’s really about being able to distill down to the actual “what X needs to happen, what Y can accommodate” from people’s not necessarily coherent or well-organized speeches.

        1. Always Learning

          Yes, I’m good at this too! INTJ here. For me, like KathyGeiss, it comes from my need to understand structures of things and fix them rather than empathy and helping other people get along. (Though I’m really not a jerk, honest!) I look for patterns and commonalities, and with that focus the mismatches just JUMP out. I’m similarly good at summarizing the long rambling discussion in two sentences. Here, I think it’s reducing things down to their simplest possible form and asking myself “what’s the very core and most important thing that just came up?”

      3. Mallory Janis Ian

        I have this, too. I think it’s an NF thing (I’m INFP). In my old department, we had a budget officer who everyone found very frustrating to communicate with. I used to get pulled into meetings between my department head and her all the time; my role was to translate her very methodical, plodding way of explaining things into something that my boss could stand to listen to (cut to the chase), and to translate his questions to her (and to keep rephrasing the cut-to-the-chase thing that he was asking) to keep her from rambling and over-explaining. Without me there, he would get irate and she would get flustered; with me there, they could have a productive conversation. My department head would also sometimes pull me into meetings with the dean if the budget officer was involved; then I would perform the same service for him and the dean (of lessening the frustration of exchanging information with the budget officer).

      4. vox de causa

        Well phooey, this was going to be my superpower! I have translated between clients and developers, between decision makers and decision implementers (who spoke VERY different languages), and between team members who did not use the same meanings for certain words.

        It is a very valuable skill and (my favorite part) saves a TON of time.

        I was an INTP when originally tested, but I’ve migrated to the J as I’ve gotten more life experience.

    2. AVP

      I have this too and maybe it’s an NF thing because I’m an ENFP. It’s always amazing to me how people will talk so deliberately but not hear what the other person is saying at all.

      1. So Very Anonymous

        ENFP here too, and I’m amazed by the same kind of thing. I get really frustrated by people who just talk AT people and don’t listen — and don’t pay any attention to how people are reacting (or even THAT people are reacting).

    3. Ordinary World

      Ah, yes, the translating bridge. One of those skills I traced back to growing up in a family with, ahem, incompatible communication styles.

      My translating tends to be in the form of questions: “Bob, I’m getting that you want X to happen, because you believe Y will drag down the timeline. Susan, as I understand it, your take is that Y will save time in the long run, while X will cause a lag at a different junction, one that Bob’s group doesn’t deal with. Are these assumptions correct, or did I hear that wrong?” That can be another AHA! moment when people finally hear each other, and can make things to much easier.

      And yes, taking the time to figure out an idea of what each person wants (and may also subconsciously want) is huge. That part is great fun, if only for pretending I’m a detective with super-awesome psychological skills.

      INFJ, btw.

    4. Christy

      Yes! I’m really awesome at translating between technical and non-technical people. (This is where the major conflicts were in my last job.) I’m good at this, I think, because I can get into the mindset of a non-technical person. (And fwiw I’m an INTJ, usually, otherwise an INTP.)

      1. Jules the First

        I think the difference between the INFP translating and the INTJ translating is that INFP’s apply it to people (Bob wants X, Susan wants Y, and they just need someone to show them that they have the same goals), while the INTJ applies it to ideas – Bob said X and Susan said Y, but actually Bob’s X is just a different way of expressing Susan’s Y.

    5. Whoops

      I seem to be very good at this too, although it doesn’t come in handy at my job. If I’m honest, it’s mostly because I honed it through extensive use as an entree into, shall we say, personal conversations with girls when I was in middle school.

    6. JAM

      Yes! I do well at translating between technical/non-technical people (in both IT and legal), but I also tend to spot differences when others are just talking past each other. I just notice patterns and notice when something is outside of the norms. Usually that means noticing Bob is very worked up about this, he isn’t usually an emotional guy unless he thinks he will have to fix someone else’s work so let me take a look at what he is saying (and not saying) and determine if this is part of his problem. People joke that I’m psychic at times but I think I’m just hyper-observant and an INFJ.

    7. Anx

      This is probably one of my greatest skills as well. The downside is that it seems coupled to my conflict aversion, and may have been the product of endless people pleasing.

      I was very good at avoiding ire in positions where almost everyone had some sort of intense personal conflicts. I was often placed in positions, though, that weren’t always a best match for my more specific skills. I’ve been the bridge or liaison so often.

      I wish I had a more valuable skill, because I don’t think it’s very highly valued in some of the positions I’ve been applying for. It’s also held me back a bit in some jobs because I didn’t get the more visible assignments, I was more in charge of managing relationships.

    8. Anonymous for this

      I am an INFP, and I have this too. I can see and understand what both people are trying to say and translate

  25. Honks

    This is hard right now because I’m six months into a very unsuccessful job search in a field I just bent over backwards to get an MS in. I think I’m pretty good at working independently – the secret/core of which is solving your own problems (I’m actually TOO into solving my own problems, I’m getting better at asking for help at minute 30 of searching, rather than minute 120).

    Basically, you get a task, and if you understand why you’re doing it, you can anticipate the next steps necessary (also known as “being curious about your result”) and either start doing them, or if you’re unsure, come up with a plan, get it OK’d and then start doing them. If you don’t understand why you’re doing it, find out before you start. And of course, if you don’t know something, try to find the answer for five friggin minutes before interrupting someone.

  26. Virginian

    I’m really good at finding information. One of the tricks is to simplify your search by using keywords instead of typing in natural language. For example, “how do I do well in interviews?” could be changed to “job interviews” and “success” or “interview*” and “success tips.” Google has gotten better at interpreting natural language, but when you want to find something fast, keywords are the best choice.

    1. Mimmy

      Would this work also with academic research, like finding articles via one of those special databases? I’m HORRIBLE with finding the right combination of search terms!

  27. LQ

    Estimating how long things take. I’m ok with minutes, but it really shines when it comes to we have this project, or that kind of thing. Weirdly the more other people say, oh no, no way, the more likely I am to be right on the nose.

    My secret is that the most important thing is how many people are involved. If it is just me doing something super easy. If it is me plus someone else I figure about my time plus 50% more. And ramp it up from there. More humans make everything take longer.

    The best was when I threw out a pretty much random date that was in the right range (like I figured I was down to the week but I threw out that thursday), for a project that was 3 years out. Everyone freaked out that it would take that long. 3 years later I was right down to the date.

        1. College Career Counselor

          I’m a good estimator (not as good as that, however). Although, I wonder–is it possible that your announcement of the date helped “fix” the timeline in everyone’s mind? Does the act of naming something (or setting a date) make that more or less likely to be achieved? Not in any sense taking away from that skill–I think that’s really cool.

          1. LQ

            I think it’s entirely possible. Though I’ve also done it where I’ve secretly written it down and gotten the timeframe right. I’ve done things like talking to a friend and said oh this other division’s going to take until next april to get this thing done that they are claiming they’ll have done by november. So I don’t think that’s completely it.

    1. Not me

      I was just about to say this, and my secret is also to make a reasonable guess and add 50%. The more people tell me they’ll be right on time, really!, the more likely I am to be right.

      1. LQ

        Agreed, people are almost never on time. Always add makes it so much more likely to be right. That’s ok, it’s just important to know if you have a critical deadline.

    2. katamia

      Oh, my gosh. I am HOPELESS at knowing how long things will take. How do you even begin to know how long it would take yourself to do something to be able to add that 50% for the first additional person?

      1. Connie-Lynne

        I’m good at this, too. Way back when I was first starting out, a boss gave me the advice to always make time-based predictions to myself, and then track how close I had been. When evaluating how I had missed a time estimate, she suggested I look at what had changed the estimate and incorporate that into my next estimate.

        The big trick is not to get caught up in “in a perfect world” time estimates; the world is never perfect so include all the things you know will come up, or even just things like “well, I could finish this by Tuesday [but Tuesday is a big meeting day so I won’t get any work done on Tuesday and half of Monday will be meeting prep] so Wednesday noon it is!”

        1. katamia

          Hmmm. See, what happens to me is that I’ll tell someone Wednesday at noon and then that thing will actually TAKE me that long, while if I would have told them Tuesday at 5:00, I would have been able to have it done by Tuesday at 5:00 without any problems. I have no idea how long something takes me in isolation, really. Which I guess is probably the root problem, or at least part of it.

        2. Anonsie

          This is how I did it as well. I just paid close attention to my timing and the timing of others and gradually learned the patterns.

        3. LQ

          Patterns and history is absolutely it. I used to track exactly how long things took and then go from there. Now I have a good enough baseline of things that I can just “guess” and get there. But I didn’t start like that!

      2. Anx

        I have a lot of ADHD and procrastination-perfection tendencies.

        I am horrible at punctuality. I have to work so, so hard to manage getting places on time. I used to do this by pulling multiple all nighters a week, because I was so afraid of oversleeping or being late. Now I just spend a lot of my mental energy on it and have built in more routines. The key for me is NOT to build a cushion. The more time I have to get somewhere, the more time there is for new distractions to come into play. It’s not a system that works for everyone, but I’ve had more success by accepting that I’m not an intrinsically irresponsible person and putting no premium on earliness over lateness (just aiming for on-time). I mean, I do give myself a cushion at the end: get to work 5 minutes early. But I don’t wake up early some days.

        I am excellent, however, at knowing exactly when I need to stop putting something off and start typing. I still haven’t figured out how to give myself a few minutes of buffer on an assignment for school, but I’ve stopped sending things in late. It’s so weird. I’ll mentally be worrying or planning out an assignment for weeks. But I know exactly when I need to start working (usually with all-nighters) to get out a good assignment. With work projects I’m much more organized and don’t procrastinate as much, but school is a different animal.

        1. LQ

          I am whatever the exact opposite of a procrastinator is. I get things done early. There is a true story of me once in like 8th grade getting an entire semester’s worth of work done in a week, not the last week like everyone else, the first week. I’m not sure if this makes me better or worse at this.

          I do partly blame my mom writing lists for me in elementary school that would say exactly how long chores should take (hang laundry 12 minutes, put away clean dishes 7 minutes). It’s helped me get very good at knowing how long something takes if you just do it and don’t mess around.

    3. fposte

      What’s fascinating me on this thread is hearing people being so good at things I didn’t know people could do so well–and this is a great example.

      1. AMG

        I adore this thread. I also like that people can type, ‘I am good at’. It’s important to acknowledge that for yourself.

    4. Blue_eyes

      I’m pretty good at guessing what time of day it is, or how much time has past since I last looked at a clock.

      1. Windchime

        Oh, I’m good at this too! I play a little game with myself nearly every morning when I wake up (if I’m not waking up to an alarm). I wake up and try to guess what time it is. I make my guesses specific, like 8:37. I’m usually really, really close.

      2. Daisy Steiner

        Me too! It freaks my husband out how accurate I can be. The downside is that I get hit really hard by jetlag, or even when the clocks change in spring and autumn. I think my body must have very strongly established circadian rhythms or something.

  28. MaryMary

    My special skill is similar to Christy’s, but not limited to technical concepts. I’m good at taking complicated concepts or processes and explaining them in terms nearly anyone can understand. Without being condescending. I used to work with technology and now I work with employee benefits. I can translate what a programmer, an underwriter, an actuary, or a very wordy lawyer said into plain English. Or help the programmer understand what the actuary is trying to say.

    I don’t know how applicable this would be for other people, but I think part of why I’m good at this is because I’m a little bit good at a lot of things, but I’m not AMAZING in any one particular area. People who are naturally very gifted in one area, say with numbers or programming, have a difficult time understanding that it’s not intuitive for everyone. I think this is also true when someone has deep knowledge in a certain subject, and it makes perfect sense to them. I generally have to figure things out instead of having an “ah-ha” moment, so it’s easier for me to explain to someone else how the process works.

    I learn quickly and can verbalize myself well. I can listen to (or read) someone else give a good explanation or use a great metaphor and remember it to use in the future. I also have pretty good emotional intelligence and switch to a different example or use a visual if someone doesn’t understand what I’m trying to explain.

    1. Christy

      Yes! My former boss thought our coworker was an idiot because she didn’t understand technical stuff. She definitely wasn’t an idiot; she just focused on other things and didn’t need to know technology to do her job.

    2. Lily Rowan

      YES. I was just thinking I’m kind of a jack of all trades, but it means that I can translate between areas that I pretty much understand, but am not expert in.

      My own skill is estimating budgets. Once I have a good sense of the parameters of the organization, I can throw out a figure for a scope of work and have it be very close to what the detail work comes out to. I think only being good, not expert, helps in this too, because I’m not caught up in every detail, but I get the shape of the situation. So I’m not involved in the costs of making different colors of teapots, but if we’re making a range of colors, I know the average.

    3. Katie from Scotland

      MaryMary I’m just the same! I love plain Englishing things and being really precise with grammar and word choices. For improving grammar and word choice knowledge, I recommend taking a class in a second language. You have to get good at English grammar to get good at your second language’s grammar, and you learn so much about the difference between words when you see how other languages do and don’t translate them.
      For turning things into plain English, it’s all about making good use of verbs – people like to turn verbs into nouns (assessment, confirmation, etc) and they like to use the passive voice (will be assessed, was confirmed etc) but those things make language far more complex. Use the simplest possible form of the verb and keep the subject and object(s) of the sentence clear. (We will assess you, You confirmed your appointment) If you could possibly split up one sentences into two or more, you probably should.

      1. MaryMary

        Ha, Katie, I thnk you’ve identified one of my “naturally gifted” blind spots! I think I am very deliberate with my word choices, but I don’t realize that I’m doing it. I also get asked to wordsmith or polish other people’s communications a lot. Usually what they send me is fine, but I can turn a phrase or swap a word or two to make what they’re trying to say more clear.

    4. JAM

      I totally think it’s my liberal arts kind of mind that makes me good at this stuff. I’m pretty good at a lot of things but not necessarily great at any. I understand concepts well and explain them well. Part of how I get better is I repeat things back in common words to the technical person to see if 1) I’ve understood, 2) that my simplified version is accurate, 3) to be able to pass that info along to the common person, and 4) prepare the technical person for the kind of language they may want to use if the common person has to speak with them. I married an IT guy, I work for lawyers so it’s pretty much a must in my life to be able to explain things. I really wanted to be a teacher growing up and I always thought it would have helped me there too.

    5. MaryMary

      Oh, I also remembered some tips for helping to make people feel comfortable asking questions, or to figure out a knowledge gap is.

      If something is not intuitive, or overly complex, or seem nonsensical, I acknowledge it right off the bat. “This might seem counterintuitive, but bear with me.” “I admit, this process is convoluted but there’s a method to the madness.” “I know it sounds ridiculous, but remember, these are government regulations.” “These are new provisions for your plan, so please interrupt and ask a question if I say something that doesn’t make sense to you.”

      I watch body language to determine if someone is following what I say, or if I need to try something else. If I’m not getting positive body language (nodding, eye contact), I try to use non-confrontational questions like “where did I lose you?” or “where are you getting stuck?” or “did everyone follow that?”

  29. Elysian

    I am great at ordering from restaurant menus. I am very rarely ever disappointed with what I order, and most of the time whoever I am with is envious that I got the “better” thing. My husband makes me order for him sometimes because he knows he’ll be happier with whatever I recommend than what he would pick for himself.
    I think I’m good at this because I practice a lot (lots of eating out!) and because I watch a lot of cooking shows. I really love to cook and love thinking about how foods go together. I’ve also made so many cooking missteps (putting things together that just don’t work) that now I know when I look at a menu what is going to be really tasty. I was only really tripped up once, with Chicken and cheddar waffles. Never would have put cheddar on a waffle (or with fried chicken), but holy cow.

      1. Elysian

        They were amazingly good! They also came with a whisky syrup that I could put on everything I eat for the rest of my life. I ordered it only because chicken and waffles is a “thing” and I’d never had it, but I expected it to be mediocre. Now I’m trying to figure out when I can get it again…

    1. CollegeAdmin

      I am so fascinated by this. I am not an adventurous eater (most would describe me as “picky”), and the few times I’ve gone out of my comfort zone, I haven’t really enjoyed it.

      You aren’t by chance in the Boston area and want to go out to dinner? :)

      1. Elysian

        Sadly for you (but great for me!), most of the restaurant-ing is in DC and NYC. I grew up with really picky parents (plus we were low income so sometimes it was hard to put food on the table, must less inventive food that someone might not like), so there were a ton of things I had never had growing up. My family basically had 10 rotating recipes. As an adult, I will try anything at least once. Once I kind of got over feelings of scarcity that I had held onto for a long time, I realized that the worst thing that happens if I don’t like something is… that I don’t like it. And then I don’t eat it and maybe I order something else instead. Or swap dinner with my husband or something. I rarely ever throw food out, but once I kind of figured out that that was the worst case scenario, it all seemed very low risk and high reward.

          1. Elysian

            Little Serow is probably my favorite place in all DC – you don’t order there though, its a fixed menu, but its amazing spicy thai food. If you can’t get in at Little Serow (they have no reservations, so you end up doing a weird waiting in line system), Baan Thai just opened on 14th street and is also awesome for thai food. They have pad thai and more familiar things, but go with their authentic stuff! So good.

            The naan at Zaytinya is incredible, I just got that and some different kinds of hummus and I hardly need a meal. The kale caesar salad at Logan Tavern has (had? it looks like its off the menu now!) these delightful cauliflower croutons that keep me coming back. And food trucks! There are so many good ones, but standouts include Far East Taco Grille – just get the specials (one each of chicken, pork, and beef) and don’t even look at the menu. I think they have a tofu one too, but I’ve never gotten that.

            There are so many. But my real gift is going into a place I’ve never heard of or seen before, and picking whatever the best thing on the menu is. It’s harder to impart that :)

    2. themmases

      I am good at this too! I often make my partner jealous of what I get, or am the one to discover the best thing on the menu at a new place. Honestly I think it is because I was vegetarian for many years. I really do three things:
      – I order based on what vegetables I want. I’m not sure if it’s getting me more in season stuff, or forcing me to really picture what eating the dish will be like, but it works great. I will order something new or weird just to get eggplant, or to get the most different vegetables.

      – I go for what’s special, either that I’ve never seen before or couldn’t get elsewhere. I order crab in Maryland (just got back) and if I’m in a new place I try a new thing rather than test them on my favorite food.

      – I am perfectly happy to assemble a meal out of a la carte items or sides to make the above two things work. It’s like being a vegetarian on Thanksgiving.

    3. Cath in Canada

      Heh, me too! On the rare occasions my husband picks something that’s better than my choice, he celebrates quite loudly, which has led to more than one waiter thinking he’s an a-hole :D

  30. Carmen Sandiego JD

    I’m great at:
    -Editing strategic documents, like the 80-page plus kind. For instance, people says a draft looks good but I can easily find 50+ errors in it that need to/will be fixed pronto. Hence, my managerial/Senior teapot title.

    -Bouncing back from failure.

    Tips:
    What helps is reading a lot–3 books a week, NY Times, WaPost, LA Times, mainstream news, everything. Also, networking a lot and doing side projects to hone editing skills helps too. I’ve coauthored a famous article or 2.

    Re: failure: think about Walt Disney, Abe Lincoln, and many others and inspirational quotes/music to get yourself energized.

    Re: What I’m good at: it’s hilarious, senior title and all because I’ve failed 3 bar exams, yet I make twice as much as some law grad friends, and I’m waiting till tomorrow to see if I failed it a 4th time. Sometimes the right path isn’t always easy to find, and there may be many weird and sundry paths to success.

  31. Lmgtfy

    You listed 2 of mine in the intro!

    Excel – Google, Google, Google. Excel can probably do what you want it to and someone has asked about it before on the internet. If you want to add one master formula to your skillset, learn how to use Index/match! It’s lifechanging. Also, always remember to recheck that ALL of your columns are filtered when you sort and filter. Otherwise it’s very difficult to get back to.

    Parallel Parking -Practice with big spots and remember it’s okay to take multiple tries to get into a spot. What you learned in drivers ed is correct about lining up your mirrors and turning, so that may be a good refresher.

    1. CrazyCatLady

      Yes!! Pretty much anytime I want to do something, I think “hmmm can Excel do this?” and if I don’t know off the top of my head, I google it and find out some cool things! and YES INDEX/MATCH and VLOOKUP/HLOOKUP are game changers.

    2. Kara

      Index/match and Vlookup. You can rule the world with those two things and I’m amazed at how many people not only don’t know how to do a Vlookup, they just CAN’T get it.

      I’m the Excel SME at my current job. It’s all self taught through Google searches (see other comments) and an ability to grasp the concepts.

  32. Sharon

    I’m a really good back-in parker, using only the side mirrors and my backup camera. It probably freaks out anyone standing nearby to see me back into a spot without turning to look out the back window. But when I try to do that, I get confused and turn the wheel the wrong way. However, just by using the camera and side mirrors, I slide right in perfectly straight, even on both sides and not too close to the car behind me. I’ve commented to hubby that I park better backward than forward, and he agreed!

    On the work side, I have excellent organizational and time management skills. I think people notice subconsciously and grow to know that I’m reliable but they don’t seem to fully understand why they think that about me. It’s like ninja skillz.

    I’m also very, very good at troubleshooting. Anything. I have superb mechanical and spatial aptitude. Anytime hubby can’t fix something, I take a look and fix it usually in a few minutes. He brings the muscle to the party, I bring the finesse. :-D

  33. KathyGeiss

    I’m good at distilling lots of info to the salient points.

    Top tips: listen carefully but continuously ask yourself (or out loud) “so what?” Always look to distill things from content to impact to action.

    When you frame things that way, you get to solutions faster and have an easier time explaining the situation to others.

      1. Jules the First

        I’m good at this too (or so says my boss’s boss…). My trick is to come up with three or four of the questions I would ask about the subject before I start reading the document. That way I’m already thinking about what my audience needs to know before I’ve even read the document.

    1. Snargulfuss

      This is mine too! I’m really good at taking a broad idea or set of information and picking out the main points or action items. For me I think it comes mostly naturally. My Myers-Briggs profile is almost equally split between N/S and I’m a strong J, so I’m equally attentive to big picture and small details, and I like to make decisions and put things into action quickly instead of getting lost in theory or considering all of the possibilities.

      I think another thing that helps is working with lots of different personalities. Some people are really good at attending to all the details, so by default I get placed into the “let’s keep this moving toward the larger goal” role. Other people are more visionary, which causes me to be the person to nail down the details.

    2. Kara

      Thank you for this!!!

      I’m reasonably good at extracting salient points in my head but have a hard time explaining to others (especially to a direct report of mine who tends to wander far afield) how to do it. The “So what?” terminology is a light bulb for me in helping HER to understand why some things are just not important to what she’s doing.

  34. AVP

    I am really good at organizing logistics. Do you need a specific car sent across the country in the middle of a snowstorm to be delivered to a nonfunctional road with no one there to greet it? Do you need to hire 60 people for a four day project next week but we don’t know what days they’re needed for yet or where the project will be located? Did fedex lose a package that holds $100,000 worth of work in it? I got you.

    The secret is that I realized it’s really the same as Alison’s theory of managing people. Once I applied those pieces of advice to my job (give clear expectations and goals, do what you say you’re going to do when you say you will, give feedback when appropriate, treat people like adults) – I got really good at it and people refer to me as a miracle worker on occasion. Basically I manage people into doing what I need them to do, using very clear “asks” so that everyone is on board with what needs to happen, and have really good communication lines so that when something goes wrong it can be solved quickly. And the more organized I am on my end, the better for everybody. Being generous with feedback and quick with a deserved compliment will get you very far if you get into this line of work. And treating people well, and like adults, which makes them want to do well and get things right. And mostly, they do! And then I get credit for it, when really it’s just about getting other people to do things and coordinating it all. I can’t believe they let me do this!

    1. AVP

      Oh, I thought of another tip that is really relevant here: in every organization there are “yes” people and “no” people. Yes people think about ways to get you where you need to be, no people say no and hang up. It’s really important to identify who the yes people are and try to stick with them – even if their job title is not relevant to what you need to do or there’s a better-situated person! In the end it’s better to find someone willing to work with you and go out of their way to get something done than to find the expert who won’t give you the time of day.

      1. Lore

        Yes! one of the most frustrating things about my job is that I am natively a yes person, and there are a lot of instances where my department head wants me to not respond and simply pass requests on to him. It goes against all of my instincts to *not* inform someone about the path to their goal when I know I’m not allowed to help them but I know who can.

      2. Lunar

        Any tips on how to be more of a yes person? I work with people who are this way – they say that they want something to happen that seems ridiculous or very difficult or super last minute and it ends up happening. My first instinct is to say that a lot of those things can’t be done and that we need to come up with another solution or idea. I think saying no can be a good thing (the people I come up with get to come up with these ideas and don’t have worry about who will be inconvenienced or screwed over in the process of fulfilling them and I think it is always good to think about the benefit of bending over backwards to make an idea happen (sometimes the time and effort does not make it worth it)), but I think it would serve me professionally and personally to be more of a yes person.

        1. AVP

          Well, there are definitely some jobs where you need to be a gatekeeper! EA to a very busy professional comes to mind, where the job is really to protect the executive’s time by saying no to things.

          If you think it would be helpful to become more of a yes person, though, I think my advice would be: when someone asks you if something can happen, you need to train yourself to reflexively, silently think, “how could this happen if we needed it to?” You don’t need to say anything out loud at this point, because you don’t want to raise any hopes, but if you can come up with a clear path in your mind, rather than just a reflexive “no,” then you can make a better decision. And often things ARE possible, but it’s a matter of having manpower and time and money to make it happen, which really means – is it worth it to you or your company for this to work out?

          I also live and die by the idea that “no, but…” is a perfectly usable answer. So I might not be able to get you the newest Harry Potter books for your kid’s flight before it comes out, but I have just put together a basket of my top-5 YA fantasy books that are related to witches in the UK that your kid hasn’t read yet. Often, finding a path that’s not exactly what the person wants but gets them to a similar place will get you far. And having it in your head as an alternative can get you out of sticky situations.

          Here’s a fun/crazy example: my company was producing a commercial shoot involving a “Famous Business Personality” and he insisted that he needed these highly specific custom-made cowboy boots. The factory that produced said boots was on vacation and would not be able to make them until after the shoot. FBP was getting angsty and we needed him to be happy. So, we had an assistant call every store that sold that brand of boots in the country (there were maybe 60 stores? The boots were very expensive so they weren’t sold everywhere.) We gave them the FBP’s size and the specs (he wanted the upper part to be made of a specific body part from one animal, and the other part to be made of a different body part and dyed – ugh). The thought was, maybe some other similarly picky person might have ordered similar boots and then returned them and somewhere there could be a perfect pair just sitting on a shelf, unsellable? It took two days of cold calling but we found almost identical boots. The body parts of the animal were switched, and the color was one shade off, but hot damn FBP was happy.

          In general, I think almost anything *can* happen – it’s just that some things aren’t worth the amount of work or time or money that would have to be put in to make it so. Once you’ve been doing it for awhile, or you have a good sense of your manager’s priorities, you can make judgment calls about what is and isn’t worth the effort.

    2. Misty

      I am so, so thankful for people like you, because I *loathe* logistics. I can do it, but I hate it. Yay for logistics experts.

  35. Kyrielle

    I’m good at fixing the *real* issue and not the *stated* issue. It’s harder in my new job because I’m still learning the software I work on, and part of it is knowing what you’re working with (so you don’t, for example, “fix” a bug that actually could be fixed just by changing a preference! – I haven’t done that yet, fortunately).

    But part of it is asking questions. End users know what they’re used to and what they want. What they don’t know is *every option you have available* and they don’t know the *drawbacks in your system of what they want*. You want to get to *what they’re trying to solve* and then propose ways to solve it. And it may be “yup, the way they’re asking for is the best way”. It often is. But sometimes they’re trying to solve problem X, and Y will sort of work but introduce issues, but because of feature Q they don’t know about, you could propose Z which is simpler than Y and would solve it. And you bring it to them, and maybe they have a good reason it won’t work, but often it will.

    Talk to people. Ask questions. Lots of them if need be. Knowing your customers and their needs/problems/issues is so so so important.

    1. FJ

      Yep, I’m really good at this too. And your advice about asking questions is spot on!
      Listening to what people are asking, knowing enough about their uses cases, and knowing enough about how the system works… then I can connect the dots between different pieces of information. Oh, what you’re really looking for is a different way of doing this other thing… will that work for you?

  36. Hermione

    I’m really good at solving a problem behind the scenes. Part of my job includes event-planning/client-facing days/events, and inevitably something (often multiple somethings) are going to go wrong, and I’ve been told I’m incredibly good at fixing problems in a way that keeps anyone from realizing that there was a problem at all.

    On the opposite side of that, though, is a rabid desire to keep control of all of the planning-logistics, because (barring traffic and/or freak accidents) the majority of the time that something goes not-as-planned, it’s because someone else handled the preparations. This over-controlled planning often leads to me being nuts about minutiae – to the point of having a speech prepared for instructions to students during graduation (including the anecdote of me tripping on stage at my own high school graduation) and three sets of all of the speeches we’re going to need (because believe it or not, two sets weren’t enough once!).

    1. Hermione

      Oh and I’m REALLY good at mail merges. I use them for freaking everything, not just the usual envelopes/mail merges. I love spreadsheets and I HATE filling out forms.

      1. Rowan

        If I thought we were in the same country, I would bribe you to teach me this. I can’t do mail merge for the life of me. I need a guru!

        1. Hermione

          It’s quite easy when you get used to it! What exactly are you trying to mail merge? At what point does it go wrong?!

      2. Jessica (tc)

        Oh, yay! Another person who does this. Every time I explain all of the things I’ve used a “mail” merge for, people look at me crazy. Most people have never done a merge for a letter or envelopes, so they have no clue that you can mail merge complete lists of things or create specialized brochures and other information that have absolutely nothing to do with mail.

        Email merges are my absolutely favorite thing, because I can get person-specific stuff out to people quickly using whatever email program and spreadsheet (or x-delimited file) that I’m using, and I was excited when solutions started coming up for Gmail several years ago. It definitely makes my job easier–and saves a lot of paper waste.

          1. Jessica (tc)

            I’ve tried to teach others this skill, but many cannot wrap their heads around the fact that it’s not really a mail merge. It’s just an information merge. I started calling it that, but it still didn’t compute most of the time.

            “I can…merge information that isn’t name or address related?” Yes! You can merge anything that you put into a spreadsheet! Want basic paragraphs to be the same with just a few lines different, depending on X and Y conditions per person? Then do that! In my last two jobs, simple information merges cut down on the amount of time almost every project I did took, so I was able to expand the job description way beyond where it had been. (Unfortunately, that doesn’t always last when you leave a position.)

    2. SL #2

      Oh, man, I identify with this so hard. One time we ran out of food at our event… because I wasn’t the one who placed the catering order.

      1. Hermione

        That’s horrible! Especially since everybody looks bad when that sort of stuff happens…

        This past spring we had a retirement event where the guy’s son, a musician, was planning to play a piece in tribute… and the person coordinating (not me) didn’t arrange for a piano to be there. I had to grab the custodian to call the covering area manager to call two trucking guys to get the piano that stood downstairs up to the 9th floor. It all worked out, but man was I sweating for no reason.

    3. Bio-Pharma

      Do you sometimes feel under-appreciated? I think effort to make sure things go smoothly can easily be overlooked, and not even noticed until something goes wrong!

      1. Hermione

        Yes. Often, actually. In fact, it’s made me more interested in having a debriefing the next day with my higher-ups to point out things that went wrong and how I plan to change things around for the next time to mitigate those problems. It’s not about actually doing that – I can and am the type of person to do that on my own – but instead gives me a change to say x went wrong, I solved it by doing y and z, look at how awesome I actually am.

        It sounds a little childish, and part of it definitely is to bring accomplishments to her attention. On the other hand, I plan on moving on soon, and it’s important to me that my really great boss knows that a lot of my position is about being able to think on your feet, and that my replacement will need to be able to do that.

        1. Bio-Pharma

          I think it’s awesome that you recognized that need and doing something about it (instead of just complaining to friends that you’re underappreciated). I recently went to a sort of career talk about “What Drives You.” It was geared towards managers and tailoring their mgt towards what’s important to the individual . Great job on your self-managment!

  37. StillLAH

    I am really good at remembering details other people forget. I listen more than I talk, and I listen when I think people aren’t expecting me to (not eavesdropping, I think people tend to forget I’m in the room or observing something). I’m not sure why I am able to recall the information later though, because often it’s really mundane or information that doesn’t seem worth writing down to remember later but sometimes ends up coming up later!

    1. Texas HR Pro

      Yes! Me, too. I was trying to come up with a way to say, “I’m a sponge.” or “I have a good memory for tiny details and can add relevant things that I read/heard about months.” I love that you phrased it like, “Just listen and absorb.”

      I can’t explain why I have great recall. (I often tell people that my brain just runs on trivia.) I will read an article in the NY Times about an interesting piece of research, and then in a discussion months or even years later, I can add that piece of knowledge to a conversation. For work stuff, I can recall an email or a general discussion from weeks or months ago that didn’t seem relevant at the time, but that might impact what’s going on now.

      I guess my only “tip” for that kind of thing would be to just read/listen/absorb as much as you can get your hands on. I hear so much good stuff on NPR during my commute. I have always been curious about things, and a big reader, and was a sickly/social outcast kid, so it’s kind of a lifelong habit to escape into a book or find out what’s going on in the big wide world.

  38. Elizabeth

    Flowcharts. I’m considered the queen of flow charts at work, because my charts include all of the steps and almost always surprise people on how complicated processes really are. My secret? As I’m interviewing people to build them, I always start with “what’s the very first thing you do when ___?”. Then, when they describe it, I write it down word-for-word, and followup with “and then?”. Each step gets an “and then?”. When they claim to be at the end of the process, we review what they’ve told me, and there is almost always something missing.

    I also don’t ever try to interview large groups at one time. No more than 3, and that is really more than I want. I like 1-on-1 conversations for this, because larger groups can have some awkward dynamics that inhibit information sharing. My most insane was a 15-page diagram that involved 12 departments and almost 200 people being interviewed. But, we learned how we do what we do, so we could then change what we were doing.

      1. Elizabeth

        Systems analyst in the IT department of a small hospital. The insane flow chart was documenting the movement of people & information through the Emergency Department for care, including the coding of the account and billing for services, so that we could implement physician ordering & online documentation.

        Almost a decade ago, we completely renamed every clinical care area within the hospital from the functional name (IE: Obstetrics) to the physical location (IE: 4th Floor). I built a flow chart for that which ended up being 3 ledger-sized sheets of paper, detailing 9 swim lanes of simultaneous changes to be made, who was responsible for making them and when they should be made (before the change, the day of the change, within 48 hours of the change or 30 days after the change). It ended up being our project plan, as well, and was posted on the white boards of the conference rooms being used as the command centers for the project. As we completed each step, we marked through the box for it. Given the size & complexity of what we were doing, it was the only way to assure that we made it through every piece. And, we were successful.

    1. Hermione

      But, we learned how we do what we do, so we could then change what we were doing.

      This is really cool, and a giant, often forgotten step when trying to make changes. The order for fixing something has to be 1) what is happening, 2) what is going wrong/where in the process are things not working as well as they could? and THEN 3) what do we change to fix it? People skip the first (two) step(s) all the time – it’s baffling to me.

      1. Elizabeth

        I have an oft-stated complaint of “we don’t know how we do what we do, we just do it”. If you don’t know how you do what you do, you can’t make effective, well-thought-out changes to the process.

  39. FD

    This is something I’ve been given feedback by a few different people–to the point where I’m applying for jobs now as a real estate researcher.

    I’m really good at taking large amounts of data and seeing the story it tells. So for example (vast oversimplification), there are a large number of families with small children listed in the census tract here, so it would make more sense to build a family friendly apartment complex.

  40. Perse's Mom

    I’m great with feral kittens and unweaned kittens. There is nothing as amazing as getting an angry kitten to purr or watching little weeble kitten ears flex while they eat (or the first time they use the litterbox on their own, HALLELUJAH). I miss fostering. :'(

    With feral kittens, the secret is patience and a lack of fear. A genuine love of the little buggers is helpful (and being able to read kitten body language – scratching will happen, but if you actually get bitten, you weren’t paying enough attention to take appropriate precautions). At OldJob, it got to the point that officers bringing them in would present carriers to me with big grins because they knew I’d be thrilled. Popcorn kittens are the BEST and then when they turn into little cuddlers, they’re even better.

    With neonates, it’s more skill and knowledge based. It’s being able to recognize when something’s wrong without the context of years of interaction, learning how to feed, how to potty until it’s time to teach them how to potty on their own, cleaning up messes (of the potty variety AND the food variety – nothing is as messy as kittens learning how to eat from a dish, they will climb into it and track through it and SO MANY BATHS). It’s time and emotion intense; you have to care about them, obviously, but you always have to be aware that nature happens and sometimes there’s nothing you can do. I almost always got the hard-luck cases, which meant I lost a few over the years, but getting a couple of tiny helpless kittens who didn’t have a chance and turning them into thriving healthy playful monsters is more rewarding than just about anything.

    On the job side, I’m told that I’m very soothing and patient with people. I don’t really know the secret to that, as I think I’m just good at putting on a convincing smile. I’m good at digging in and learning the intricacies of systems, mostly because I’m not afraid of asking questions and I don’t mind running a dozen different reports in two different ways each to see what the results are. My boss says I’m a robot. =/

      1. Rebecca in Dallas

        I never have either but I’m imagining it to be those kittens that jump and hiss. They are kind of like popcorn when they do that!

      2. Perse's Mom

        As Rebecca noted, exactly. They fluff up and hop and hiss to try to scare you away, and the end result is that they look like a popcorn kernel on a stove. They’re trying to scare the scary human, and the scary human is laughing.

        (and then I stick my bare hand in the crate and pull them out and snuggle them until they learn to like it)

  41. Transit Whisperer

    I’m really good at getting around places via public transit. I love looking at maps, subway diagrams, and rail schedules. It helps that I live in a major urban area with decent bus/regional rail service. I also spent 6 months in Moscow and rode the metro system everywhere.

    1. Connie-Lynne

      I am so bad at public transit! It took me something like six trips to SF before I could even read the BART schedules. It doesn’t matter how familiar I am with a place, I have to meticulously plan out and review my route the night before if I’m going to have any chance at getting where I want to without panicking, locking up mentally, and ending up either on the phone asking for a ride or very very late to where I’m going. A lot of the time I’ll just walk for an hour rather than chance getting turned around on public transit.

    2. Karen

      Oh man, this is my super power, too! I love maps and have spent hours poring over them. I am able to keep maps in my head and reorient myself when I come up from the subway.

      I live in NYC so this is pretty critical, but it serves me well everywhere.

    3. bridget

      This is one of my favorite parts about vacationing! I like the challenge of seeing how many days in a new city it takes to “figure out” the metro/train system to the point where I don’t really need a map, I just know we can take the purple line and transfer to the green line at X station.

    4. JAM

      I need this one! I just moved from the country to the city and I’ve never really done public transit beyond a straight shot on a metro car. I rarely know where to pay, how to calculate fare (since I’m only an irregular user), how to transfer, how to pick a better route if service is cancelled, and definitely how to handle it in a city that isn’t my own.

    5. Anx

      Me too.

      How did I get good at this? By having no money for a car but a support system (credit card) if I ever got stuck.

      My crowning achievement was taking the local bus (small town) to the state transit train to a major city hub to another states commuter rail to another local bus (suburb/small city) that passed right by the hotel where my friend was getting married.

      About an hour into everything, people remembered I don’t drive and asked how I got there. They were stunned.

      I also don’t have a smart phone, and am used to feeling a little unmoored and having to navigate things on my own. That may help.

    6. Elizabeth West

      I’m good at this too. When my college choir went to DC for a concert, we stayed in Arlington and a bunch of us wanted to go to Crystal City. I was the only one who could read the Metro map. This was partly because I had spent two weeks after my senior year taking the tube around London (which I also picked up fast), and it’s the same kind of map, just a different layout. They were going, “Which way? I can’t tell, etc.” I just walked up and said, “We take the red train to this station, then get off and change to the blue train, and get off here.” Everybody was like, “HOW’D YOU DO THAT!?!?! You must have been here before!!!” Nope, LOL. :)

      I don’t remember if this was the case in DC (probably), but in London, the trains are labeled with their end destination. Some of them split off the main line before they get to your station, so you have to look where to get the train with the correct label if you’re going that direction. Knowing this, I was able to help a couple of confused people in the tube station.

      For train schedules, I had to teach myself 24-hour time so I could book my trains in the UK. The way I did it was this: the cafe where I worked in CA had a 24-hour time clock, and my shift ended at 3 p.m. I knew 1500 was 3 p.m., so I counted everything off that hour. You know I have math problems, so it wasn’t easy.

      –Schedule says 1945.
      –1500 is 3 p.m.
      –1600 is 4, 1700 is 5, 1800 is 6, 1900 is 7 p.m.. Therefore, train leaves at 7:45 p.m.

      I changed all my digital clocks with that function—phone, computers, and the one in my car—to that readout several months before I left. It took a while, but now I can glance at the clock and translate it without thinking.

      1. Carrie in Scotland

        @ elizabeth west. A tip for 24h clock is 1600=4pm. Take the 6 and take away 2. Take the 2 away from the 7 in 1700 = 5pm & etc. Not sure if its any easier but it might come in handy for someone!

    7. Blue_eyes

      My husband is great at this too. Everyone in the family is competent at getting around on public transit, but he is the best at figuring out the optimum route (and alternatives) when the trains are running differently because of construction or whatever.

      1. Transit Whisperer

        Part of the challenge, especially with subways, is knowing where you want to be when you come out and therefore knowing which exit to take.

  42. SL #2

    My boss loves to tell clients that she keeps me around because I’m constantly 10 steps ahead of her and it makes her life so much easier. Half of that is my job description, but I’m also a planner at heart. I like to be prepared, I am very good at remembering details, and it really helps when I’m an event planner. You really do need to be detail-oriented in that line of work. I don’t have any advice because I’ve always been this way, but I guess it requires a shift in thinking– from looking at the giant green front lawn to looking at the weeds and being able to see how the weeds come together to make the lawn.

    …that analogy really got away from me…

  43. Jen

    I’m really calm in a crisis. I attribute this to my days in television news where shit would hit the fan all the time and you had to learn to roll with the punches.

    I’m also really good at interpersonal relationships. Within a few months at a job I have a network of people in all of the departments that I can count on for information, advice, help, etc. I’ve always been really good at this. But it comes in handy when my boss is like “We need someone in IT to come help us set up something” and I know exactly who to call to come over. Or “I can’t get anyone in finance to help move this purchase order through the system” – that’s OK, I know somebody.

    1. Dawn

      “I’m also really good at interpersonal relationships. Within a few months at a job I have a network of people in all of the departments that I can count on for information, advice, help, etc.”

      HOW DO YOU DO THIS MAGIC!?!

      1. Texas HR Pro

        I’m not Jen, but for me it’s just basic networking. Introduce myself and what department I’m in, be friendly, tell people what I need/what I do, and ask them questions about themselves.

        For example, I may call Susan in Reception for a question about ordering office supplies. Susan may tell me, no, she doesn’t handle that, I need to call Randy in Procurement. But I’ll spend a minute thanking Susan for her time and then ask, “Oh, that reminds me, I already asked you about supplies, but do you know who I contact about furniture?” Then Susan gets a chance to tell me about that, and I note it. Later, I may run into Susan at a meeting, and I’ll say, “Thank you so much for your help with my question about supplies and furniture. So tell me, how long have you worked here? What’s your favorite thing about Big Organization?”

        Depending on what she tells me, she may have worked with someone I used to work with, or her degree is in something really cool, or she might know how Old Process used to be handled and how we arrived at New Process. People are just really good sources of information, in a way that my department website or directory could never be. I just file little tidbits of information away for later.

        When I describe it, it sounds kind of calculating, like I’m buttering someone up, or just asking questions for no reason. It might not work for me the same way if I did these steps sounding rote, or sounding like I’m checking items off a list. But I am friendly and outgoing at work, and I am genuinely curious about people and what they know. I will greet people and introduce myself when everyone else is just standing around waiting for a meeting to start. No reason to waste that time staring at each other awkwardly, is how I see it.

      2. LBK

        I’m also good at this – I am the person that knows the person who can get things done. One of the most common tips is “do a favor for someone first, then it’s easier to ask them for a favor,” but that’s not really how it works in business a lot of the time. I will probably never have to do a favor for IT or HR or anyone else where our relationship is that they do stuff for me. So I make sure any time I go to one of these people, I make their jobs as easy as I possibly can – I do my research beforehand, I’m extremely responsive, I try to accommodate their timeline and schedule, etc. That way the next time I have to go to them, they’ll prioritize me because they remember that it will be less painful to resolve my issue than most other people.

        I will admit to also employing some flattery as needed: “I know this is super annoying but you were really helpful with this issue last time – do you mind taking a look?” Cheesy but it works!

        1. Liza

          LBK, I’m an IT person and that would absolutely work on me! I try to work on issues according to their objective priority, but I’m human and so subjectivity does creep in. The fact that you do your research beforehand (so the question you ask me has a high chance of being the actual question that will get to the root of the problem) and that you’re responsive are both big points in your favor. (It’s very hard to help people who don’t have time for you to help them.)

      3. Jen

        Much like Texas HR Pro said – just kind of basic networking sales techniques. I am friendly and chit-chatty. I can read someone really well and know whether they’re “just about the business” or if they enjoy a little bit of socialization. I remember details about people too. I can usually get people talking fairly easy about their own lives and then I just remember – Mary in finance just had a baby, ask her about the baby. Gloria in HR has a bajillion photos of her pugs in her cubicle, ask her about the pugs. I chit chat with people at the elevator, in the cafeteria, in the restroom and then I just remember things that people tell me. That person’s husband works at Big Important company. This one is super involved in boy scouts. This guy loves the Cubs. That lady signs up for marathons.

        Sometimes I even have to be like “I’m sorry, I am so rude. I see you outside of the elevator every morning and I don’t know know your name!” and then they tell me and often afterwards just using their name in the future makes a difference. I also feel like it sounds calculating when I write it all down but I’m just kind of chatty in general and like knowing about people.

        Also, being the person you would like to work with helps. I return phone messages and e-mails. If I can’t help, I find out who can. It usually doesn’t take much time. If they want something I can’t do but it’s in my area, I try to find an alternative solution. Word about that gets around so in their department, if someone says “Does anyone know who I should call in Marketing who knows who I should ask about ad placement?” I think a lot of people suggest me because I get a lot of those sorts of calls now.

    2. Hermione

      Within a few months at a job I have a network of people in all of the departments that I can count on for information, advice, help, etc.

      This is so vital to getting things done at a big company. As a student assistant at a law firm, we had an admin who had horrible relationships with Accounts Payable, IT and mailroom (as well as other admins around the firm) and relied on my great relationships – having spent four years being loaned out to other departments and being known as the most capable student assistant – to get things done in a pinch. I have no idea what she did when I left, they all hated her.

    3. Ad Astra

      I’m not all that cool under pressure compared to other former journalists, but compared to the average person? I’ve got ice in my veins. The key is to take a deep breath and handle things one-by-one.

  44. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

    I’m really good at training and facilitating – being in front of a room, leading folks through a session.

    I think a lot of what makes me especially good at this is, unfortunately, luck: I’m not at all afraid of public speaking, so there’s really nothing more difficult about having a conversation with a group of 50 than with 1 or 2 (for me). It’s a different flow, for sure, but it’s the same general idea. (Maybe that’s part of the trick – thinking of it as a conversation, just with different dynamics than a one-on-one.)

    But here’s something super, super key in session design: If you’re trying to teach something to adults, use the “Anchor, Add, Apply, Away” technique. Anchor the concept in the participants’ existing knowledge; add new information or skills; offer participants a chance to apply the new learning; ask participants to think through how they will take away their learning and use it in their work.

    So, for example, if you’re teaching about how to hold effective one-on-one conversations that build meaningful relationships, you might:

    Anchor: Ask participants to think about the best conversation they had this week. What was powerful about it? What was different about it from a less valuable conversation?

    Add: Teach the key elements of one-on-one conversations – sharing a story, being upfront about what you’re looking to achieve, etc.

    Apply: Have participants practice one-on-one conversations, using their own reflections from the “anchor” and the new learnings from the “add.”

    Away: Ask participants to think about an important one-on-one conversation they are need to have, and walk through how they can use what they learned to make that conversation more effective.

    It works for content (rather than skills) as well: think about using that structure for teaching, say, how a bill moves through the legislature. Anchor: What do folks already know about this? Add: Teach a simple version of the process. Apply: Have participants look up a recent bill and see if they can track its movements through committees/etc. Away: Ask participants to choose a bill that they will follow during the next session.

    Man, I love training. I could write about this all day.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      Oh, and in case it isn’t evident: I’m totally open to questions. I love this stuff.

    2. Isben Takes Tea

      This is awesome. Thanks! (I’m now thinking about meaningful conversations I’ve had this week…)

    3. The RO-Cat

      I’m a trainer and I love my job! It seems I’m very good at getting right at the proper emotional level and making people see where and how they can improve themselves (I’ve had participants tell me I’ve changed their lives for the better; that keeps me going). Part of that comes from a (subconscious, mostly) good reading of the non-verbal and strong belief in the good in the people.

      I also found myself capable of “translating” complicated psychological or technical concepts in common language most understand. As above, it’s about a good usage of metaphors coupled with thorough understanding of the concepts at hand.

  45. Dawn

    I’m amazing at analysis/prediction and organization (I think they kind of go hand in hand). Everything from “What do we need to do to get this server closet organized quickly?” to “What are the future implications for mobile payment, what will need to happen for mobile payment to be widely adopted, who will the big players be, and what can our company do to become one of those players?”

    I don’t necessarily have any trade secrets to how I do it, because I think a lot of it boils down to how my brain is wired and how I see the world. With analysis/prediction (my specialty is emerging technology), a lot of it is because when I’m tasked to do something (for example- “Hey what’s the deal with Mobile Payments anyway?”) I do a bunch of reading on the topic every day spread out over weeks or months. Also, probably MOST IMPORTANTLY, I read non-scientific stuff. You won’t ever get a good idea of what’s going on in business by only reading Gartner or Forrester. Tech blogs are hit or miss, it’s a good place to skim but blog posts almost always have a greater agenda. However reading blog posts can send you off on new thought directions and give you a good idea of other related topics to look into. The real way to get a good idea of what’s going on is to go to ground and listen to what end-users have to say about product/service/idea/whatever. Quora, Hacker News, SlashDot, anywhere where IT people congregate and comment on stuff. What are they saying? What sucks? What’s great? What totally obscure but awesome research is going on within a small group of people you’d never heard about unless you read all 230 comments on that one submitted article on Hacker News? It’s less about compiling a list of absolute facts and more about acquiring a feel of the “vibe” and what the “vibe” around something is on an ongoing basis- is it up? Are people excited? Are there a lot of people grumbling? Are people angry?

    Speaking of reading, with doing any kind of tech scene analysis it’s a good idea to read/skim the top 10-20 blogs/ personal blogs/ tech publications every day. My go-tos are Re/code, Hacker News, Techmeme, Tech Crunch, Andreessen Horowitz, Krebs on Security, and Slashdot for general tech and then more topic specific news outlets for whatever topic(s) I’m currently investigating. Kickstarter/IndieGoGo are great places to keep an eye on what specific technologies are exciting enough to be innovated/imitated. If there’s six different technology Kickstarters that are all fully funded for basically the same thing then that technology is Becoming A Thing and probably warrants more investigation. Three years ago when I was researching the Internet of Things (everything being connected to WiFi- like door locks, lightbulbs, etc) it was an emerging technology and no one was sure exactly where it’d go or how it’d blow up, and then today go look at the most popular technology Kickstarters and a good half of them if not more are a little doohickey talking to your smartphone and/or your home WiFi and there’s like six or eight different home automation lines that you can buy at pretty much every big box store or Amazon.

    Another thing that’s super important in analysis is being able to read between the lines in what companies say about their products. A LOT of what’s written on a company website is just smoke and mirrors and marketing and being able to read between the lines in that is very important. Example- I was tasked with evaluating two companies who claimed they could do amazing software security stuff that no one else could do. Both of these companies were competing with each other directly and we were looking at both of them as a tech vendor. After reading everything I could get my hands on I predicted that they both were full of crap and their stuff wasn’t any better than anything we could do in-house; this was in spite of both companies having some big-name financial companies using their products and whatnot. We evaluate both products, have extensive technical discussions with our engineers and their engineers, ask some tough questions and lo and behold, they’re both full of crap!

    Again, I think a lot of my success with this comes down to how my brain is wired- to me analysis uses the same brainpower that organizing my linen closet does but I couldn’t really explain exactly how I do that any more than I can explain how I can taste a pot of soup and know instinctively that it’d be better with more salt and some cumin.

  46. Kate

    I’m really good at living on a (monthly) tight budget.
    Trade secret? 1) deduct all the costs that you definitely need to pay (e.g. rent, bills, student loan) 2) divide the leftover money with 4.5, so you approximately know how much you can spend per week in that month
    And 3) is the most important: when you see something in the store, ask yourself: do I really *need* this? Or do I just *want* it? You’ll realize that about 90% of the time, you can live without it and put it back. (FYI, if it’s really essential later on, like you’re so fed up with the tight budget or you’re getting depressed and need to do something nice for yourself, because you had put those things back, you can afford the luxury when you actually do need it.)

    1. Lunar

      I’m good at living on a budget too! My biggest tip is to keep track of your spending so you know where you are at fro the month. For example, I have a budget category for groceries, so after each trip to the grocery store I subtract that amount from what I have budgeted that month for groceries. It is so important to keep that up to date, so you know how much is left and so that you slow down on spending if you are over. It is easy to have an amount set for how much you’d like to spend for the week or month, but if you don’t track every expense you will have no idea if you are on track and will probably go over. I also think that recording everything makes it much harder to spend – as in, I will actually have to write down that I stopped at McDonalds so I won’t go there, or I can look back and see how much I spent at Starbucks that month and realize that I need to cut back.

      I use the Dollarbird app to do this, but I’m sure there are a bunch of other apps or an old-fashioned notebook will work just as well.

      1. Business Cat

        Thanks for sharing that app! I’ve been looking for a simple app like that, I don’t like how Mint is tied into your bank accounts. Or how it thinks that $150.00 is a low account balance…

      2. Kate

        I tried to do that in Excel, but it was just so troublesome, every time I try to keep track of expenses, I end up giving up after about 2 months. So tiring.
        But this Dollarbird app you suggested looks good! Thanks for sharing! Does is work with any currency? :)

        1. Lunar

          I’m not sure if you can change the currency, but you just enter in the amounts for each transaction (you can also program in expected or reoccurring expenses for upcoming months) and your current account balance, so I think you could just ignore the $ part of it and use the numbers to signify whatever currency you are using.

    2. CV

      My mother used to ask us
      1. Do I need it?
      2. Do I need it now?
      3. Can I afford it?
      Also, “How many hours did you have to work for that?”

      1. Kate

        All good questions! The last one pops up in my head every time I’m looking at something expensive. It’s really the “can I afford it?” question with a different wording.

    3. Kate

      Also, forgot this: I have a superpower. I can apply make-up with my mouth closed! (Not counting lipstick, of course. I mean, I can do that, too, but that usually defeats the point.)

  47. IT_guy

    I am a SQL DBA successfully managing 180 SQL servers by myself. (The norm is 30-50 servers per DBA). The tricks/traits that I have learned is:
    Standardize all of the servers as much as you can.
    Automate, automate, automate.
    Script everything you do so that you can apply it from one server to another.

    Learn to live on short amounts of sleep :)

  48. Kvaren

    It sounds creepy, but figuring out a person’s angle or what their motive or next move is. Whether it’s family, friends, or work, I’m all over it.

    And sorting. God, I love sorting.

    1. Nobody

      Any tricks for figuring out a person’s angle/motive/next move? I sometimes get a sense that someone is up to something, but I can rarely figure out what in time to do anything about it.

      1. Kvaren

        For me, I just cross-reference everything I know. Recent history – actions, events, discussions, as well as long-term history, and previous behavior. It’s hard to describe it as a process, because it varies.

      2. Not me

        Not Kvaren, but: Pay more attention to what people do than to what they say. Look for repetition and patterns, especially patterns that a person is starting to cycle through more quickly. Ask yourself what they get out of it.

        I’m really, really good at this with family and friends.

      3. Anonsie

        This is one of my skills, unfortunately I think it may be hard to cultivate because I think you have to be highly empathetic to begin with. For me it’s usually just “what possible outcomes to this situation could benefit this person,” but the crucial element there is more what possible outcomes does this person think will benefit them and what avenues of getting that outcome will they accept? People don’t follow robot logic, we have emotional reasons for wanting or doing things. We are highly motivated by what we believe different actions say about us as people, for one. So when I think about what benefits a person may seek, that encompasses not just literal benefits but avenues of action that will suit their comfort and self image.

        It comes back to recognizing patterns and understanding emotionally where the other party is coming from. People will similarly patterned behavior can sometimes be predicted to have similarly patterned comfort, self image, and desires.

    2. Malissa

      Being able to figure out motivation is a great skill. I love to do that. Makes it easier to figure out what the person really wants.

  49. TheExchequer

    I am really good at teaching people stuff. If I have even the most basic grasp of a thing, and someone who’s willing to learn, I can teach it. I’ve taught college level biology to 9 year olds, accidentally.

    The trick is connecting with the student and finding something they understand to latch onto.

    I’m also pretty good at finding stuff on Google. Appropriate use of keywords and quotation marks does marvels.

  50. katamia

    Guessing the spelling of words I hear but have never seen written down. This is probably not useful at all in a lot of fields, but I used to work as a transcriptionist (and will probably do so again shortly), and that skill is crucial. I didn’t go out of my way to acquire this skill, but I think it came from years of studying linguistics and learning about other languages, even ones I can’t actually speak. I know enough about various languages’ phonologies and just how they look to be able to guess, for example, the spelling of a minor village in Kenya, or at least to get close enough for Google to lead me to the real spelling.

    I so wish I had a more interesting one, lol.

    1. LBK

      I can’t do this for non-English words, but I’m pretty good at it for English. I think a lot of it comes from being interested in word etymologies, so if I hear a word and can guess where the roots come from, I know how to spell those and then I can just stick them together into the whole word. I can also do the reverse – I’m good at pronouncing words I’ve never heard before just from looking at them, largely for the same reason.

      1. Mander

        I think the way you learned to read might also be relevant. When I was a kid it was all about phonics in my district — I can remember spending quite a bit of time learning about the sounds letters can make, clapping out syllables, etc. As a result I’m very good at spelling and figuring out how to spell unfamiliar words. One of my high school friends was taught some kind of word recognition method, and she was awful at spelling and even reading aloud because she didn’t have a good grasp of the sounds letters make. Looking back, she was probably dyslexic as well, but not knowing phonics couldn’t have helped.

  51. Simplytea

    I’m very good at organizing BIG PROJECTS to the smallest detail. My manager actually remarked recently that I sometimes get caught up in the small details and she wondered how I would do planning an upcoming international trip.

    Well, I ACED that SH&#. Why? Because when you get all the small details just right, the final product is a well-oiled machine. That’s how I would recommend writing research papers, pulling together agendas, creating reports, binders: look at the small picture to inform your larger picture. Even if the big picture is pulled together at the last minute, it doesn’t matter because you have all the pieces there.

    And then everyone’s always shocked at how good the final product is because they thought you were caught up in the details! Details are everything.

    1. Simplytea

      Oh and I’m really good at making things pretty. That powerpoint? Not boring anymore. That flyer? WOW pops out at you. A report? Cleaned up with section headers. How? Have fun with it! This is the only relaxing part of actually doing a presentation… the aesthetics!

      When people ask me why I say it’s because I do it in the morning everyday… ha ha ha get it?!

    2. Isben Takes Tea

      I know, right? How can the big picture be right if the details are wrong? It’s what made Harry Potter so great: the overarching story itself wasn’t so unique, it’s that every single detail worked together so beautifully.

  52. CollegeAdmin

    Walking in heels. I wear 4-5″ stiletto heels on almost a daily basis.

    Tips:
    1. Buy comfortable shoes that fit well. Seriously, they are out there, and no, they don’t have to be expensive. I buy my shoes from either Payless or DSW, and the most I’ve ever paid for a pair is $70.

    2. If they fit your fashion style, I recommend starting with knee-high boots. The shaft of the boot gives you the illusion of extra support around your ankle/leg.

    3. I’ve read articles that suggest pretending the heel is not there and walk just on the ball of your foot. I don’t actually recommend this. Aim to distribute your step across the whole shoe. Weirdly, I do this by focusing on putting my weight where there is no sole (between the ball of the foot and the spike of the heel).

    4. Don’t be afraid of getting inserts or anti-skid pads for the sole of the shoe (Payless sells these).

    5. Be confident! If you think you are going to trip, you probably will. Watch where you’re going, but keep your head up.

    (Sample shoes I wear in next comment, for reference.)

    1. SL #2

      I looooove Payless! Their ComfortPlus and DexFlex lines has the easiest heels I’ve ever worn, and they’re all work-appropriate too!

    2. Bio-Pharma

      Hope you’re still there because I’m baffled by this.
      In heels, the entire bottom of your feet make contact with the shoe? I don’t know if I have high arches (they seem normal) or the shape is just off (i.e. the bend of my toes is too far forward), but in heels, there’s sort of a parallelogram void if that makes sense. Therefore, in really high heels, it feels like all the pressure is on the front part of my feet! Some arch inserts have helped, but it’s still not quite the solution. I wish there was a HEEL company that made custom-shaped shoes…

      1. CollegeAdmin

        Still here :) I too sometimes find that void. Possible solutions:

        1. The easiest solution is a shorter heel, which reduces the angle of your foot and thus the stress on one part.

        2. There are some shoes that still have the high heel but have a slightly different arch to them – one of my favorite brands for this is Me Too (found at DSW). Another thing to look for is a platform under the toes – a 5″ heel with a 1″ platform feels like a 4″ heel.

        3. Try to shift your weight back on your heel more. With a tall, narrow heel, some people tend to lean slightly forward for security, placing more weight on the ball of the foot and causing pain.

        4. Payless sells inserts for just the ball of the foot – the ones I have in my boots are black felt with a rubbery bottom to stay in place. Not only does they cushion the ball of the foot (where you’re feeling the pressure), but it also raises that part of the foot a bit to help with the angle.

        1. Bio-Pharma

          Thanks for the tips! I love platforms, but most tend to be “5 inch but feels like 4.4,” not “2 inch but feels like 1.5” :)

          I still wish there were customizable heels for that “fits like a glove” feel!!!

      2. Jules the First

        That means you’re wearing the wrong last (the last being the pattern used to make the structure of the shoe) . I recommend spending the day in a posh department store – try on every pair of heels in the shop, whether you like them or not, in every possible height. What you’re looking for is the right last for your foot- this dictates the angle of the sole between the ball of your foot and the heel attachment. (trade secret: there’s no standard last that sets the distance between the bend point and the heel based on the size of the shoe – they’re all just a teeny bit different).

        Shoe designers tend to work with a limited palette of lasts, so you need to find the designers who use lasts that work with your feet, once you find that, you’ll have better luck finding shoes that fit. I was lucky enough to get a one-on-one shoe shopping session with the guy who designs the lasts for Valentino a few years ago after we did some work for them, and now that I know what to look for in a pair of shoes, I’ve bought nothing but awesome heels since (at all price points, I’ll add).

        It’s also possible (if you have small feet) that you may just be buying heels which have too much rise for your foot to cope with, in which case you’ll need to look at heels with a platform toe if you want to wear a heel that high… To figure out your maximum rise, trace your foot on a piece of paper, take the curve of your heel and draw it into a full circle inside your footprint; then draw a horizontal line across the widest part of your footprint; and then measure the distance from the line to the nearest point on the circle – this is your maximum rise.

        The other excellent advice he gave: a shoe that isn’t comfortable the moment you put it on will never be comfortable. Don’t let anyone talk you into buying it.

  53. T3k

    I’m really good at coming up with unconventional fixes for something. Not a true MacGyver, but just small fixes with whatever I have lying around, be it paper clips, hair, etc. Growing up, I was a very crafty child, so I guess it continued from there.

    Also, I’m not sure if this is really a skill (I mean, anyone with internet access could do this) but I’m really good at sifting through information and finding what I need quickly. I never watched Criminal Minds much, but my mom always said she could see me as the blonde woman who sits at the computer and digs up information for the field team. However, this comes with a downside as my friends have learned that if they re-post some supposed news story, it better be true because I’ll point it out if it isn’t (one friend didn’t like that very much when I corrected something she re-posted).

    1. Lore

      Hot glue, safety pins, and double-sided fabric tape got me through years as a stage manager fixing *everything.*

      1. T3k

        Oh I love hot glue! Been using it since I was a kid and have even used it as a medium for an art project once to mimic rain.

  54. Spice for this

    I am great at:
    Audit and Research
    -like auditing the teapot supplier file. Then locating the missing docs and making sure everything is up to date and complete according to co. procedures. The missing docs could be on line, in a company folder (electronic or hard copy)
    Tips-
    -I really enjoy auditing and research
    -I keep complete notes on most things and refer to them to make sure I am following the correct procedures and that I am locating the correct docs
    -I read most everything I come across at work so I become familiar with all processes, procedures, web sites, key employees in all departments
    -I use Outlook reminders to make sure I don’t forget anything (and add data such as file location, website link, names and phones numbers to help me find what I am looking for)

  55. Ann Furthermore

    I am really, really good at making Oracle Financials applications do what I want them to do. I’ve gotten some downright hare-brained requirements from users, and I’m almost always able to design a solution that works, or at least come up with a first pass at a solution that gets modified and refined as we move through the process.

    The secret is to really want to know why the application does or does not do something, or behaves in a certain way, and then setting about solving the mystery. I use the Oracle support site, Google, and the network I’ve built over the years of doing this kind of work. The other key is to not be afraid to try things in a test environment. It’s a test environment, so who cares if you make a mistake or do something wrong? It eventually gets refreshed anyway.

    Another skill is that I’m able to take T-Accounts and journal entries diagrammed on a white board, and translate them into system processes. No secret to this, really, just years of practice and experience.

    The other key to being good at this type of work is to not get defensive or upset if someone shows you a better way to do something. Instead, soak it in and use it in the future. Earlier in the week I had a consultant tell me about an software extension that can be used to automate a process, and I was thrilled. I’d come up with a more manual solution, but it was not great…but the best I could do. All of my research had taken me in a completely different direction, so I thought what I was trying to figure out was a dead end. He’s going to demo it for me next week, and I’m looking forward to seeing it.

  56. insert pun here

    I’m really good at winning over skeptics — sort of an advanced form of persuasive writing/speaking. In my line of work, at least, the keys are: listen more than I talk; make it clear to the person that I’m “on their team” and will look out for their best interests; don’t slam the competition, and in fact, it’s good to speak about them respectfully (no one wants to be in the middle of someone else’s competitive drama.) Ask people questions about their work and (gentle, non-intrusive) about their lives — everyone wants to feel like they are “seen.” 98% of the time, connecting to people as people makes my work life much, much easier. (2% of the time, I find out waaaaaay more than I want to know about someone. No strategy is perfect.)

  57. CrazyCatLady

    Oh! And I’m GREAT with cats. I’ve talked two cats out of trees! By speaking Chinese to them, oddly enough. For some reason, the tones of Mandarin seem to have a hypnotic effect on cats!

  58. Anon369

    I’m really good at business writing, and good at assessing tone in written communications. Very helpful when you have a job that requires persuasion.

    How to improve? Read with fresh eyes when you edit (I like to physically find a new location to read in, versus my desk) and always keep your audience in the forefront of your mind as you read. How will they interpret a given sentence? Is the tone consistent with other sections? What questions will a given passage bring up?

  59. Wolfess

    New commenter here; let me know if someone else has taken this name already!

    I’m really good at simply making %*&! happen, which is a skill I severely underestimated before entering the professional world. I thought it would be a given across the board, but HAHAHA nope.

    I’d say perseverance is the big part of it, because I will either fix the problem/do it myself, or make the calls all over the company and do the searching (also a skill) to find that right person to fix the budget/reserve the room/order catering/get this patron the result they need/whatever. Follow-up is also a big thing to get others to simply do what’s requested of them.

  60. Paperwork

    I’ve been looking for a new job (currently unemployed) and all of my old coworkers tell me I’m really good at….. paperwork. Any type of paperwork that needs to be filled out or sorted, I’m the fastest and best. I guess that will translate into something valuable in my next job? I guess the key is not to get distracted by anything else around, just focus on one single task in front of you and don’t start on anything else in the meantime until that particular file is done. Also to pick a method and stick with it, especially if its the same paperwork over and over: fill this part out first, then this part, then carry over that to the next etc. Don’t switch it up on the next lot, just keep the process the same everytime.

  61. C Average

    I am really good at finding stuff other people are looking for. I’ve had this skill for my whole adult life, and it’s been a constant source of amazement to family and colleagues. “Where is the extra reed for my clarinet?” “Oh, it’s in the side pocket of the red bag you took to band camp last summer. I think the bag is in the trunk of your dad’s car.” “Where did we all agree on the syntax for the new software?” “Oh, that’s in the email chain from Wakeen and the general counsel. I think it’s from around last Thanksgiving. Let me pull it up for you.”

    I am very observant by nature, and I’ve worked to hone that skill. Whenever I am just going about my business doing busywork, I try to pay attention to the objects and details around me. And I think I have a somewhat photographic memory–I tend to recall things like on which area of the page a particular passage occurred in a book I read, for example. I also am observant of people and their movements, so that if I can’t remember actually SEEING a particular object, I can often suss out its location by reviewing the everyday movements of its owner and thinking about where that person might have set it down last.

    (A corollary: I’m also good at knowing when something is really and truly lost and needs to be replaced. If I can’t find it or figure out where it went, it’s probably gone for good. This is a surprisingly handy ability.)

    1. C Average

      Oh, and I am also freakishly good at standardized tests. I believe I honed this skill by doing the puzzle page in the newspaper almost every day throughout my childhood, reading avidly, and generally playing a lot of brain-teasers and intellectual games. This was good practice for tests; it also defuses test anxiety because when I’m faced with a test, my mind says, “Ooooh! Fun intellectual game.”

      1. CollegeAdmin

        Me too! I actually liked taking the SAT and ended up turning that skill into being a SAT prep tutor for extra cash in college.

      2. Misty

        Same here! I never realized why until now, but I think it’s just as you said: my brain interprets multiple-choice tests like a puzzle or game, so they seem more fun than scary to me.

      3. Anx

        I think I was good at standardized tests for two reasons:

        1) Fun! Puzzle! I also think they tend to be written out more carefully.

        2) No teachers to judge me. So anonymous.

      4. Ad Astra

        I’m good at standardized tests too! My secret is that I have no problem just skipping or guessing when it’s clear that I don’t have any idea what the answer is. That’s a huge help with timed tests, where a lot of people get stuck on tough questions they don’t know the answer to and don’t have time to finish the easy ones that they probably would have gotten right. As a result, I ended up testing into a college math class that turned out to be way too hard.

      5. afiendishthingy

        oh, me too. I hadn’t thought about the connection with the brain-teaser/puzzles, but they’re definitely at least correlated if not causally linked.

    2. Chinook

      “I am really good at finding stuff other people are looking for. I’ve had this skill for my whole adult life, and it’s been a constant source of amazement to family and colleagues. ”

      I was like this in high school. I was the team manager and one game various team members kept coming up and asking me for various things that slowly got weirder and weirder until one of them broke down and told me they were trying to stump me with something I couldn’t find. Turned out they couldn’t.

    3. cuppa

      I can do this with e-mail, too!
      I get lots of calls saying, I think we heard about this, but I’m not sure… and I can say, oh, yes, that’s in these meeting notes from 2013….

    4. Cath in Canada

      I have the same highly visual memory thing: remembering the part of a page a particular passage was on, the positions everyone was standing in when we had X conversation, that kind of thing. Unfortunately though, that hasn’t converted into being able to find lost things, like it has for you!

    5. Soupspoon McGee

      I can find lost things too! I used to have an office mate who constantly misplaced her glasses or keys. I had a knack for telling her where to find them, probably just by remembering where she usually put them. We’re still friends, and she sometimes calls me (from 200 miles away) to ask where she put something. At home, I can tell everyone where they left their shoes/wallet/book/favorite mug, no matter if they misplaced it months ago or five minutes ago.

      I think it’s a combo of being observant and having a good visual memory, and also knowing human nature and where people tend to put things.

  62. Sarah

    I’m really, really good at writing papers, emails, project proposals, etc both quickly and well. If I’m really rushing, I can write a page in 10-15 minutes. (Presumably, I can actually type faster than that, but those 10 minutes include proofreading spelling and grammar and properly structuring sentences and ideas.)

    Once I have all of the research done and the structure outlined, it’s practically written in my head and I just need to put it down on paper.

    I once wrote 28 pages of research papers in 48 hours, including doing all of the research for one and half the research for the other.

  63. Jane

    I’m really good with customers and building relationships. The key is to think of relationship building as a learned skill that you must practice. Always give more than is expected, and always always give more than you take. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Look for opportunities to exceed expectations. Be unfailingly polite and get it right the first time. Remember that most awkward/uncomfortable situations can be diffused and moved past. Try to create opportunities for people to feel comfortable; even the most taciturn person can usually talk for a few minutes about the weather.

  64. Kassy

    This is not so much a work-related skill, but I have an oddly specific talent – dealing with health insurance/medical bills. I WILL get the situation resolved, though it may take months and be endlessly frustrating. I guess the important things to know are:

    1) Read your policy. And then read it again. Read it like you’re taking an exam on it (which essentially you will be). When you find something important, print it out, keep the page number or the URL (even print the webpage, because of course they can change that at any time).
    2) Keep EVERYTHING. Keep your explanations of benefits, keep your bills, keep last year’s policy.
    3) Write down EVERYTHING. Every time you call them or they call you, write down the date/time/rep’s name/contents of the call.
    4) As far as getting answers/actually getting a situation resolved, you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar – at first. Be pleasant, explain your situation, and give them time to deal with your problem – the first time. And the second time. But when you get the same answer for the fifth time in a row and it hasn’t been resolved, it’s okay to say “that’s not good enough.” I promise, SOMEONE at this place has the ability to fix your problem. Don’t be rude, but you are allowed to assert yourself. You are allowed to ask for a supervisor or a specialist or someone with the authority to get done what you need done.
    5) If you’re able, follow along with their math. Your policy should spell out the billing process. If you don’t understand, ask someone who does. Following along will help ensure that you catch mistakes when they happen, not fifteen claims down the road when you think you should be done paying, but you aren’t. Because every one of those prior claims will have to be re-done before they fix the current one.

    TL;DR Mostly, keep documentation of absolutely everything.

    1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees

      I’m a generally healthy person but my SO is a type 1 diabetic… I wish one of us had your skill! He’s far better than I am (20 years of dealing with the disease means he at least know what he wants) but we’re both pretty new to the “having your own insurance and not being a dependent game” and oof.

    2. My 2 Cents

      Yes! Read your policy! I have won every single insurance dispute I’ve ever had because I’ve actually read my policies and found that what the insurance company was telling me wasn’t actually the provision in the policy. Because of this I actually for an additional $75,000 payout for my parents after a claim once, so it adds up!

  65. chumpwithadegree

    Nothing but soft skills here I’m afraid. I am very good at taking hostile people and making them into friends and allies.
    I also have a ridiculous memory-I was recently handed a new file, thought the name sounded familiar, and found through Mr Google that he had been declared a vexatious litigant in another jurisdiction 2 years previously.

    1. AW

      “I am very good at taking hostile people and making them into friends and allies.”

      Given the number of letters here are about dealing with a hostile co-worker, tips for this would be greatly appreciated.

    2. VintageLydia USA

      I used to be pretty good at the turning enemies into friends or allies bit. In fact, a lot of my oldest friends and I had MAJOR friendship-ending-for-most falling outs that lasted a year or more (the trick is to be forgiving and never ever guilt trip even if you were the victim. If you can’t do that, it’s probably best to not rekindle the friendship.) I had an ex who left me for my lab partner in my science class the first month the school. I had to sit next to her and work with her all year without causing drama. Our working relationship was actually fantastic. We were always in the top 3 in grades (the third being another girl who sat in front of us) and were always paired together to help out other students and though we never became friends, we did become allies. When the inevitable drama/breakup happened between her and my ex 6 or so months later she was comfortable enough with me to bring me her problems (of all her friends, I knew him best and I still hung out with a lot of his friends even though I avoided him whenever possible.)

      And you know, when they started dating, I knew she was pumping me for information about him as much as I was doing to her. And she wasn’t stupid so I’m sure the opposite was true. But we both really really wanted good grades in that class so we just… dealt with it in our weird Machiavellian way. It’s like we both recognized our overarching goals where the same and a petty and ultimately temporary squabble over a boy would just get in the way and it was better to work together. Also I loved seeing his stupid face grimace every time I stopped them in the hall to have a friendly chat with her.

      I’ve more or less isolated myself a lot since then so it’s a skill I’ve lost, but being able to identify common goals and knowing how to be frank with someone without being cruel and knowing whether or how to sugar coat without totally obscuring the message goes a long long way.

  66. Nervous Accountant

    I am good at….criticizing myself? Accepting critical feedback and acknowledging my flaws? Sadly I can’t think of much. I’m good at what I do (I’m a tax accountant), but everyone I work with is loads better at what they do so I compare myself to them and don’t feel I measure up.

    1. MLT

      Perhaps more positively you could say that you are introspective and look for ways to grow. An excellent trait and skill.

      1. Nervous Accountant

        Love this! Thank you!
        I struggle with finding positive ways to frame things, even if I may not feel negative, I know it comes across that way.

    2. Ad Astra

      A lot of people are truly terrible at accepting critical feedback, so this really is a valuable thing!

  67. KathyGeiss

    I’m good at starting a fire even when it’s wet. The key the prep work. You need to lay a base of wood (bark, sticks laid close together, whatever you have) that is as dry as you can find. This base means the fire isn’t wasting energy drying out the ground underneath of it. Then you need a lot of tinder and wood. Collect 3 piles: 1 pile of wood the size of your pinky, 1 pile with wood the size of your thumb and the final pile with bigger pieces (wrist size). When you think you have enough wood, double the sizes of the piles with more wood.

    If the wood is wet, split it to expose the dry parts.

    Birch bark is better than paper as a fire starter. Dryer lint works just as well as store bought fire starters.

    I could go on but I won’t bore you. The key is prep and patience.

    1. Lily Rowan

      I love that I didn’t think you were being literal when I started reading the first sentence, but you were!

    2. evilintraining

      Good advice! I like to camp in remote, dark places (stargazer here), and this will help me to avoid over-packing out of sheer paranoia.

      1. KathyGeiss

        We canoe in the backcountry a lot. My survival tip: be prepared. Between me and my husband we always have an emergency kit, a space blanket and a cliff bar in the pockets of our life jackets. We call them ditch kits and they are just in case all our stuff sinks to the bottom of the lake.

        In the emergency kit (which is small so it fits in the pocket) is: matches, needle and thread, water purifying tablets, non-lubricated condom (weird, I know. But it’s the smallest, packable thing that will expand big enough to hold enough water for you to purify), duct tape, signal mirror.

        We’ve never been in a situation to use them but Ya know, safety first

  68. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees

    Um. So. Well…

    I’m really good at diagnosing and treating freshwater fish diseases and wanted to be an ichthyologist focused on fish vetting but I can’t pass a bio class to save my life. I love my archival career path, I really do, but sometimes I remember that no one is going to pay me to pull fish lice out of their aquarium and I get all “look at my life, look at my choices”

    My tip for general aquarium keeping: Don’t believe anything you’ve been told about goldfish unless it came from a professional, and always condition your water.

      1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees

        Fish lice is a thing! Scientifically called argulidae they’re an external parasite that can actually kill their host. If you’re easily squicked out by bugs I don’t recommend googling them though.

    1. VintageLydia USA

      I used to work at a pet supply store that sold fish and I pretty much ALWAYS tried to dissuade people from buying goldfish. I ended up selling a ton of guppies since they’re just as pretty if not prettier, smaller, easier to take care of, and didn’t require ten damn gallons a fish. So long as they were careful to get either males or females, not both, most people were good.

      I never got into fish diseases. Grossed me out too much to study it.

  69. DatSci

    I am a second to none parallel parker. There are no tricks, anyone with good spacial reasoning skills can do this with practice. However, I would recommend remembering to start turning your steering wheel the opposite direction as soon as your car is at a 45 degree angle from the curb.

    I am also a FANTASTIC negotiator, especially when it comes to salary and job offers, I amaze myself every time at how much more (and more) I can successfully achieve in this area. Honestly, if data science doesn’t work out at any point, I might try my luck as a negotiation consultant to help others hone this skill. The trick to this is “leverage”; in any negotiation, the party who gets what they want is the party least in need of the deal. So leverage your research from industry publications, your network, previous positions, online job postings, online salary reports, but ultimately having options is the best leverage. I’ve always ultimately gotten the best deal in job offers where I have been able to leverage the fact I had multiple offers. I realize not everyone is in this position, but for those who are, I highly encourage using it to your full advantage.

    1. Regina 2

      As someone who SUCKS at negotiating — how do you know you HAVE leverage? Coupled with major self-confidence issues, I just have a hard time believing an employer could want me more than I need them (when, in fact, this happened to me at my current job, and I think I could have asked for more and gotten it, but I was very passive about it).

      1. misspiggy

        I think that acting as if you do have leverage can help. Like, if this employer really wanted me, what leverage would I have and how would I go about negotiating if I were a sophisticated badass?

  70. Malissa

    My talents include bending Excel to my will, Figuring out how to explain difficult in simple terms, and doing work faster than any of my predecessors.
    The secret to Excel is Google and lots of practice. If you think there is a way to do something easier in Excel, there probably is, just google it.
    Explaining things-18 years of marriage to a very not technical person who asks a lot of questions, in other words lots of practice. I also surrounding myself with people with different perspectives, this helps me understand that different people learn/hear/process different ways.
    Working faster-This is a combination of examining processes and figuring out what the desired out come is and rebuilding the process to get there most efficiently. The words that irritate me the most in the world are, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” So I rally against those words to find out why.

  71. Tom

    Not to steal an idea from the post, but I’m quite good at getting in well with the manager (and co-workers for that matter). To me, this is all about empathy. When I’ve got a difficult situation or conversation pending, I think very carefully about where the other people are coming from and what their reactions will be. Now, obviously I can’t control either of those things, but giving it some thought helps me to exercise care in how I say things and picking my battles.

    Being very gracious to people is also key. It’s easy for this to cross the line into being a bit of a kiss-up, but I find that most people really do appreciate if you thank them for something they did well, acknowledge when they’re in a sticky situation, or pay attention to something they’re going on about as if it’s legitimately interesting.

    1. Tom

      As a slightly more concrete thing, I’ve gotten very good at playing piano and singing at the same time, which is actually a skill I use all the time as a pro musician, and one that I find boggles the minds of some of my colleagues who are better than I am at doing one or the other, but can’t do them at the same time to save their lives.

      And aside from it being one of those “practice, practice, practice” things, the main trick I’ve picked up is that you’re singing and playing an instrument at the same time, it is VERY helpful if not necessary to have one or the other part close to memorized.

  72. Bailey Quarters

    I am actually a good listener. I am not sure what it is, but people come up and tell me their problems and secrets. I have no idea why. I think it something in my face as the same thing happens to my mother and we resemble each other.

    The secret: Look at the person who is talking. Make sympathetic noises (“uh-huh,” “I see” and the like). Also, don’t offer advice unless it’s requested or unless you check first (“would you like to hear my view ?” or “would you like some advice?”)

  73. Amber Rose

    Oddly I’m good at public speaking. I’m shy as hell and introverted but if you want me to run a meeting or give a presentation I am all over that.

    And no, I have never pictured anyone in their underwear (how would that possibly help? I don’t get it.) I have a three pronged attack. The first is figuring out which parts of what I’m talking about are interesting and which are not. If I was the audience, what would I wish we could skip? The second is I shorten how much I plan to talk about those things and joke a little about it, or try to focus on an aspect that is slightly more interesting. The third is more of an encompassing step: I practice projecting my voice without yelling, relaxing my posture and looking at people.

    Most importantly, I may have a sheet of bullet point reminders for talking points but I never script. It’s easier to try adapt to your audience if you don’t write out every word.

    All of these things mean being shy doesn’t matter. I’m scared but it doesn’t show on my face or in my voice or in my knowledge of the topic.

    1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees

      Hey, me too! Shy, extremely introverted… good at and actually enjoy public speaking and employee a really similar approach to yours. I often write out an “official” script, bold the equivalent of bullet points, and build from there but sometimes I have language I really want to use.

      The downside: I was recently elected family eulogy giver because I am so good at public speaking. I’ve had to start declining because instead of the happy “I made a speech” rush that public speaking usually gives me, eulogies just really drag me down.

      1. Amber Rose

        It took me a few years to enjoy public speaking but I’m at a point now where I like the rush from it. I did also take some speech and debate classes in order to work on getting over my nerves and get some practice.

        Ugh, eulogies. That’s a rough one. Can’t blame you for opting out.

    2. Misty

      Yes! I do a lot of the same things you do.

      -Try to empathize with the audience. There’s one presentation I often seem to end up giving on Friday afternoons, when people are looking longingly out the window and thinking about their weekends. So I make a joke about that, and gear the presentation to aspects they’ll find interesting.
      -Keep my body language relaxed, moving around within a few-step area, and gesturing with my arms. Presenters who stand at a lectern and never move a muscle are uncomfortable to watch.
      -Keep graphics such as PowerPoints visually interesting, with limited text (I hate hate hate when presenters put the test equivalent of a book chapter on one slide! No one can read it!) and update repeat presentations often.
      -Memorize or incorporate talking points into the graphics, but talk extemporanously otherwise. Use anecdotes, especially amusing or unusual ones, to illustrate my points.

    3. Nerdling

      Yes! I just got back from a required briefing class, and I teach a couple of times a year, at least. I get compliments on my briefing frequently, and I’m an introvert of epic proportions.

      #1: Know your topic. The more I know the material, the more comfortable I am with it.

      #2: Know what your audience is going to be interested in. Sometimes it’s how they can take your information and apply it to their work. Sometimes it’s how they can take the information you’ve given them and react to it to move their organization forward. Or maybe it’s just educating people about a threat or something and teaching them how to protect themselves.

      #3 Practice until you feel more comfortable, both in front of people who know your topic and in front of people who don’t.

      #4: Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something! Get the questioner’s contact info, find the answer, and follow up with them. It gets you a solid reputation for being trustworthy and thorough.

  74. SirTechSpec

    I’m really good at problem-solving. Good thing since it’s my primary function in IT, but it applies to people as well as computers. I think the key is a relentless conviction that things CAN be known and problems CAN be solved. If you go into it with that attitude, you’re more open to solutions when you come across them. I have a few catch phrases like “We’re not the first people to have this issue. How have others dealt with it?” (which reminds me to ask Google-sensei) and “If I were designing this software, I would put in a way to do X…” (which there often is!)

    For example, one of our systems at work hadn’t been configured to do one of the major labor-saving functions we bought it for. I asked around and got variations on “yeah, that would be nice, but there are some issues/you’re going to get pushback from other people.” I said “that’s OK, I’m confident we can address everyone’s concerns and move forward” and submitted the formal change request. Come to find out everyone was actually for it themselves, and 80% of the concerns were just about other people’s concerns, the remaining 20% of which were resolved pretty quickly once we got the right people in the room together. You just have to believe it’s possible.

    As for tips, I think joining mailing lists, going to conferences, and otherwise trying to expand your perspective is key. It helps for those times when you get stuck in a rut, feeling like suffering is inevitable – and then you hear about someone else like “Whoa, it’s possible to NOT have this problem?? What would that look like?” and then you’re off and running!

  75. Meganly

    I am really good at bending Microsoft Word to my will. Seems a bit silly to say, as it’s such a ubiquitous program, but there are so many amazing things you can do with Word when you’re a tech writer. I tend to work on long, technical documents with loads of complex tables, figures, one/two column transitions and it’s amazing how many weird bugs there are and what the silly workarounds are. (Protip: never use Next Page breaks, never worth it.)

    1. Christy

      Please go on! I don’t know anything about Next Page breaks being an issue and I’d like the explanation.

      1. evilintraining

        As an admin, I always liked WordPerfect better but have accepted the fact that I will be forever doomed to using MS Word. (Yeah, I can already feel the hate.) I still miss Reveal Codes and can’t understand why Word doesn’t have a comparable feature. if it exists, do tell!!!

        1. Meganly

          Not 100% sure what “reveal codes” does, but is it like revealing the content of bookmarks/hyperlinks/field codes/dynamic text? That’s Toggle Field Codes, Shift+F9. Or is it more like displaying specific formatting? That’s Reveal Formatting, Shift+F1. Are either of those helpful?

        2. Jules the First

          It exists! It’s called ‘Show Formatting’ and you’ll find it on the Home tab in the Paragraph section (the symbol looks like the hard return line break)

      2. Meganly

        If you’re using a template, it will wreak havoc on all of your pretty formatting; it especially kills first/even/odd page header/footer settings. It also makes Word crash at random times. It’s definitely better to just use a section break and a page break.

  76. the_scientist

    I think a lot of mine have been mentioned already!

    1). I’m a really fast reader. Again, not world record holding speeds or anything, but I read significantly faster than the average person and retain information extremely well. Made reading Harry Potter a breeze, when I was younger. I’m also a good speller (I actually won a spelling bee in elementary school), probably because I read so much.

    2). Is there a medical emergency happening somewhere? I’m your girl. I can stay calm in a crisis, the sight of blood doesn’t upset me, and I know exactly what to do and how to manage a scene and the other people at that scene. I have a lot of advanced first aid certifications and many years of experience as a volunteer EMT, so I got good at this through practice. I also find first aid stuff to be comfortingly logical, which helped me get good at it. And I’m also good at not getting tunnel vision, which is key in an emergency!

    3). I’m a good listener. Not in the empathetic sense, but in the sense that I pick up the details that other people often miss in conversations. This has served me well in a technical career.

    4). I listen about 80% of the time, and speak about 20% of the time. I try not to speak until my thoughts are fully-formed, and never talk over people. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue, but I *hope* this makes me seem thoughtful, measured, and intelligent.

  77. Dorth Vader

    I’m good at compartmentalizing my emotions. I work with kids and I find it really important to be with them 100% even when something horrible/stressful is going on in my own life. Even if something obviously bad is happening while I’m with them, like the time my car broke down while taking them to camp, I can focus on getting them safe and taken care of first, then dealing with my issue.
    For me it helps that my work is a natural distraction. It’s my job to keep the household or classroom running smoothly and I take that very seriously. It also helps(?) that I tend to bottle things up generally and only deal with emotions when I’m alone and have lots of processing time. I also currently and have in the past worked for/with people who are incredibly caring and supportive and willing to work around emergencies I may have. My last job was soul-crushing and very unsupportive and it wasn’t a coincidence that I ended up crying in front of the kids more than once.

  78. Cajun2core

    I am good in dealing with people who can’t grasp concepts that I find very simple. I worked tech support for over 11 years and people would call tech support and specifically ask for me because they knew that I was patient and could explain things to them and most of all, I wouldn’t “talk down” to them the way some people in tech support do. Now I work with a bunch of PhDs who can’t work the simplest classroom equipment, the copier, and similar everyday office machines.

    What has helped me is to keep in mind that there are things that other people excel at which I can’t do. I am a man who owns a house and I have call a handyman for anything more complicated than changing a light-bulb (only slightly exaggerating on this one). The PhD’s I work with can teach a class, get grants, do incredible research that helps many people and has far reaching potential. One PhD I know can barely operate a DVR yet she can operate a million dollar electron microscope. We all have our own gifts, talents and skills and they are different from each other’s gifts, talents, and skills.

    Also, when I was just starting to learn a specific Hewlett-Packard proprietary mainframe computer system at a new job, I had to call HP just to find out what version of the operating system was on my system. About 8 years later, I started working for a third-party vendor which supported this operating system. When I would get calls that I thought were “stupid”, I thought back to the time when I first started working on this Operating System and how many stupid questions I asked and that helps me have patience with the customer.

    I know this is probably frowned upon, but if you need a person who knows this operating system very well, I am looking for a job!

  79. MostCommonLastName

    I’m good at writing as well (I’m actually in a writing contest at the moment where the winner gets a publishing deal, so pretty excited) and I’m also pretty good at editing my own work.

    My tip is to run your work through one of the online text evaluators, specifically one that shows the most used phrases and words. It helps you sound less repetitious and find out what you’re using way too often. This also helps in future works when you already know what words you have a penchant for

    1. MostCommonLastName

      I’m also a minor expert on moisturizers. Having eczema since birth, and later discovering I have two types of it, means I’m constantly using moisturizers. Through the years I’ve had no choice but to learn which are the best ones for super dry skin.

  80. GOG11

    I’m really good at taking convoluted/difficult to follow/disorganized/visually overwhelming directions, instructions or processes and reworking them to make them simpler and more accessible. I honestly think I’m good at it because of my ADHD. I have a REALLY hard time following directions that aren’t clear so my brain sort of has to translate it before I can do whatever process I’m trying to do. Generally, those “translations” are easier and more straight forward to others, as well.

    One trick I use a lot is screen shots or photos. When you have text directions, somebody reads the text and has to match up what they’re reading with what they’re seeing. If you provide screen shots, they can match up the visuals directly.

    Another tip is to allow formatting to carry some of the weight of the explanation. When formatting is used consistently throughout a document, people can follow along more easily because they know where to look for certain types of info. Left side is text directions throughout and right is screen shots. Bold in the text means I’m looking for that text to click on, select, etc. (see example below). A red circle tells me what exactly I’m looking to click on.
    “Step 1. Click on the FILE icon in the top left of the program.
    Step 2. Click on Save As from the menu that appears on the left.
    Step 3. Select Browse from the options that appear.”

    I create a LOT of process documents for work (mostly for myself since some processes only come around once a year). One time I helped teach a seminar and we ended on a very challenging concept. I went home and reworked the materials we used to teach the concept and brought back a one-page diagram (kind of) and I could see it just sort of click for quite a few people. It was such an awesome feeling.

    1. Ad Astra

      I have ADHD and have definitely developed a certain level of skill when it comes to sorting out convoluted information. I can only do it when I’m functioning at 100 percent, though. Once my brain gets tired, all bets are off.

  81. Terra

    I’m good at QA testing, especially for software. Three of the best pieces of advice I can give you are :
    1) Never read the instructions first. Yes, it does tell you how to do the thing but 90% of end users will never read the directions and they can subtly influence you to focus on the “correct” way to do things.
    2) Think like a little kid. Press buttons that you know are wrong or out of order to see what happens. Ask “why?” a lot.
    3) Don’t be afraid of breaking things. Most people are trained to not break things and worry about breaking something permanently. Or they worry about making more work for the creators. Generally though the creator would rather fix the issue now than wait until a customer complains and if something is so badly built or designed that you can break something that badly then it *definitely* needs fixed.

    1. Cajun2core

      As someone who has had to test software before, this is excellent advice. I have had programmers ask me, “Why the did you do that?” My response was always, “Because I know one day, I will get a call from an end user will do just such a thing.”

  82. MNT

    This is not work-related and quite random, but I am truly excellent at pouring the exact same amount of liquid (usually wine) into X number of vessels without measuring or looking. I haven’t really developed a how-to for others, exactly, but certainly practice helps. Delicious, too :)

    1. ThursdaysGeek

      My dad is good at cutting birthday cake in pieces that are all the same volume but never the same shape. I’ve worked on that skill and I’m not bad, but I probably look better just because it’s something that no-one else ever does. We could get together and serve for an AAM party.

      1. Elsajeni

        Your dad is that guy in logic puzzles! Does he have a wolf, a goat, and a cabbage that he brings everywhere with him, by any chance?

  83. Victoria

    I have two things I’m really good at, and the tip is for both of them.

    I am an expert in Excel. Most of the people here at work think I’m some kind of wizard. Also, I work in IT. I can fix almost any kind of hardware or software issue with our computers.

    The secret?

    Google. I have the google-fu. Don’t know how to do something in Excel? Google it. Watch the video. Try it a few times. Find a step by step tutorial. Don’t know how to fix that issue that keeps giving you that same error code every day? Google the error code. Your issue will probably be in the top five results, and will probably include step by step instructions, or at least some things you can try.

  84. Lunar

    I’m good at seeing things form other people’s perspectives. I’m pretty good at understanding why Jane is upset about a situation and seeing it from her perspective, but also seeing Wakeen’s side of the story and why he is upset. From there it is easy to see why a conflict is happening and where they can find common ground (or at least understand the the disagreement is a difference in perspective, not something malicious (unless it is malicious, which is a whole other thing)).

    A lot of the time my friends get annoyed with me because they will be complaining about something that their mom or boyfriend or anyone is doing and I always say “well maybe they are seeing it this way..” and offer some explanation, which I’m sure can be frustrating when you just want to vent. But I think it is a pretty useful skill. I think it mostly comes from being naturally empathetic, but here are two tips:
    – Ask the question “how does the other person see the situation?” I think most people just forget that their perspective is not the only one.
    – Go into things assuming that people are being positive and not trying to be negative or hurtful. Starting with that base assumption makes it easier to think about what their goal or perspective is.

  85. The Other Dawn

    I’m great at writing procedures. Part of what makes me good at is that I LOVE writing procedures. But also that I try to think of whatever task I’m writing about as if I’m doing it for the first time on a system I’ve never used before. And I break it down so it’s understandable, kind of like the person up-thread who explains technical processes in non-technical terms. And screen shots. Lots of screen shots.

    I would also say I’m great at recognizing text formatting issues. In a full page of single-spaced text I can pick out those instances where there’s an extra space between two sentences, or the bullet points on page 10 are slightly off from page 1. I’m very visual and am very picky about formatting, which I think is why I pick up on these things.

    1. ThursdaysGeek

      I wish more of the people I work with were like you! How can those headers that don’t align not make their teeth itch? Did they not notice that one column is not justified to the header?

      1. Blue_eyes

        Oh, man. My last boss was the worst at this. Her spreadsheets would have different formatting for practically every cell and no consistency between sheets. It drove me batty. Every time I had to enter data I would have to spend time fixing the formatting because I just couldn’t stand it.

        1. Jessica (tc)

          My last boss would laugh at me about this, but she always sent me things to “fix” when everything wasn’t aligned and formatted the same.

    2. vox de causa

      Me too! I’m fantastic at writing procedures that everyone can follow and which cover most (if not all) of the related situations that users will run into. Screen shots are awesome, and making a “new trainee” version and an “I’ve done this several times but may need the high points” version have been well received where I am.

  86. april ludgate

    Like a few other people, I’m really good at picking up computer applications. My secret is just Google and a can-do attitude. Everyone I work with thinks I’m some sort of Excel guru when really I just google everything as I go (I’ve even tried explaining that, now I just let everyone think I’m a genius). If you think Excel should be able to do something, it can probably do the thing, you just have to figure out the trick to getting it to work. The trickiest part can be getting the wording right when you google it, because sometimes I’ll know what I want it to do, just not the name of what I’m doing, so I do have to get creative with the googling occasionally. People ask all the time where I learned Excel and Photoshop and are amazed that I’m self-taught.

    1. Furniture Assembler

      THIS. I graduated college without a lick of excel experience. Once, in a college internship, I was given a list of thousands of names and told to remove the duplicates. The person who delegated it to me was manually going through and looking for duplicates (sorted alphabetically) so I just took it as such.
      My boyfriend (now hubby) called later that day to check in and I complained about the tedious work. He said, “you know there’s a button for that.” WOW. That was the moment my life changed and I vowed to always google excel things first.
      Fast forward 10 years later, I just finished a huge project for my company building an incredibly complex excel tool. Well, it seems complex to everyone else but it’s actually pretty basic in the scheme of things! I didn’t know how to build it when I started but I’m the ‘excel guru’ so I was asked to build it. It became bigger/better than they even expected because I was constantly googling how to do things. And, I learned a lot! I love a challenge.

      1. Furniture Assembler

        To add on – I’ve been sent to excel training as continuing education and I HATE it. If you tell me HOW to do something and don’t let me follow along on my own while I’m doing it (the training literally had NO COMPUTERS) my eyes glaze over. I need to get in and problem solve!

        1. april ludgate

          I’m the same way. I really do the best when I’m learning something that I need as an immediate solution, I don’t retain any tips that I can’t use with what I’m working on. And I have no interest in an Excel course, my boss has offered to let me take one but it seems pointless. I already know what I need and when I don’t I’d much rather just teach myself as I go. A course without computers seems extra useless, though, that must have been awful!

      2. alexcansmile

        I did a similar thing with a friend using the “find and replace” function in Word. Instead of having to individually type names into labels 100x for each different name she could type it once and be done. I saved her HOURS of tedious work.

  87. Gallerina

    I know how to throw a fantastic party/special event – useful personally and professionally, since I’m in Fundraising and Development.

    Tips:
    – I am, by nature a total party animal, so I’ve been to loads of events and always note what works and what doesn’t. Use every party you go to as a mini research project and think about what would make it better.

    – Have more than enough food and drink. Fed and watered people are always contented, even if everything else is a disaster, as long and the snacks and booze are good, the event won’t be write off.

    -Have a plan A,B,C & D. Accept that with autonomous adults and alcohol, things will go wrong. As long as you can avoid hospitals, excessive crying or law suits, just go with the flow and modify your plans as you go along. Freaking out because your guest of honor arrived late and the centerpieces are the wrong color helps no one. Chances are your guests won’t even notice.

    -Start well in advance. Do everything you possibly can before the day of event. Even months in advance if you have to.

    -For a personal party HAVE FUN. No one is going to enjoy your party if you don’t enjoy it.

  88. NDR

    I am excellent at event logistics – from menu planning to layout/flow to timing.

    My secret is to think through things from the point of view of each person (type of person) involved in the event. If I were a guest, what would I need to do first? What would confuse me? Frustrate me? Make things easier to know or do?

    If I am the caterer, would putting my prep space here slow me down? Would giving too many choices make it more likely that we run out of anything? If I’m the valets, will I want water? Coffee? Snacks? Will te table and chair delivery leave the florists enough time to set up and the band to sound check?

    I try to walk the venue and any routes that guests might take to give them a sense of how long moving from space to space would take. I like to think through dietary restrictions, disabilities, special needs, emergencies, etc. with everything as over-planned as I can get it, when something goes wrong (it always does), the rest of the event should be on autopilot.

    Oh – and I always take these into an event day – 1. Your guests don’t know exactly what you planned, so as far as they know, everything is going perfectly. 2. Once the event has started, it’s it’s own creature and will keep going; tweak things as you go, but it’s too late for big changes.

    1. Anx

      I am also excellent at this!

      Unfortunately, I’m pretty broke right now so I can’t really exercise this skill much. I also don’t have enough experience with it to be a professional skill.

      I think two things have helped me here:
      1) Having to replicate an event from the previous year with 1/3 the budget and none of the institutional support for a student group. I failed, unsurprisingly. But some things worked really well. I learned what didn’t. I learned so, so much. But unfortunately I don’t really ever apply what I know. I have a hard time watching events be planned around me though, without wanting to point out a lot of possible bottlenecks or oversights (but it’s not my place).

  89. Famouscait

    I’m really good at picking paint colors. My tips are to learn how to read the differences in tone (i.e., a red with strong blue tones, a grey with strong green tones, etc.). I also spend a LOT of time deliberating. Get all the paint chips, tape them up together (in a column, for example) by a window. Visit them every day and start removing the ones you don’t like (but don’t throw them away). You’ll likely start to see what you’re leaning towards vs away from. Re-arrange the chips into a different order, move them to a different part of the room, visit at different times of day, etc. It usually takes me a good 2 weeks of playing with paint chips before I start sampling two or three colors on the wall. And then I spend about a week considering those swatches using the same method: visit at different times of day, different parts of the wall, etc.

    1. Lily in NYC

      This is great advice – I love to paint walls and spend WEEKS living with paint splotches everywhere before I decide. Learned that the hard way.

  90. Teresa the VII

    I am fluent in Swedish pictograms. I can assemble pretty much anything, but especially flat-pack furniture, as long as there are (at a minimum) picture instructions. Written word instructions are a bonus – especially if in English!

    15-20 years ago I bought a huge conglomeration of 8 separate items to assemble into one huge hutch from Ikea. All the boxes filled the trunk of my car. I assembled it in the dead of night (can you sleep while there are unopened boxes 10 ft away?) and was finished in about 2 hours. Fast-forward to today, all those piece are currently in use – now broken into two separate units – and there is not a wobble or misaligned door on any piece.

    The keys to success are 2-fold:
    1. Read through the directions thoroughly and layout all pieces *before* you begin. (anyone can do this)
    2. As you build, constantly visualize the completed object – this will stop you from putting a door on upside down, etc (this is the tough part for folks that cant translate 2-d to 3-d easily)

    #2 also allows me to be an excellent parallel parker as well.

    1. Merry and Bright

      This is interesting. I’m not at all practically minded and often have huge problems putting stuff together, be it furniture, toys, storage containers or whatever. But for some reason I just get IKEA diagrams and instructions and can assemble their things. Yet many people I know say they have the most problems with IKEA diagrams. Maybe my brain is just wired differently.

    2. Bostonian

      I’m also excellent with furniture assembly, and the main tip I have is that every. single. thing. in the Ikea instructions is there for a reason. If there’s a second picture from a different angle, then look for what little detail is different, or the way in which the piece is asymmetrical. The instructions are often warning you about putting something in place upside down or backwards or using the wrong piece that looks similar. Every time I’ve made a mistake I’ve gone back and noticed the instructions warning me against whatever I did wrong.

  91. Amy Farrah Fowler

    Two things come to mind:

    1) I’m really good at scheduling. I tutor, usually about 10-12 kids a week and some of them meet twice a week. I am really good with finding times to fit things in. “So Joey has football practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays til 6, and Choir on Thursdays ’til 5. Let’s meet Thursday at 6 to give him time to get home and eat something before we start”. Managing this with multiple people is challenging and the key in my mind is to figure out the absolute unavailability times and work from there. I’m also very open and honest about my own availability and understanding of others needs. When I tell people that I’m not available on a particular day because I work 6 days a week and that’s my day off, they’re usually much more understanding than if I just say, no, sorry I can’t. My families know I’ll bend over backwards to make it work, so they’re very usually very kind about it.

    2) I’m very good at making math “not hard”. People (particularly high school students) think geometry, algebra and trig are so complicated and hard, but I’m able to use what they already know to help them understand more advanced concepts. I’ve had many students tell me after the fact that they thought whatever we were working on was going to be super hard and that they wouldn’t be able to do it, but that afterwards it was really easy. I do this by starting from the very very basic and making sure there are no gaps, and by explaining things using manipulatives and visuals and by using “proofs”. I also tend to teach somewhat socratically when problem solving. “Okay, so if we know that, what can we find next? And what do need to find the answer? How will we get there?”

      1. Amy Farrah Fowler

        Awww! Thanks! I think the introduction of letters into math is something that needs to be done pretty delicately. I think the only thing that compares is the introduction of “i” and imaginary numbers. I had to do that the other day with a student. “You can take the square root of a negative number?!?!?! But that doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t work.” Empathy and commiseration over the weird things that math does helps in building rapport with students too.

  92. Phoenix

    It’s somewhat common, but I am pretty good at remembering people’s names, but mostly when in a group setting. The reason I’m better in a group setting is that I did some volunteer work in college that was heavily about working with groups of 5-15 other students, and remembering their names quickly was a key skill for the work we were doing.

    I have two tips for remembering names in groups:
    * Make a seating chart for yourself once everyone has sat down, if they’re all sitting in one spot. Glance at it periodically and use it to try to tie names to faces while you’re sitting there. I’ve found this very helpful for multi-day meetings with groups of new colleagues.
    * Introduce people to each other, if appropriate – especially if people are arriving in a staggered fashion and/or you are the host in some capacity. Making those introductions is both good hosting and good practice at their names.

    On the non-work side, I am pretty good at knitting, and getting better all the time. I’ve been really enjoying increasingly complicated lace knitting over the past few years. My main tip for learning to knit is to make use of the internet age we live in – I am almost entirely self-taught, and YouTube was by far the most helpful resource in learning! Also, just keep practicing – it’s so dependent on muscle memory. It’s very good for your mental health, though, once you are practiced enough to find it relaxing!

    1. Nother Name

      I taught myself knitting from books. Then I joined my local knitters’ guild, and that is a great way to get instant access to some very experienced knitters. (Ravelry is another great resource.) But you are right that practice and building on past skills are the way to go. (Also, remembering that there are really only two stitches in knitting: knit and purl. Everything else is just a variation on those themes.)

      1. Nother Name

        Lace is fun to knit. I also love doing cables and textured knitting. My color work is very rudimentary, though. (I can make stripes, change colors for color blocks, and do slip-stitch color work.) I’m honestly more interested in texture anyway (I think it looks more classic and “timeless” if you want a piece to be an heirloom), but I would love to learn Fair Isle.

  93. Gillian

    I’m decently good at explaining science/medical things to people with non-science backgrounds. I got a lot of practice with this during ACT/SAT tutoring in college and it’s stuck with me. A good portion of it is figuring out what the person you’re talking to does understand/connect with and building upon that. The other half is that I am not a trained scientist either, so I learn it myself by translating into layspeak before it gets fully embedded in my brain. This has surfaced at work with me being tasked to write about some of the more technical areas/processes for our general audiences.

    I’m also super good at remembering people’s birthdays/anniversaries/special occasions. I can tell you the birthday of almost all of my close friends in junior high, even though some of them I haven’t talked to in more than a decade. This talent, however, has been ruined by Facebook, as suddenly it’s no longer a nice surprise when I remember.

  94. Lore

    In addition to the various permutations of Google-fu discussed by others, I’m really good at seeing all the moving parts of a project and therefore working out plans that accommodate them all. (And, of course, adjusting when one or more of those parts does not behave the way you’ve planned it to.) I think a lot of the skill is in being extremely sensitive to deadlines–blowing deadlines and being late cause me physical anxiety (ask my poor SO, who gets dragged to airports three hours early). So I try to foresee all the obstacles that might come between me and that deadline in order to account for them.

  95. Gandalf the Nude

    I’m really good at prop design. I mean, comparatively. I’m sure there are actual professionals who are way better! I’m especially good at making modern objects period appropriate (ask me about the time I turned about 100 Bud/Coors/Michelob bottles into Jax beer for A Streetcar Named Desire!) and making fake documents, like newspapers and book covers, that pass even in an intimate audience. Most recently, I made FBI name badges for my partner’s and my Mulder and Scully costumes!

    My tips for the period props are to do your research and look for things that match the shape and size of the period version as opposed to trying to retro-fit a modern object to match its period counterpart. Example: we wanted a large container of Vaseline for one show, and the modern ones don’t look like the ones from the ’60s. But I had a large jar of cashews that was the perfect size and shape, so I filled it with plain gelatin and slapped a new label on it. Combined with the giant thermometer, it made a great sight gag–much better than a tiny jar of the regular stuff would have.

    For documents: Photoshop if you have it, GIMP if you don’t, Powerpoint if those are both too daunting. Break it into chunks. Find a reference and match the big details as much as possible then fill in smaller details with, again, research. I once made a Times-Picayune from the 40’s. The one big story had to be fabricated to match the show, but the secondary stuff I filled in with stories that actually would have run at the time. I’m a decent writer, so I filled in with some actual text instead of lorem ipsum. Someone actually asked where we found it!

      1. Derek

        It’s all in the eyes and you have to get the lip purse just right. Like, only a hint of a purse really. And the eyes only a hint of a squint.

  96. cuppa

    I’m good at small talk. I have a curious nature which helps me in two different ways.

    1) I read a lot, I watch tv a lot, and I like to learn about a lot of different things. So I can talk to you about Jane Austen, GBBO, college football, or the article I read yesterday about how your brain processes hand written notes vs. electronic notes.

    2) I ask a lot of questions and I like to listen. You can tell me all about the Walking Dead, because I’ve never seen it and don’t know anything about it.

  97. Lily in NYC

    I’m really good at playing instruments (I play 6 of them), especially piano and trumpet. But I don’t see how that’s helpful to anyone else. Oh, I’m good at painting (walls and furniture) and can do some neat faux work – that might be more useful.

    1. Gillian

      Musically, I’m a badass at sightreading. Hand me some sheet music I’ve never seen and I’ll play/sing it for you. The furthest this has translated is that I’m also very good at DDR and other rhythm/reaction activities.

      Sadly no one’s ever asked me to play DDR for work.

        1. Gillian

          I think some of it is just luck/talent, but a few things that I’ve noticed that have always helped me:
          – Don’t overthink things (this helps in many areas of life). If you’re around music a lot and are familiar with different musical styles, after you’ve gone through a phrase or two, you should be able to guess pretty well what’s coming next. Your first instinct on what the next note is is probably correct, don’t think too hard on it.
          – Focus on what’s coming, not what you’re doing right now. This can take a bit of practice, but I’m often looking 4-8 beats ahead at what’s coming up because my brain’s already processed what I’m currently doing 4-8 beats ago… so this helps you process anything that might be tricky (double sharps or tempo shifts or a new time signature).
          – Have a solid basis of music fundamentals – both theory and for your instrument. My intro teachers were insistent that we learn all our scales backwards and forwards, including with alternate fingerings where appropriate, to the point where I find myself running through the chromatic scale on my pens in meetings when I’m bored. Starting as an instrumentalist also has helped me mentally in sightreading choral music – I mime the fingerings as if I’m playing clarinet and just sing the notes those fingerings would be making. It’s kind of a weird mental thing but it really works for me.

          1. Liza

            Thanks, Gillian! I do have a good basis of fundamentals–so many scales and arpeggios back in high school!–so I think if I take your suggestions on not overthinking and focusing on what’s coming up, I’ll probably do a lot better than I think.

  98. Not Karen

    I’d like to say I’m good at trimming my cats’ nails, but all the credit goes to them and their strange complacency.

    Apparently I’m good at picking up foreign languages via immersion. This is partly due to the fact that I started learning a foreign language at a very young age in an immersion class, but here are my tips for any age:
    1) Don’t think about it too much. Let your mind passively absorb the information.
    2) Don’t worry about understanding everything you hear. You will pick up bits and pieces and naturally learn to fit them together.
    3) Don’t translate! When you see an apple, don’t think “this is an apple, which in French is called a ‘pomme.'” Think “this is a pomme”!
    You learned your native language via immersion. You can learn others that way, too!

    (P.S. If you’re the person who’s good at explaining complicated tax concepts to laypeople, I want to hear from you!)

  99. Nother Name

    I am really great at adapting recipes. I am a vegetarian, so I often have to adapt for that, but I also change recipes to fit my taste better. It is a skill that can be learned, but you have to be willing to practice and make mistakes. There are a few things I do:
    1. Make myself familiar with a range of ingredients and their similarities and differences, as well as what I do and don’t like.
    2. Take notes on all changes that I make to a recipe. I write all over my cookbooks.
    3. Read cookbooks for fun. Even if I don’t cook anything from them, I can learn a lot and get new ideas.
    4. Try different things in restaurants. And try different restaurants.
    5. Try new food items.
    6. Watch cooking shows. The ones on Create, not the ones of Food Network. (America’s Test Kitchen is a boon to cooks everywhere.)
    7. Practice, practice, practice.

    I also have a copy of The Food Substitution Bible, and now I don’t know how I ever lived without it.

    1. Person of Interest

      I do this all the time too. I learned it from my mom, whose philosophy was always, eh, don’t sweat it if it’s not exactly the same as the recipe, if you use your food knowledge about what works together it will be good. I’ll definitely check out the book you mentioned!

    2. ohmonster

      I’m a very adaptable cook and baker, but I’m going to add that Food Substitution book to my arsenal! Thanks for the rec!

      I also love PBS cooking/farming/DIY shows.

      I’d a number 8 to your list: don’t be afraid of “failure” or hung up on “perfect” or “impressive”

      1. Nother Name

        Oh! I realized I had it in my intro but not as part of my list! But that is definitely a rule for me.

    3. Lillian McGee

      Yes, I do this too! It’s like instinct working alongside the practiced skills… I even find myself tweaking recipes I’m doing for the first time if something “feels” wrong (and I’m usually right)!
      Also +1000 for America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks Country. Cooks Illustrated magazine is also amazing and so worth the subscription.

  100. april ludgate

    For a non-work skill I’m really good at pulling off bold lipstick colors (one of the biggest upsides to being super pale is that my skin’s like a blank canvas for colors). My mom always asks how I can apply/wear bright colors without getting them all over my face and the answer is that instead of traditional lipstick I started out using lip pencils or liquid lipsticks for color. They’re much easier to apply neatly and they stay on longer too a lot of the time. I worked my way up to actual lipstick, but it can still be a pain to apply and I don’t use it if I’m in a rush in the mornings. If anyone wants any specific brand recommendations let me know, I’ve used a lot of them from all different price points (my collection is getting out of hand) and I can tell you the best ones and which to avoid.

    1. CollegeAdmin

      I always admire people with killer lipstick. Once I get my teeth whitened in a couple weeks away, I plan to up (read: start) my makeup game.

      What are your recommendations for finding a color that works on you?

      1. april ludgate

        I started off by looking at what colors celebrities with similar skin tones to mine wore that I liked, so I’d try to find similar colors by either looking up the exact color (apparently there’s multiple websites dedicated to chronicling every exact thing Taylor Swift has ever worn for clothes and makeup, who knew?) or testing a bunch of store samples until I found a close match.

        If you’re not sure what exact color or shade you’re looking for, I’d recommend going to a store like Ulta, MAC, or Sephora (one where you can actually test the makeup) and either talking to one of the employees for suggestions (they’re always helpful) or testing swatches on your hand/arm to see what compliments your skin tone. Even if you don’t want to splurge on something expensive from those stores, you can make a note of the brand and color and google color matches for it to find a really similar shade in a drugstore brand.

        Also, consider what type of coverage you want from the lipstick. I prefer opaque matte colors, but if you’re just starting to wear it you might prefer something more sheer to start with, or a buildable color that starts light and darkens by adding multiple coats. There are so many options for lipsticks that I’d never even known about before I got really into makeup, there really is a match for everyone who wants one!

        1. alexcansmile

          dupethat and temptalia are great resources for finding dupes of expensive lipsticks and makeup!

      2. Lunar

        I’m no april ludgate, but I love lipstick!

        To me, finding a color that works on you is all about the undertones in your skin. My skin has more of a yellow undertone, which I would say is warm, so I look best in warm lipsticks (orange lipstick is my best friend, but something like a purpley-fuchsia is not good on me). To me it is pretty easy to see what kind of undertone someone has, but an online comparison can probably help!

  101. Brett

    I am talented at unweaving government bureaucracy. I can look at a piece of legislation or a regulatory process and quickly break down the central actions or key steps, or recognize that roadblocks that will be encountered.

    In particular, I can often explain, “Why do we have to do this that stupid way?!” to people in a way that they can understand. I generally start with the explanation that there is a balancing act between bureaucracy and fairness. Bureaucracy is actually a method to artificially create fairness in process. Lowering bureaucracy always seems great, until you realize that it reintroduces unfair advantages into your processes. Increasing fairness also always seems great, until you realize that reducing the impact of unfair advantages increases bureaucratic complexity and makes the bureaucracy seem increasing disjoint from its purpose. Once you establish that, you can begin to explain why a particular seemingly disjoint process exists to deal with specific unfair situations.

    In turn, that understanding makes me particularly adept at slashing bureaucracy. When a process has three or paths through with dozens of options, I can see which paths do not apply to the situation because they are designed to regulate other issues. This also makes it easier to see where the shortcuts are between bureaucratic paths.

    As an example, a friend of mine wants to open a tattoo shop. That means dealing with state regulation, tax licensing, health regulations, and zoning. The “booklet” is some 120 pages long; the state has an entire office dedicated just to this topic. He pretty much gave up on this idea, until I sat down and wrote up a 12 page single path flow chart for him that spelled out the process for him specifically (e.g. who he could apprentice with, the log sheets to fill out, how many procedures to do, a map of where zoning allowed his shop, and a sample request and checklist of the required inspections). The process takes 2 years! With the flow chart in hand though, he is already several months in and about to get his full professional tattooing, branding, body piercing license.

    1. Eden

      This is an amazing skill that I so wish I possessed! I’m the one who would read 20 pages of the booklet and give up!

  102. Sandy

    I am a fantastic networker.

    Two tips instead of one:

    1) network before you need to network. When you lose your job, you should have a network in place to fall back on, not one you have to construct.

    2) immediately after you meet someone (obviously not right in front of them), jot down their name and a couple memorable details about them. The act of writing their name down helps you remember it and then you have a reference to go back to when you get in touch with them again (“how did that teapot revamp project turn out?”, “let me put you in touch with that spout designer I mentioned”, etc.)

    1. Mallory Janis Ian

      “network before you need to network. When you lose your job, you should have a network in place to fall back on, not one you have to construct.”

      I can vouch for this! I see so many people being nervous about contacting their network for the purpose of job searching. So I was really glad, when I needed to contact my network for job searching, that I’d already been reaching out to them just to keep in touch. It made it much easier to ask them for help when I’d already reached out to them several times in the past year just out of interest in them.

  103. Nother Name

    I am really good at trivia games. I think it’s a combination of being ridiculously well-read with eclectic tastes and having an excellent memory and pretty quick recall. These are all things I believe anyone can work on, but it does take time.

    This also means that I am very good at making obscure references and knowing useless factoids. (But I can’t be the only one fascinated by the fact that in addition to all his other great work, Faraday invented the rubber balloon!)

    1. katamia

      Same. I’m trying to get on Jeopardy so I can finally put all that mostly-useless trivia to good use, lol. Although I doubt even Jeopardy will have a category on Eurovision, for example, or Bollywood or some of the really obscure-to-Americans stuff I know a lot about.

    2. Rebecca in Dallas

      Me, too! I don’t know much useful information, but I can remember the most random tidbits. I’d love to go on Jeopardy but I think I’d get too nervous and forget to form my answer as a question.

  104. Alexis

    Not sure how much this has been covered already, but I’m really great at makeup application and choosing appropriate makeup for different occasions, specifically eyeshadow!

    I’d say my biggest tip is to start practicing with neutral colours and using a decent quality eyeshadow to help with blending. Also, always apply a bit less product than you think you’ll need – you can always go back and apply a little more if it’s not the intensity you like! When it comes to blending, a good brush makes all the difference. MAC makes a great blending brush in my opinion. Also, hold the brush handle further away from the bristles to help keep your blending light, otherwise the shadow can look muddy.

  105. DarcyPennell

    I’m an introvert — painfully so at times — and I’m really good at political canvassing. Knocking on strangers’ doors or stopping them in parking lots and asking them about their political beliefs & voting habits.

    My tip? First, eye contact. No matter how hot & sunny it is, take the sunglasses off and look the person right in the eye.

    Second: whenever I feel awkward or want to bail, I just tell myself “I’ll be embarrassed later, right now I just have to do this.” I don’t know why but it works. When that cringe starts rising up I just set it aside and smile at the person like they were a customer in a store where I worked.

    I do give myself time afterwards to feel that embarrassment, but by then I don’t usually need to.

    1. Noelle

      I love this advice! I’m an introvert and a bit of a fretter and this is something I definitely struggle with (I am also in politics).

  106. Dangitmegan

    I’m really really good at sewing things very quickly. Once we had a performance that was part of a big event that had a huge dinner as well. While I was at rehearsal the dumb caterers moved my costume racks around to set up tables in my space. They piled linens on top of some of my things and a top got lost in the shuffle. I didn’t notice until much later so I had about five minutes to find a solution. We had a spare pair of pants so I chopped those up and created a new top. The dancer actually decided she liked that better than the original and still wears it when they do that ballet.

    I used to teach sewing and I found that the thing blocking most people from sewing well was fear of ruining the project. So my biggest tip is to remember that it’s just fabric. The worst thing that can happen is you have to scrap it. Practice on cheap fabric until you get good.

    1. Elizabeth West

      “It’s just fabric.”

      Good advice! I make my own skating costumes because the ready-made ones don’t fit me–they fit in width but not girth (around my body lengthwise). I always buy a little extra fabric in case I make a mistake. This served me well when I had to adapt something for a program and I just free-handed a tunic out of a dress pattern. :)

      I think also that if people start at a level too far above their skills, it’s easy for them to get frustrated and think they can’t do it.

  107. Calacademic

    I am really good at getting support/technical staff to help out. To explain: I work in a shared research facility with probably about 500 total users, all of whom are working like mad to get their particular random project done. The facility has engineers and staff members to maintain the machines we use and help users like me get their research done — it can be hard to get one-on-one attention to solve a particular problem.

    Tips: listen to your staff member! Help them out with little things — they keep tabs on who is following the rules, who is rude, who is helpful. It doesn’t matter if you’re working with the $10M scanning electron microscope or the mailroom guy. This also means that if you have a real problem later and need to be angry or upset, there’s a strong difference in your position. You’re not always surly, you’re frustrated now because there’s a problem that should be solved.

  108. Ruth (UK)

    I am good at what I call ‘detective work’ (kind of jokingly). I process admin stuff and sometimes a person will phone me and ask for help solving something but only have limited info.
    eg. “I’m trying to find a patient’s record but I only have his [common] last name and last part of his phone number” or “I don’t know why [x] isn’t coming up on system”

    My ‘trade secret’ is basically that… firstly I have a very good memory which helps with things in general and also, I just ask loads of questions. I often say “I’m going to ask you a lot of questions that might not be relevant but I’m just trying to see if anything helps”

    And then just gather literally anything I can think of in terms of the info. It’s allowed me to help people with processing or how to use a system, even if I can’t see their screen or know the program they are using. eg. “does it allow you to do/see this?” “is there an option to [x]”

    Or when trying to find out why something won’t work or bring up a search option, “what did you put it through as” “what’s the patient’s age? gender? urgency?” and usually eventually find the answer. I think it’s sort of like talking through another person’s logic problem until they end up knowing the answer…

  109. saby

    I am surprisingly good at bringing up random facts people find interesting! And by that I mean both, the one thing i expect people will find interesting within a subject I suspect they find boring, and also, what things will be of particular interest to which of my friends. The only thing I can attribute this to is (a) a great deal of wide-ranging reading and a good memory and (b) a great deal of practice, in terms of all the times I stated what I thought was a fun fact and turned out not to be a hit. (I am good at pegging the moment when people tune me out.) Anyway, this has given me a reputation as an interesting conversationalist, so :)

  110. schnapps

    Managing large amounts of email. You know when you’re at work and you get that message “Your mailbox is full! You can’t send or receive email until you free up some space!”

    Personal files are your friend. If you need to keep an email as part of a paper trail, create some personal folders somewhere. That way you can store emails on your hard drive or network space and free up space in your inbox.

    How to set them up (Outlook 2010, folks)
    1. On the “Home” tab in your email click on the little arrow next to “New Items” and select “Outlook data file”.

    2. Name your file (e.g – Teapot Design Materials) and navigate to where you want it saved (in my case, it’s on the network in my F drive). Click “OK”.

    3. The file will appear in your left hand navigation bar in Outlook. Drag and drop all emails related to Teapot Design Materials into there (and if you’re really geeky like me, you could have subfolders for Milk Chocolate, White Chocolate, and Dark Chocolate in that data file).

    Repeat for other categories. We have a Teapot Summary Form that we process when a report is needed and we have to assign a number to it in our tracking system. They come in fairly regularly and there are lots of them. I have a personal folder set up for that and by punching in the reference number in the search box, I can track the progress of that form and report all the way back to when it was born.

  111. SunnyLibrarian

    I am really good at not procrastinating and I used to be pretty bad at it.

    My tip is; just work on it for x amount of time and then stop. Set a timer and go at it.

    This got me through grad school.

  112. LadyLoki

    My skill is not work related, but my secret to it is.

    A skill that I have that I’m very good at is sewing & costuming. I have the ability to piece together different pattern pieces, alternate or augment them to fit different body types, and see the outcome before I ever cut the pattern. It’s taken me 2 decades to get to this point. (It helps that I LOVE to sew!) If I find a pattern or a work with someone with an irregular body type, I start mentally doing the geometry to make their vision work. This was how my mother, grandmother, and aunts have taught me to think (which has helped me out a few times in the office, too).

    My secret? Start and finish. Just start something and see it through to its logical conclusion, even if that means failure (especially if it means failure!). That’s how I learned to play hockey, dance, work in and around in Excel and Access, and how I learned I really don’t like to draw, paint, or job coach (all ended in failure, the last one at a previous job).

  113. Cautionary tail

    I can write with both my left and right hands. When I teach sessions I start on the students’ left side of the board and write with my left hand so that I’m not blocking the text. Then when I reach midway across I switch hands and write with my right hand so I still won’t block anything. It’s really weird because my left hand writing and my right hand writing look nothing alike; it’s as though two different people wrote it.

    As for how others can do it to:
    (1) Be ambidextrous.
    (2) Write with left hand
    (3) Write with right hand

    1. AnotherAlison

      Fascinating! I’ve never seen that. Did you ever have a dominant hand? What hand did you write with in elementary school.

      Also: Can you throw a ball with either hand? Can you throw well?

      1. The Pied Pie-per

        Good questions. I have differing dominance depending on the task. I play hockey left handed, I play baseball left handed or right handed (I can switch my hitting position and use a left or right glove) and I play football right handed. When I whack a nail with a hammer up in a tight ceiling corner, the position and angle of the structure/ladder make more of a difference than what hand I use.

        1. Cautionary tail

          Busted.

          I used two different user names on this thread and used the wrong one to respond here. Oh well, take a look at my recipe under The Pied Pie-per one. :)

          1. AnotherAlison

            Ha! I may go incognito 2x per year, but I guarantee when I do, I will do exactly what you did.

            I’m completely impressed that you can switch hit/throw/catch. . .and hammer, too, that would definitely come in handy (pun intended). The Oakland A’s pitcher Pat Venditte made me rethink my whole theory that ambidextrous throwers would not be good at baseball. I developed that theory when my son was little, and a player on his team would alternate throwing hands and throw wildly 10′ in front of him no matter which hand. That kid is now a great HS wrestler, and that makes sense. Being equally dominate on either side of the body should be an advantage in that sport.

            My son’s a lefty, and handedness has been interesting to me because of so much he did bass-ackwards as he was developing.

    2. Darwi

      I’am ambidextrous too but i teach myself to it.
      The secret is practice, practice and practice.

      I started when I was bored at school, and now my right-hand-writing is better than my left (the original)… which is still faster.
      It also works with drawing, so maybe it is just a point in mastering the precision on the hand.
      And I throw evently bad from both arms or foots. :)

  114. Intern Wrangler

    I’m very good at strategy and can think creatively. This has led me to make some stunningly great internal hires and I can fill a shift or assign a case like no one else.
    My tip is that you should never send a mass email asking everyone to do something. Then no one will do it. Send targeted, individualized emails asking one person to take it on. You can send it to ten different people, just send it separately. They will feel more responsible to respond and are more likely to work.

  115. Sunshine Brite

    I’m another one who has a hard time picking out my own strengths, although I pretty often can pick out other people’s. I am also a very fast reader. But I think some of what has stuck with me recently is positive feedback on my ability to note safety concerns and a pretty high threshold for risk particularly related to mental illness. Both of these things help me a lot as a social worker who goes into homes regularly alone. Back when I did longer term work, people tended to believe me when I said that it was time to go to the hospital. I think the key to this is to stay informed on ethical frameworks, the ability to disconnect from other people’s poor decisions, and to know your exits/have cellphone always/leave if you need to – I don’t always listen to that one and take a lot more crap than my supervisors say I need to sometimes.

  116. Jerzy

    I’m an excellent baker, especially pies. I make everything from scratch, and am a total snob about pie crust. Here’s the secret: pie crust is super easy, as long as you’re not afraid of butter. Always err on the side of MORE BUTTER!

    Since Thanksgiving is coming up, I’m going to share with you all the pie crust recipe that was handed down to me by my mother and my grandmother before her:

    In a large bowl, cut together:
    4 cups all-purpose flour
    3⁄4 teaspoon salt
    1 tablespoon sugar
    1 3⁄4 cups cold butter
    Once this mixture is nice and crumbly (and you’ll probably need to use your hands to get that to happen), mix the following together separately, then add to flour mixture:
    1 tablespoon vinegar
    1 egg
    1/2 cup cold water

    Now, you’ll really need to use your hands. Mix it all together until uniform, and TA-DA! You have enough for 2 double pie crusts. Just divide into four equal parts. Roll each part into a ball, then using a rolling pin, flatten out to about 1/8-1/4 of an inch. Just make sure it’s the right size for your pie plate. Fold in half, then half again to transfer to your pie plate, then unfold. Then fill with whatever delicious filling you like and bake according to your pie recipe.

    To store: Divide into four equal parts, wrap well in plastic wrap, then foil, and this stuff will stay in the freezer for a couple months, easy. Just let thaw overnight in the fridge, and you have homemade pie crust at your finger tips. Don’t thaw in a microwave. That’s just not going to work out well for you.

    Enjoy!

    1. The Pied Pie-per

      Thank you. Now just let me know when you are next doing this and I’ll be over for dinner. I perfer Pecan Pie, Boston Cream Pie, Dutch Apple Pie, Coconut Custard Pie…and just about all other ones too.

      That can be the dessert for my flaming Caroline Reaper stir-fry:

      Marinade
      ————
      1 cup sweet red wine
      1/3 cup soy sauce
      1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
      Oregano, rosemary, parsley, and sweet basil from the herb garden. Cut these so only the leaves are used and the leaf veins etc are trashed. Wrap chopped rosemary in cheesecloth so the flavor is imparted but you don’t swallow the rosemary. Use a lot lot lot of these. Most people sprinkle herbs but I use them by the shovelful. Oh so good.
      2 tablespoons lemon joice
      1 tsp dry mustard
      2 tablespoons honey
      1/2 tsp crushed coriander
      1/2 tsp crushed cubeb black pepper (gives a slight licorice taste)
      Brown sugar to taste

      Chicken
      ———-
      1-1/2 pund of chicken
      1 Carolina Reaper chile pepper from the garden (wear gloves and goggles when slicing this, seriously)

      Salad bed
      ————–
      Ripped lettuce
      Whole petite carrots
      Garden fresh zuccini, sumer squash
      1 each green, red and yellow peppers, cored and sliced
      Crushed walnuts
      Dried cranberries
      1 fresh peeled clementine orange

      Garnish
      ———-
      1 diced szechuan chile pepper

      (1) Stir fry the chicken ingredients with the marindade in a deep covered saucepan so the ingedients slow boil.
      (2) Make the salad bed and the garnish while the body stuff is cooking.
      (3) Check the saucepan. The chicken should be almost falling apart when done.
      (4) Put the salad bed on each person’s plate
      (5) Put the chicken on the salad bed
      (6) Put leftover marinade into a gray boat as the salad driessing
      (7) Place garnish on top
      (8) Thank me afterwards for the best meal you’ve had in a long time.

      1. The Pied Pie-per

        Correcting a few typos:
        (1) 1-1/2 pund of chicken should be 1-1/2 pounds of chicken
        (2) In the cooking part at the end in #2, body stuff should be chicken
        (3) In the cooking part at the end in #6, gray boat should be gravy boat. The color really doesn’t matter. :)

    2. Lillian McGee

      Saved for later, thanks! I made chicken pot pies from scratch recently only I used store-bought crust. The filling was magical, but the crust left something to be desired, so I will try yours next time!

  117. TCO

    I’m really good at written communications. Some tips:
    1) Don’t be afraid of editing–the best writers have good editors. If you ask someone else to edit for you, ask them to track changes (or mark up a paper copy) so you can see what changes they make.
    2) Always ask yourself if something can be made shorter. Look for opportunities to get to the point faster and eliminate details that don’t really matter to your audience.
    3) Re-read your own work, out loud if possible.

  118. Bumbling Bookworm

    I’m great with sex assault victims. As a detective in a Sex Crimes unit, that skill is essential but not all of the other people in my unit have it. This leads to a better interview, more

    The only way to do it well is to get emotionally invested. For some reason, on television, they make that sound like the worst thing you can ever do, and I’m not sure why. Why wouldn’t you have some investment in getting a rape suspect off the streets? The victim and I may have never met before that day, but they are having what is probably the worst crisis in their life, and I can either be a bright light in a very dark tunnel or add to the darkness. I believe them, I am there to help them, and I will be their lifeline if they need it.

  119. coriopaxi

    Over the past year, in the process of rebuilding our nonprofit’s massive website from the ground up, I discovered that I’m really good at UX strategy.

    The secret, if you can call it that, is to divorce yourself from your institutional knowledge and pretend that you are seeing everything through fresh, inexperienced eyes.

    To me, this seems completely intuitive and not really a skill, but I keep being told that I’m thinking wildly out of the box and am some kind of whiz (for having basic empathy for our customers?!)

  120. Realistic

    I can make Word turn cartwheels while shooting off bottle rockets and humming the Canadian National Anthem.

    My best tips are:
    1) type, then format. Don’t try to do it as you go along.
    2) Word applies formatting to paragraphs unless told otherwise. A “paragraph” is defined as any text between 2 hard returns. (the backwards P in reveal)
    3) Control + Y (repeat formatting) and double clicking the paintbrush (duplicating multiple formatting strings, like making something 30 points, red, italic, smallcaps) are under-utilized by many users.
    4) I kick ass at search and replace when copying/pasting stuff from online, old documents, emails, etc. where wonky formatting gets in. I can do in 2 search/replace strings what I have seen co-workers spend hours — literally — hours doing.
    5) highlight what you want to make do something, then right click. Chances are that the choice is there.

    1. Chinook

      “I can make Word turn cartwheels while shooting off bottle rockets and humming the Canadian National Anthem.”

      The most amazing part of that brag is that you got it to do the “Canadian” version. I can get Word to do all sorts of stuff but keep having to re-teach it that there is a “u” in words like colour and favour.

      1. Elizabeth West

        Just for giggles, I’ve been writing the English character POV bits of Secret Book in UK English. I set the language on those parts (even within a single document–just highlight and click on the language thingy at the bottom of the frame) so it will flag when I forget the u.

        It’s starting to creep into my everyday writing. I’ve found myself typing travelling, colour, flavour, organise, realise, etc. The z in the American versions of those last two is beginning to look weird.

  121. Cucumberzucchini

    I’m really good at understanding people’s motivations and predicting outcomes. Partly because I play out all possible scenarios in my head all the time. I imagine things that might happen for all kinds of random things so I am always practicing at it just because I like to. So when I really need to try to figure out what the most likely outcome is going to be it’s almost instinctual. Understanding how different people are going to act helps with this. I go by what history has shown how they behave, not by what they’ll say they’ll do. It may be conformation bias but I’m really good at sizing people up on first impressions. It’s always fun to make a predication that everyone thinks is off the wall and time will pass and people come back to me and say, “I can’t believe how right on the money you were”. I’ve always been good at guessing who was calling (before caller id), and even now I like to guess before I look at my phone for fun.

  122. Bug Killer Extraordinaire

    I am really good at killing bugs.

    When I was a kid my sisters and I used to scream and scream for dad when we saw a roach or something. Like, blood curdling little girl screams. My dad would run thinking someone died – and then just save the day and kill the roach. NBD. Never lectured us about don’t scream that way if someone’s not dying!

    In college I was an overnight camp counselor. The cabins were rustic open air with just screens on the windows. So, lots of bugs. So, my girls start screaming when they see a camel cricket the first time. I want to scream too! Then I look around like, who the eff is going to kill it? And realized, oh, I’m the adult here. So I sucked it up and killed it and then became the GO TO bug killer for the whole ‘girls camp’ side of camp.

    This is very useful because my husband is an epic pansy when it comes to bugs and screams like a little girl. Any bug I can suck it up and deal with it but in my head I’m still that little girl screaming at the top of my lungs. BUT SNAKES AND I AM OUT.

    1. ThursdaysGeek

      I mostly catch the bugs and take them outside. But I’m really good at killing flies with a rubber band! They need to be sitting, not flying around, and I have some big rubber bands I use, but people are very impressed when I pull out a rubber band and kill it on the first shot. That means I can get them when they’re out of reach of everyone else, too.

  123. Kelley

    My work thing: I am really efficient. I will figure out the fastest, smoothest way to get something done and then get it done faster than anyone has ever done it before. I am the person who will get rid of that backlog that has “always” been there.
    General tips: *Use every valid shortcut available: keyboard shortcuts (it drives me crazy when people use their mouse to highlight, cut and paste in a document), Access queries, Excel formulas & filters, mail merge, etc. *Figure out where and why the bottleneck is in a process and keep working until you find the right solution. *On multi-phase projects, make sure you aren’t repeating steps (Do you need multiple pieces of info from a particular componenet at different stages in the process? Rearrange the process so you can get everything all at one time instead of going back and forth).

    My not work thing: I can undo ANY knot. It’s my superpower.

  124. MommaTRex

    I hate to repeat Alison’s first example, but my super power is bending Excel to my will. My tips for getting better at it is to assume that there is a solution to your problem in Excel and there is almost always a way to do something faster and easier. Google is your friend; people love answering Excel questions online and actually writing formulas and macros for complete strangers. Also, play around. Make mistakes. Start writing simple macros that take the annoyance out of repeated manual steps.

  125. Daisy Steiner

    I’m super-diplomatic. My mind is full of polite ways to express difficult or potentially offensive things. Describing someone physically? No problem. Giving less-than-stellar feedback? I’m your woman. Using the correct, 21st century terms to refer to groups of people? I’m there.

    My tip: first, it helps to be well-read on those groups and the terms they prefer. Second, I’ll often think about euphemisms that are useful to have to hand: “challenging”, “strong build”, “fragile”, “youthful face”, “contentious issue” so that in a pinch, I’ll be able to go straight to them without floundering.

    1. Jerzy

      My husband is a very typical programmer-type personality (i.e. not so good with the words and the people).

      I, however, majored in English and have spent a great deal of my career not only writing, but writing for government/political purposes. Just yesterday I told someone, “I’m really good at saying something mean and making it sound nice.”

      Any time hubs needs help on getting across a sensitive point in an email, he runs it past me to make it “nicer.”

  126. SwiftChange

    I am good at photoshop. I learned while working at a photo lab. We were often slow and I could spend hours adjusting one image until it looked “right.” There are a few secrets to photoshop. One is a calibrated monitor. When you’re printing products, it doesn’t matter how it looks on the screen if the print is the wrong colors. The next secret is layers and layer percentages. When you’re spooning peanuts onto your ice cream sundae there is a perfect percentage. More peanuts and you’ve got problems, less peanuts and you don’t have that good crunchy salty addition. It’s the same with photoshop. If you need to enhance a particular color or add more contrast, you can make that adjustment. Then, if somewhere down the line you look at it and realize that your peanuts are out of control, you can adjust the layer’s percentage. Now, you only have 50% of the peanuts instead of all of them. The last tip is a time-out. If you’re looking at a photo and you just can’t make it do what you want, go away and take a break. Come back to it later and try again.

    I am good at phone support, both giving and receiving. The secret for receiving phone support is to:
    – Stay calm (You’re at a significant disadvantage if you start the phone call angry or panicked)
    – Realize that you’re on the same team (and if you’re not, make a case to the support person why you should be)
    – Get all of your ducks in a row before starting the call (serial number, restart the equipment, know your contract, pen and paper, etc.)
    – Know when to use your angry eyes (There may come a point when the support person has done all that they can do for you. At this point, you can either live with an unsatisfactory response or get someone on the phone who can do what you want. Please don’t lose track of your other prep steps in doing this. You should still stay calm and have your ducks in a row. Also, you might need to be willing to walk away if you can’t get what you need.)

    The secret for giving phone support works the same way:
    – Stay calm (You’re the professional here. They called you. You know what you’re talking about and if you don’t, you can find the answer. Keep telling yourself that.)
    – Realize that you’re on the same team (They need their answer and they’re paying you to find it.)
    – Get all of your ducks in a row before starting the call (Ask lots of relevant questions and make sure that you understand the problem before you start to unravel it.)
    – Know when to use your angry eyes (There may come a point when your customer is irrational and abusive or when they don’t want a solution, they just want you to suffer like they’re suffering. In cases like this, attempt to redirect the conversation back to the problem at hand. If you’re unable to, you may need to assert yourself to redirect the conversation. Keep your volume low, advise the caller that you are unable to resolve this issue and offer suggestions. If the suggestions are rebuffed, cover your bases and ask them if there’s anything else you can help them with. If not, tell them to have a good day and get off the phone.)

    I am good at picking the right chocolate out of the chocolate box. This one is fairly simple. Think about the ingredient you want to eat. What does it look like? Caramels are normally long like tootsie rolls, chocolate covered cherries have to be pretty big to fit a whole cherry and all the cherry stuff in there, etc. Also, pay attention to the tops. The decorations/additions on tops will complement the innards. The best solution is to have a partner in crime who likes what you don’t and to push up the bottoms after you pick them out. Then, if something gross oozes out, you can give it away.

  127. Bluewe

    First time commenter here. I had to chime in because I’m really enjoying this topic.

    I’m great at finding four-leaved clovers. Seriously, give me a patch of clover and a few seconds, and I will usually be able to turn up several with four (or more) leaves. I notice them at the bus stop or when I’m out walking. I’ve lost track of how many I have pressed in various books, and have mostly stopped picking them when I find them.

    Believe it or not, I do use this skill at work, or a version of it at least. Part of my role involves data analysis and QC on some fairly large datasets, and I’m great at finding the anomalies and errors.

    As for tricks of the trade, my best advice is not to focus on the details, which I know sounds completely counterintuitive, because the whole point of the task is the details. But I’ve found rather than trying to look at each individual piece of data (or clover), which is what you naturally want to do, if you just relax and scan the whole, your brain will do the processing, and the anomalies will jump out at you like a magic eye picture.

  128. SallyForth

    I am really good at breaking big hard projects into do-able tasks. When I learned cataloguing and indexing in library school, I got really excited because it completely spoke to how my mind works – categorizing and breaking down. The eyes of the person sitting next to me also lit up, and sure enough, we were both great at it.

    The best way I can describe the process I use as it applies to breaking down a project is to imagine a sports play-off schedule and then work backwards, deconstructing. So you have the league championship (the whole project) at the top, conference finals below that, East-West or whatever below that. Make sure the tasks in each section (the semi-finals, the quarter finals, round of 64,etc) are of equal weight as far as importance and time needed. The equal weight is what makes this work. When you’ve balanced them, divide backward again.

    1. Gruntcow

      I think I see what you’re getting at. So for example, if I were to pack a PB&J sack lunch…
      (Finals) make PBJ/assemble sack
      (Semi finals) gather ingredients/apply to sandwich//choose side items/put side items in bag

      The sandwich is of higher importance than the side items, so it goes in the finals vs everything else, right? And try to organize the semifinal tasks to where they require similar levels of effort.

      Assuming I understand so far, what about unknowns? Particularly if they affect later stages? If there’s a shortage of peanut butter locally, you might have to go to multiple stores to find some to buy (so the task level which includes purchasing it might be unbalanced), or you might switch to ham and cheese (disrupting half your plan).

      Your thoughts? I could see this being helpful, since I tend to spend too much time on less important things.

  129. BAS

    I am really really good with color. I wish I could offer tips on how to improve your color sense, but I am one of those people who can perceive subtle differences in the color spectrum better than a lot of people. I also am very intuitive and have a sort of “gut feeling” for what color I’m looking for and if a color (say a paint sample taped to a wall in a room) will work. This actually translated well for me into my old job as a personal shopper.

    Also, this is such a random skill, but I am super good at clipping horses. And that just takes a lot of practice and an even hand. Also a good clipper.

    1. Rebecca in Dallas

      I’m good with color, too! I used to work for a jewelry designer who worked with Swarovski crystals, we regularly had clients that needed jewelry for a specific outfit. I could take a look at the outfit and pick out the perfect thing!

      I haven’t been able to translate this as well to home decor, but I’m working on it.

  130. Casual Friday

    I make people feel welcome and part of the group in most situations, including work.

    Mostly it revolves around making a quick joke or simply asking the new person a question directly, and I also talk a lot about food so it’s a great ice breaker. People love talking about food, trust me!

  131. Sara M

    Creativity. I always have an idea. Always! Whether it’s solving a problem, finding a new way to present an idea, or the core of my work (writing), I can always think of something.

    The trick: I’m really open to any weird idea my brain presents me with. I don’t have to share or use it, if it won’t work– but subconsciously I’m always like “thanks brain, you rock at this!”

    I coach people in my profession about how to become more creative, and this the the fundamental idea. Don’t judge your ideas when they come to you–do it later. The rest is just details. :)

  132. Business Cat

    At my current job, I have gotten very handy at decluttering and reorganizing various administrative systems to be more efficient and standardized, and using Excel to make information visually palatable.

    When I started back in January, the AR tracking process consisted of a legal pad with the project name and description and the date it was started, which was to be highlighted once when it was billed out and highlighted again once it had been paid. I have set up an Excel spreadsheet that does a much better job of managing this, with a tab for all jobs started this year and whether or not they’ve been completed, and a separate tab for the jobs that have been billed with invoice numbers, date billed, date paid, etc. Very basic, but very very useful for me.

    Our billable rates for field crews had two very basic rate schedules (local and regional), but as we’ve taken on more complex jobs it started to get tricky with different combinations and experience levels of crew members working together than normal. I finally typed up a more detailed rate schedule based on some of the numbers my boss had given me previously so that I wouldn’t have to keep asking every time it came up, and gave a copy to the guys who check over billables for reference.

    And I’m great at removing all of the former secretaries’ sticky note messes (passwords and employee phone numbers, etc) and compiling the information into neat tables that take up less than 10% of the visual space and look so much more professional. I also like typing instructions for different office processes (particularly for instructions on how to use and print from some of our research databases–it can be tricky!), with step-by-steps screengrabs to refer back to.

    My drive is to continuously think about how I could make a process easier to keep track of, easier to access, and more informative. I’m definitely still learning but by focusing on these things, this has become a strong point for me.

  133. Solidus Pilcrow

    I’m really good at formatting documents and spreadsheets, like take a 200 page word doc that was mangled by an engineer where half the text of the doc is showing up in the TOC and the rest of the headings don’t appear at all and there are 6 different bullet formats and turn it into something decent looking and navigable in 30 minutes or less.

    Tips
    (These are mostly MS Word specific; people using desktop publishing tools like FrameMaker tend to be a bit more advanced while Word is available to almost any yahoo with a PC.)

    Don’t copy and paste formatting between docs. It just pulls all the old, corrupted formatting along. Use “paste as unformatted text” or “keep text only” (however it’s phrased) or copy to Notepad/Notepad ++ to strip out the formatting and paste the clean text.

    To strip out formatting of selected text, use the keystroke ctrl+spacebar to get rid of font formatting (color, font size, font face, bold, italic) and/or use ctrl+q to get rid of paragraph formatting (indents, space between paragraphs, bullets, numbering). You can also use “clear formatting” from the styles toolbar.

    Use styles to format text. If nothing else, use the Heading styles. Heading styles allow you to create TOCs, outlines, navigation views, and PDF bookmarks.

    Avoid using section breaks for page breaks. Most of the time it messes up the headers and footers. If you copy/paste from another source or export a doc from another program (such as a PDF) you may get a bunch of unnecessary section breaks.

    Use the “show paragraph marks” tool to view your document. It’s the backwards P symbol: ¶ (also called a pilcrow – now my gravatar and user name make a little more sense, no?). It will show you where the paragraph breaks, tabs, section breaks, and page breaks are.

    Take the time to develop solid templates. Create a list of styles that cover a wide range of needs. Take time to set up headers/footers, TOCs, and page layout. The time you spend up-front will be repaid and then some with the time you s

    For template developers, outside of the Heading styles, do not use Word’s built-in styles. Create your own based on “none” – break the connection to the Normal style.

      1. Solidus Pilcrow

        :) Yeah, Word is the deeble. It’s fine for basic thoughts-on-paper doc — and I do like it for drafting, the outlining feature is quite nice — but anything more than that is just asking for trouble. And good luck with a 50 chapter manual at 1000+ pages. Get thee FrameMaker!

    1. Kat M

      If you don’t mind my asking, what are some of the qualities of a really excellent template?

      While still on the “yahoo with a PC end of the scale,” I seem to be the only person at work who bothers making decent templates. I’d like to create more for my own personal projects, but occasionally get overwhelmed by the possibilities when I’m not working within the constraints of company branding guidelines.

      1. Solidus Pilcrow

        Great question. It’s not something I’ve really written down before.

        Most of good template design is centered around asking what the user needs and what they can be reasonably expected to do. A group of professional technical writers will be able to do more complex things while a group of non-writers need it kept as simple as possible for them to add content. I’m coming at this as a professional writer who designs templates for both myself and others to use. So while I’ll be mentioning “the user” quite often, remember that you are also a user and almost all of these points apply even if you’re the only one using it. Points 7 & 8 don’t matter as much for a single user, but are still something to be kept in mind if you every share your templates.

        And remember to save your document in the template format when you finish it. In Word 2007 and onwards the extension is .dotx. Prior versions use the .dot extension. This prevents the template content from getting over-written when opened.

        My biggest piece of advice can be summed up as this: Automate as much of the template as possible so your users just need to concentrate on creating content. Even if it’s just for yourself, you want to work on creating your content instead of formatting. Doing a well-thought out template before-hand will save lots of work day-to-day.

        Some general tips on doing this:

        1) Provide a reasonable range of styles. Look at a range of your documents to get an idea of the most common use cases. Find the longest, most complex one and you’ll probably cover 80-90% of the styles you’ll ever need. These are a good set to start with:

        * 5 levels of headings — use Word’s heading styles and modify the look and feel of them

        * body text style — you can use Normal, but I prefer to create a totally new style

        * 2-3 levels of bulleted lists

        * at least 1 level of numbered steps — I prefer an outline numbered list, but that’s a little more advanced to create

        * Notes/Tips style and maybe even a level of bullets to go under the note

        * text and bulleted styles to use in tables — tables have less space, so you want to shrink up the spacing between paragraphs and hanging indents, maybe even knock the font size down a point or two

        2) Provide as much as the formatting attributes you want to the style so the user doesn’t have to do manual formatting. The user should only need to apply the style to get what they need for formatting. Two common things:

        * Don’t require an extra hard return between paragraphs. If you want an extra line of spacing between paragraphs (before or after), build that into the style.

        * Use tab stops and hanging indents correctly. Don’t rely on manual spacing to create alignments. I kid you not, I saw one template that said for a bulleted list to do a manual line break (shift+enter) at the end of the line, then type two spaces to line up the text of the new line. Another template had a doc control number right aligned in the footer by typing a series of spaces to move it into place.

        3) Provide the basic content outline and boilerplate content you want for every document. Does every document need to include certain required sections like Overview, Scope, and Assumptions? That outline structure should be built into the template (with the appropriate heading styles applied). Do you have some standard text that should go in a specific place within those sections? Put it in the appropriate sections. Depending on your audience, you may want to include instructional text in your template.

        4) Build your template so that users never need to mess around with the headers and footers. If you want the title to appear in the footer or header, use the “Building Blocks” or fields that allow the user to type the something once then it automatically populates where you need it. Build in things like page numbering as well.

        5) Related to headers/footers, keep the sectioning as simple as possible. The most I typically use sections are for separate title pages that have different headers/footers or if I need to add a landscape table.

        6) If you need a Table of Contents (or other tables, like a table of figures) build it in the template so your users don’t have to.

        7) Test your template with a few users before generally releasing it. There have been many times when I tested the template myself and think it’s great, but then have people come back with problems or ask how to do something. Of *course* it worked fine when I tested it because I *know* how the template is supposed to work, but the other users don’t. It’s like if you know the radio in your car has a faulty button so you never touch that control, but your brother borrowing your car for the day doesn’t know this and gets his eardrums blasted with feedback squeal.

        8) Educate your users. If these are not Word power-users, you need to tell them the benefits of using built in styles or that they need to keep outline structure provided. Point out what absolutely cannot be changed (no defining your own headings, no deleting of major sections) and where they have flexibility (you can add all the sub-headings you want in sections A, D, and F).

        9) Last, but certainly not least: Listen to your users if they have questions and issues and make adjustments as practical. You’re probably not going to get the template just right the first try. Even in using it yourself you’ll probably come across something you didn’t think of in the initial design. Notice that I said make adjustments as *practical*. Some things users complain about will not be fixable with a template adjustment or the template addresses the needs of 95% of users and the change for a 5% use case will create more work for the rest of them. You’ll have to make judgement calls as to what is a good fix to what is a very niche use case that needs a work-around to what is just not possible to do.

        Those are some of the high points anyway. I hope they help!

        1. Mander

          Excellent! I think I probably knew most of this stuff but in my editing work I’m forever correcting peoples’ strange usage of styles and other formatting stuff. I try to educate them but it’s so widespread to do things like a million spaces when a single tab would do.

          The nightmare of Word is why I taught myself LaTeX for my thesis.

  134. Carrie in Scotland

    I’m good at eating cake :)

    But more seriously, I’ve been told that I’m good at looking after people and explaining processes, so usually I end up training the temps/work experience/volunteers where required (not the manager-level stuff but you know how to do the job.

  135. Misty

    I am great at writing, but even more so at editing. At every job I’ve ever had, I end up the de facto editor; everyone runs their stuff past me for critique or final polish before sending it out. As with a lot of people here, it’s really just a matter of my brain being hard-wired that way; put a page of text in front of me and SPAG errors/terrible sentence structure LEAP out at me as though they’re written in 48-point font (I have a brother who is exactly the same).

    My 2 tips:
    -use Spellcheck. I rarely do, because it’s less efficient than my brain, but it amazes me how many people who are not great at writing don’t routinely use it. It doesn’t catch all errors, and it’s not even always correct, but it can catch a lot of careless typos.
    -Reread your writing multiple times. For important emails and papers, I make at least 4 – 5 editing passes before sending it out.

    1. squids

      Think I’ve mentioned this on the internet a couple of times, but when I’m proofreading critical documents, I read them aloud … in a fake accent. I’m bad at fake accents, so I do this with the door shut. But the different voice really helps me pick up on anything that reads wrong.

      1. Elizabeth West

        This. Anne Mini’s writer blog recommends that before you send anything to an agent (applies to important stuff at work), that you print it out and read it in its entirety, IN HARD COPY AND OUT LOUD. Your eye doesn’t see things the same onscreen as it does on paper.

      2. alexcansmile

        This is what I told my reporters when I was an editor on a student magazine. Read it aloud. You’ll find where things don’t flow, you’ll identify when you overuse a word, etc. It helped SO much. It also helps to read it outloud to someone else because if something is awkward it’s more likely to feel awkward when you’re reading it to someone else than to yourself because your brain will fill in the little gaps.

  136. mot_just

    I’m good at diplomacy and peacekeeping. I work in a prickly workplace where dander rises easily and frequently. But I’ve learned to navigate the political quagmires that seem to pop every day. These interactions still stress me out somewhat and I almost always have a slight headache afterward, but at the end I’ve usually found a solution or compromise that everyone feels good about.

    Tips I’ve picked up: Have good intentions. Do what you say you’ll do, and if it turns out you can’t, communicate about it in a straightforward way. Be friendly and positive — and not just during diplomatic conversations. Do this all the time. (Even on terrible days, I smile at people in the hallways, say hello (including people’s names if I can remember them), and in small talk, focus more on the things I love than the things I hate.) Kindness is incredibly underrated — make it a habit. All of these lessons came as kind of a surprise to me, because they don’t seem like they’d be directly related to diplomacy. But they build trust. And it’s kind of amazing to see that when people on both sides of the river trust you, it’s easier to build bridges between them.

  137. HM in Atlanta

    I’m really good at helping people who can’t think past the emotional reaction – at work and in my personal life. (To be clear, this isn’t in any way mental health related.) The person will be angry or frustrated (or sad) about a situation or a pattern of behavior from someone.
    – I don’t try to give them any answers, but I accept whatever emotional reaction they are having as justified (no matter if it is or isn’t)
    – walk them through the facts and ask them questions to get more facts. This gives them time to calm their physical reaction as they have to think through the logic.
    – I’m also a very low-key person, so I’m interacting with them not reacting to them.
    – Once we get to them back to level, we talk about what they really want. A lot of times people want to take an action that will make them feel like they are “TAKING STRONG ACTION” but it won’t give them the outcome they really want.
    – The person figures out what action to take or no action at all.
    – We end the conversation with person noticeably upbeat.

    Downside – Everyone has these conversations with me, and I feel kind of used up at the end of the day. (I also don’t have anyone who can do this for me, so I ended up hiring a coach for myself on my own dime.)

    1. HM in Atlanta

      I’m also really, really good at interior lighting. There’s enough light to read anything, no harsh glare, and everything has a warm, inviting feel. My only advice on this one is the power of reflecting light off of other surfaces. (My work recently bowed to my wisdom on this and changed light fixtures in the small conference rooms. Now, no one refers to them as the interrogation cells anymore.)

  138. Z

    I’m really good at finding things out, and especially finding people. I used to work for a newspaper (copy desk) so I have a rough working knowledge of public documents, and now I work for a law firm so I have access to background searches. I refer to myself as Stalker In Residence.

    The trick is to start with two (or preferably three) “knowns” and then fill in the blanks around them using reputable sites. “Reputable” being key, government resources the most preferred. Don’t trust WhitePages.com, do liquor license applications.

  139. Tea Fish

    I’m the printer whisperer in my office– whenever something breaks, jams, smears, snaps, crackles, or pops with one of our 3 main printers, I’m the one carefully taking it apart, rigging up weird wire contraptions and pencils to fish out something that’s gotten caught in the machinery, prodding at all the bits and pieces and systematically feeding paper in one piece at a time until it all runs smoothly or we’ve isolated the issue to take to a technician.

    Tips and tricks…. to be patient, google as much as you can, make sure the paper is laying flat in the tray, and to carefully (CAREFULLY) open up any parts you have access too, gently (GENTLY) massage or prod them to see if there seems to be anything loose, caught, or snagging. When feeding paper through, pay a lot of attention to where it’s getting stuck, and if there’s any particular part of the paper getting stuck. Another trick is to know when to stop and let the real professionals take over– after a certain point, there’s a good chance that you’ll just make the problem worse.

    1. SwiftChange

      As an ex-printer whisperer, the condition of the paper when you fish it out can tell you a lot about the printer too. stopped paper tells you that you’re not looking at the problem, just where the problem impacted this job, so you might have a sensor in the hit position (it thinks there’s paper there and there’s not) or a serious crumple somewhere else. If you find the crumple, you’ve probably found the problem.

      Also, don’t touch anything that’s red or orange if you can help it. Those are “hot” colors for a reason.

      Oh, and if you don’t know how to open the printer, look for levers that are all the same color. A lot of printers color code those things for a reason!

  140. Chinook

    I am really good at explaining/teaching something to someone. If I can understand it, then I can guarantee that I can get you to understand it. The trick is to realize that everyone looks at the world differently and try to twist the concept around enough ways until you can get them to see it at the right angle (think of it like solving a Rubik’s cube – you sometimes have to move it around and look at it from all angles before you can see your next move). That and watch for body language and non-verbal cues when explaining to see how you need to tweak your presentation of the concept. The worst presenters are the ones who do the exact same presentation every single time – to do it well, you need to tweak as you go to reflect the audience’s needs.

  141. Z

    Oh, I’m also a very good “stable goat” for easily excitable co-workers. They freak out and I calm them down. I have no tips on that one.

  142. Person of Interest

    I’m really good at spotting extra spaces in copy. Like, when you use two spaces after a period instead of one (don’t do that!). It looks like a giant gaping hole to me. I think it comes from years of editing, proofing, and writing in my various jobs. I also have a mild obsession with fonts/typefaces, so once you kind of “get” a font and its spacing, you can see the spacing errors.

  143. Lisa

    I am invisible (AKA my superhero power)

    What I mean by this is that I am great at keeping clients happy, engaged, and for the vast majority of them – never had any fires to be put out by a manager or boss. I have a great gift of making it easy for client to see my value / company value as necessary so that when they need to renew their contracts – it is a seamless transition. Most of the time, they ask about expanding services. This means that I am pretty invisible to senior staff at my agency.

  144. Cath in Canada

    Explaining scientific concepts to a non-scientific audience. My former boss once even introduced me to collaborators as “this is Cath. She translates science into English”.

    There’s not one single “trick” to it but empathy, remembering the order in which you accumulated your own technical knowledge, and good analogies go a long way! I see a lot of people dive right into a non-technical summary (e.g. of a grant application) with jargon, even sometimes starting the very first sentence with the abbreviated name of a gene or protein. I find it much better to start big-picture. Why is the cellular function to which the gene contributes important? Is it necessary for health, does it break down in disease?

    Another common (IMHO) mistake in public grant application summaries is to use most of the word limit explaining what methods you’re going to use. That’s important in the technical component of the grant, but your average non-scientist doesn’t care (unless it’s an unusually cool method, or method development is the whole point of the application, but that’s relatively rare in my field). It’s far more important to explain why the problem you’re trying to solve is important, what impact success would have in the short and long terms, etc. People will pretty much trust you to pick the right method!

    1. Cath in Canada

      Oh, and less usefully: I’m really good at acronyms! Especially for scientific projects (I work with a bioinformatics team who love good acronyms). Unfortunately, all my best ones must be kept confidential (the grants are still under review), so you’ll just have to trust me on this!

      Tip for success: do a lot of cryptic crosswords and play a lot of Scrabble and similar games.

  145. Windchime

    I’m great at explaining SQL to people who are new to it. I’ve found that I’ve kind of gained a reputation as being the person to go to for these types of explanations. Our team is expanding rapidly and we’ve hired several people who have been through classes, but the only way to get good at SQL programming is to practice it. So we have people who know terminology but don’t have experience. More experienced programmers on our team just throw out instructions or code examples to these newbies, but don’t actually sit with them and explain things.

    My biggest tip: Remember what it was like when you were new. Remember that person who was patient with you, and who kept trying to explain it in different ways until you understood? Be that person. Be the patient person who comes up with a simple, understandable example and EXPLAIN it. For instance: A couple people went to training and learned about the concept of an index, but didn’t really get it. I basically just said, “Think of it like an index in a book. You could read through the entire book, looking for the information you want. But if you look in the index, that tells you exactly what page to go to. It’s a lot faster to find your information if you can first find it in the index.” Boom. Now they know the purpose of an index.

    Also, nested queries. Pull it apart, and help the person to understand that this is running first, and it’s almost as if it’s making a little table. Then the outer query is getting information from that little table that you formed with your inner query.

    Stuff like that. It’s not just SQL; I’ve often been tapped to train newbies for all kinds of things, such as posting payments or knitting. I think that having empathy and remembering what it’s like to JUST NOT GET IT really helps, because then you can keep trying from different angles until you find that angle that clicks with your student. I love that moment when they say, “Oh! Now I understand!”

  146. F.

    I am very good at analytical and critical thinking. To quote the website, WiseGeek: “Critical thinking is the ability to apply reasoning and logic to new or unfamiliar ideas, opinions, and situations. Thinking critically involves seeing things in an open-minded way and examining an idea or concept from as many angles as possible.”
    I am very analytical by nature, a Libra by birth and INTJ in temperament. I spend a lot of time observing and seeing patterns in events and actions. My critical thinking skills enable me to see beyond the immediate consequences of actions into the longer term ramifications. I bring different perspectives together and can quickly come up with not only immediate consequences but future levels of consequences, too. I can’t say how many times I have correctly predicted an eventual outcome that others couldn’t see or didn’t believe could possibly happen. This is true in the workplace and in world/national affairs. I use my analytical skills in my hobbies, genealogy and quilt making. Patterns fascinate me.

    As for tips on how to cultivate critical thinking:
    1) Be observant of cause and effect in your life and surroundings.
    2) Do not jump to conclusions.
    3) Be bold in asking why things happen the way they do. Follow the chain of events back to the source and keep going back.
    4) Think of events as moves in a chess game and try to analyze all of the options and permutations. Each move impacts all of the other moves to follow.

    1. AnotherAlison

      I can’t say how many times I have correctly predicted an eventual outcome that others couldn’t see or didn’t believe could possibly happen.

      I nearly wrote something similar, then picked a different skill. INTJ solidarity! I am usually good at picking out our wins/losses in our business, although I can’t say it was really utilized, even when I was a market analyst and it was my job. I can do this for things that I’m not specifically trained in, too.

  147. JAM

    I am good at tracking. Not the kind where you shoot animals at the end but following metaphorical breadcrumbs of a person’s life. It has helped me in my own life, my work life, and even with my hobbies.

    Example – I worked in criminal collections and got an $8,000 check for a victim. With a large amount, we like to deliver the money personally or send it certified but since we had a small budget we only send certified after verifying the address. So we sent a letter to the victim but it had been 6 years since the crime so the letter was returned. I traced the woman’s address via returned mail to 4 different addresses, then found out via the property database that a woman same first name (different last) had sold House #4 a year earlier along with a man who I couldn’t get many leads on. I searched our courthouse database for them both under this new name and saw the house sale coincided with a divorce. I contacted her divorce attorney who I ended up knowing through my work, he had her number on file and he called her and within an hour she was at my workplace picking up the check.

    I do this with genealogy and even when people find lost pets. My secret is to search all public records online, not being afraid to call people, and being able to identify common life changes and anticipate them (marriage, divorce, death). I closed 60 criminal cases my first month on the job because I decided to check if all the defendants in my caseload were still alive. No one had ever thought to do that, even for a guy who would have been 110.

    Eventually I got access to special secret databases too but you’d be surprised how many things you can find if you just look. Also, you should be aware just how much of your own information is available in the world but know that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    1. Avery

      JAM, have you ever heard of that group of people on the internet who use skills similar to what you describe to identify dead bodies and/or locate missing persons? There was a book about it recently.
      Apparently the Missing Persons database and the unidentified body database are not synced up, and the police are way to busy to comb through tiny details that could link a missing person in Mississippi to a body in Texas. These volunteers work mostly on their own, although there are forums where they communicate. It’s really fascinating–it truly is like finding a needle in a haystack, although there have been some successes.

  148. Karowen

    I’m good at packing cars to their maximum efficiency. I like to think of it like Tetris – Figure out which boxes make the best layers to start with and then stack the other boxes on top however you can to make them into blocks. Don’t worry if there’s space in the middle; there’s always a pillow or floofy blanket that can be shoved in to take up space…But you also have to be willing to take everything out and start over if you figure out a better use for the space.

    I actually got applause once from random strangers at IKEA for getting the boxes for my couch into an SUV. I had thought ahead of time to measure the max size one box would be to make sure it fit, but I didn’t give any thoughts to making sure all 6+ boxes would fit at the same time. When we got the last one in I seriously considered taking a bow.

  149. LBK

    Haven’t seen this one yet, so I’ll add it: I am the master of writing delicately phrased emails. Just helped a coworker with one this morning where we had to tell a manager about a major mistake from several months ago that we only caught now. In addition to admitting mistakes, this skill applies to telling people no, deflecting blame, handling escalations, asking for big favors, or just generally things you don’t want to have to say.

    Tips:

    -Use benefit language as much as possible. This mainly applies to asking for favors, but for bad situations you want to focus as much as possible on the impact to the other person. They don’t care about your problems. I normally hate injecting pieces of the sales process into customer service/operational work but this is the one element that translates beautifully and I use it constantly.

    -If you need to ask them how to proceed, always give two options rather than leaving it open-ended or giving one option and asking yes/no. In most cases that will force them to choose from an option that a) you can actually implement and b) you’ve already decided will be acceptable in terms of impact on your side. It also gives them the illusion that they decided on the solution, which makes them feel like they won. (Disclaimer: I do not normally encourage psychological manipulation, but it’s really useful in handling escalations.)

    -Don’t over-apologize. I try to only say sorry once throughout the course of a conversation; after you’ve done that, the person is usually more concerned with fixing the problem than hearing how bad you feel about it. At most, you can apologize one more time once the conversation is fully concluded. I also tend to not apologize when saying no to something, especially if it’s something unreasonable, as long as the reason I’m saying no isn’t some kind of error.

    -Avoid hypotheticals. “It would have worked if we’d done X” or “Normally we would do Y” is just annoying to most people because that doesn’t help them fix the problem that already happened. Replace those sentences with “We’re doing X in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again”.

    -Decisively move on when redirecting blame. I’m a big fan of not accepting blame for things I didn’t do, but I wait until I have something else to follow up with before I point the blame elsewhere, that way the conversation doesn’t dwell. “I think this was actually something Jane’s group handled, but regardless, I’ve made the adjustment.”

    Will try to add anything else I can think of!

  150. OhNo

    Hmm… I’m really good at negotiating. Not like salary or something where you’re trying to come up with a good compromise, I mean hard-line negotiating where you’re trying to tear down someone’s resistance and get out with everything you need for a song.

    My secret is playing into people’s assumptions, then flipping the script. People assume I’m going to be sweet and easygoing and easy to steamroll over, and I am – at first. Until they’ve laid all their cards out on the table and then suddenly I turn into a shark. My friends who have witnessed the process tell me that it’s very weird to watch me change from sweet and kind to vicious hellbeast like I flipped a switch, but they keep asking me along whenever they need to shop for new cars, so obviously it works.

  151. Wendy

    I am good at teaching/training, but I’ve become really good at delivering tough/bad news to clients, students, coworkers, and pretty much anybody. After having taught at a university for 9 years and also now working in a social service sector (career development for refugees, asylees, and welfare clients), I get tapped all the time to deliver bad news to people and get them to accept it.

    The way I do it is to break it down into a couple of steps:
    1) Just say it. Don’t sugarcoat it, and don’t be afraid to say it.
    2) Understand that what you’re telling people is something they hate hearing, so be mentally prepared to take their anger, confusion, or other hurt feelings. I have clients and students who have yelled, cursed, threatened, or break down in tears on me. They need that time to deal with their hurt feelings, so the key is to not react and just let them get upset on you.
    3) The next thing to do is to not allow the client or student to wallow in their hurt feelings. After about 10-20 minutes, I ask them what they intend to do now, or what they want to do next. I ask them to tell me what they’re thinking and feeling, and surprisingly enough, a lot of people say “I know I wasn’t going to pass the test” or “I know I didn’t get the job”, so they know what’s happening, but are just afraid to confront the reality of their situation.
    4) I suggest some possible solutions, and then see what the client or student is interested in and what they’re willing to do.
    5) I make it a “homework assignment” (for real if it’s in a teaching situation, or a suggested one if it’s for a social work situation), and then have the client or student tell me what they’re going to do.
    It’s incredibly hard, and it’s a power that I’m not fully comfortable with, but I find that so many people are unwilling to have these conversations so nothing happens. I do it because I am concerned at what would happen if this conversation would not take place. For example, for a student who has failed a test and is in danger of failing the course, I say to them “while this conversation is hard, I prefer to have this talk now when you have a chance to improve your test score and earn a good grade for the overall class rather than both of us put off an uncomfortable talk and risk having you fail the course and you don’t know why or how to fix your issues”.

  152. squids

    I’m excellent at brain-teasers. You know, the sort of puzzles that are supposed to require “thinking outside of the box,” etc, but mostly require you to recognize that the answer must be a trick of some sort and think backwards from there.

    Is this valuable in real life? I thought it wasn’t.

    Until, I was in a large cross-departmental meeting, and the facilitator had us do a few of these as an ice breaker, and I solved each in seconds, and explained them more clearly than the facilitator was able to do. People were very impressed, including some of our senior management. Now there’s a rumour going around that I am “very, very smart” which I don’t think one ought to base on competence in brain teasers, but I’ll take it.

  153. The Expendable Redshirt

    I’m very good at making Budgets (aka Spending Plans). I like starting with an excel sheet that automatically adds up the different categories. Just start with your net income, then plug in the essential bills like rent and utilities. Interested parties can find awesome programs online, such as at the Money Mentors website.

    My super skill is making friends with strange cats. If I see a cat, guaranteed I can convince it to like me. The key is to speak polite cat body language. To properly introduce yourself to a cat, crouch down and off to the side of the animal. Slowly extend your finger towards the cat, watching it’s body language. Do not continue if the cat makes “Airplane ears” or seems uninterested in meeting you. A person can use a pen, or the arm of their glasses in place of a finger. Sometimes a skittish cat will want to sniff an object that smells like you. Wait for the cat to come to you!

    A cat interested in making friends will rub against your hand. Look at their tail, a happy cat will show a U shaped curl at the end. A cat UBER ECXITED TO SEE YOU WONDERFUL HUMAN can have a rapidly twitching tail end.

    1. alexcansmile

      Yes, this cat thing. I am *very good* with cats. Another tactic I’ve found is to sit on the floor, acknowledge the kitty by waving or saying “Hi kitty!” and then proceeding to pay attention to one of the cats toys. Not in a ‘here come play with me” way but an “I am playing with a thing that you like in your space” and usually after a minute or two the cat will come up and say hi.

      It helps to move slowly and fluidly – no sudden or loud movements.

      1. The Expendable Redshirt

        Yup! Cats can interpret blunt eye contact is very impolite or threatening. Staring in the animal kingdom is often a signal that you are challenging a rival. Directly walking up to a resident animal can also be interpreted poorly . Another cat might do this if they’re trying to push the resident cat out of a prime area.

        Your method shows the resident cat that you are respecting it’s territory, status, and overall Cat-ness.

  154. Episkey

    I’m pretty good at dealing with aggressive and/or difficult dogs. I think it’s just because I’m not scared and they can tell.

    Unfortunately, this has no basis in my career life lolol.

    1. Bug Killer Extraordinaire

      Oh yea. On walks, if there’s ever a dog that seems like he’s NOT HAPPY that I’m walking by on HIS STREET and is barking his ever-loving head off or something… I just coo “Who’s a good doggy?” at them over and over… and they tend to stop barking and start wagging their tails.
      If they’re off leash or not behind a fence I try the same thing but if it doesn’t work immediately I don’t eff around with that and I start yelling BAD DOG, NO, if they’re still coming towards me. Most dogs that are walking around in the neighborhood I walk in aren’t strays or anything, so they do respond and understand what BAD DOG, NO means. I once had one run towards my dog and me very aggressively – I assumed and invisible fence but if there was one he blew right by it. I didn’t even try the ‘good doggy’ approach because that dog was on a mission to eat my dog. I yanked my dog into my arms (he wears a harness and is 9 pounds, in emergencies it’s great because he’s off the ground in my arms immediately) and took a firm stance and yelled BAD DOG NO NO NO BAD DOG. The owners came running out and were like what’s going on?! But the dog had already backed down enough. They were mortified but I was like you need to work on your dog’s aggression and you’re lucky this wasn’t worse!!

      1. Elizabeth West

        Bookmarking this one. I walk in a neighborhood with a lot of dogs, and they occasionally run loose. I do the “Good puppy good doggie” thing too, but I wonder about a couple of them, if they ever got out when I was going by. I can’t run fast, so I’d be screwed. I never thought about BAD DOG before!

        1. AnotherAlison

          I might have to try that, too. There’s an off-leash Cujo on my running route. I normally run with pepper spray, but he’s on my short route, so I don’t always take all my crap when I go. I usually yell “GO HOME.” (And scan for a big rock to throw at his head. I love dogs, but this guy bares his teeth and looks evil.)

          1. MaryMary

            One morning, I was walking to my car as an leashless giant mastiff started growling menacingly at a girl walking her beagle across the street. The girl gave me a panicked look, so I said in my lowest, strictest voice “NO. NO GROWLING. BAD DOG! NO. NOOOO! GO HOME.” It worked enough that Giant Dog started to come towards me instead of trying to eat the beagle. He kind of bumped my hip (with his shoulder, because he was a Giant Dog). I never figured out if it was meant as a theatening move or a friendly one, because the bump caused me to spill hot coffee on Giant Dog’s head. Giant Dog did not enjoy that and decided to head home, or at least away from my street.

  155. Shell

    What an interesting topic!

    I’m very good at being organized. (Note this doesn’t translate to being neat; UFYH is a lesson I’m trying to learn but it hasn’t sunk in yet.) I know the pertinent information, or where to find it. If you need X, Y, or Z from me I can either finish it up for you in five minutes, or at least can rattle off immediately what the status of it is and where to find additional information.

    My secret isn’t really a secret: I document everything. I joke that I have a terrible memory but I don’t really; it’s just that I don’t rely on it. Documentation, and making sure everything is easily searchable, is the key. If I need to find something, I send myself an email and attach a label to it. I have easily searchable subject lines (nothing like “hello” which is useless). I’m a purchaser, and if a shipment goes out I will enter it into the system (so other people can see it), but I also enter it into my personal Outlook calendar with tracking number and ETA–this way I can see at a glance when I expect all my items to come in. If the vendor assures me that this batch of teapot spouts will be exactly the same as the batch I ordered four months ago, my PO will have a serial/lot number just to be sure. My cubicle wall is covered in post-it notes with checklists or account numbers for vendors or frequently-used information. Years ago, when I had a work injury that required worker’s compensation, at the end of it I had a stack of paper an inch thick about what happened, when it happened, who I talked to, dates and times, etc.

    Being a cynic, I also frequently anticipate the failure points and try to address them at the outset. Just two days ago I had a conversation with my sales manager asking him to change this one thing on a sales order “because I want to eliminate any chance that the warehouse guys in the back will mix it up with that other batch of teapots we carry.” And as best as I can, I try to keep everyone informed.

    I’m also very good at writing emails by virtue of the above. It’s not always short, but it is concise (no needless words). A lot of it is osmosis via Alison (who is amazing at being direct–and, if necessary–pointed–while staying professional), but it’s a lot easier to write out a timeline or a story when you have–or can find–all the pieces. And politely scathing comes easily when you have a timeline with all the details of what went wrong despite all my very reasonable precautions. I had to write a couple of those emails recently and my boss complimented me later on such a well-written, professional email that still conveyed how annoyed (read: furious, outraged, etc.) we are by their incompetency.

  156. Pammie

    I’m really good at writing, whether for work or pleasure, fiction or non-fiction. Brainstorming helps, as well as understanding how people think (for example: not writing in huge paragraphs because these days, people can only bring themselves to read small, concise ones).

    I have always found that avid reading helps immensly, especially when you are trying to write with a certain tone or point of view. You don’t want to be neurotic, but reading in to how your writing could be construed and how it would speak to a general or specific audience and looking it over analytically has gotten me pretty far.

    Pay special attention to the who and how, the latter being your level of formality. The trick is to be conversational; you should meet a nice balance of sounding like a human being (and not a robot or spambot), but not an overly laid-back bro dude, if you catch my drift.

    If you are unsure of something grammar or syntax-wise, Google it. It’s easier than ever to check sources and uses. People of my generation in particular have trouble with articulation, and communicating outside of text messages.

    If you must repeat yourself, break out the thesaurus. It is your friend. Especially in speeches, it will help cut down your time a little bit and at least sound new and interesting to listeners. Always aim to say as much as you can in the clearest and least verbose way possible, like Allison :)

  157. RedWheel

    1. I am a great dog owner. But only for my dog. Seriously- anything that dog needs- physical, financial, care, nurturing, I am on it. I will go to great lengths to make sure he is squared away. I am a one-dog “dog-whisperer”. I think I would probably be terrible at anyone else’s dog.

    2. I have a fantastic sense of direction and spatial memory for locations. If I have been somewhere once, I can remember exactly how to get back. I can visualize and pinpoint the location of an object that I saw once(as long as it has not moved). This creates constant tension in my house since my SO is always moving stuff around. If an object gets moved two feet to the left, I can’t find it because it I can no longer visualize the location.

    3. I have a GREAT memory for faces.

    1. CollegeAdmin

      I think you’re my opposite. I am not an animal person (of any kind), I have a terrible sense of direction, and I cannot match a person across two photographs the majority of the time.

  158. Avery

    I’m an extraordinary resume writer. I don’t do it professionally, just for family so far. Resumes and cover letters that I’ve re-written get interview requests at least 75% of the time, up from 0-10% before they received my help.
    My method is incredibly time-consuming, and most of it is actually research.

    I start by analyzing the job field, starting with the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook. I read the job description of the desired position, and related fields as well, jotting down relevant details like professional certifications, areas of knowledge, trends, etc.

    Then I go to the hiring company and start digging. What are they doing right now? Are they into community service? Who works there? What kind of people does this company hire? Sometimes I look up the people from the hiring department on LinkedIn, just to see what type of backgrounds they have.

    Occasionally large organizations will put generic job descriptions on their websites, and these are incredibly helpful. Often interviewers will match your skills to these rather than what’s actually on the job posting. When I’m finally ready to write the resume, I match keywords to the original job posting and the generic job description, if available.
    Alison gives a lot of good resume advice, especially about what to include and what not to include. I’ve also learned a lot from “Ten Steps to a Federal Job” by Kathryn Troutman, although I haven’t actually written one for a federal job yet.

    I’m also great at picking out books for people. I’m told that my friends and relatives look forward to my book selections for them each year, because I usually introduce them to their new favorite authors. The books I choose aren’t obscure, I just read in a lot of different genres. I try to find a book with something special that transcends the genre and makes a connection with the reader.

    For example, someone who reads a lot of mysteries and thrillers but hates science fiction has probably never heard of Connie Willis. But if that person loves dogs, then I know that “To Say Nothing of the Dog” is the perfect gift. (I won’t say anymore. Dog lovers, read it. No dog dies, I promise.)

  159. Jill

    I’m really great at cutting large circle-shaped cakes (like big party sized cakes). Ever get stuck with the “end” slice of a circle cake? It’s all frosting and very little actual cake. What you do is cut a smaller circle in the middle of the larger one (like a bulls-eye, if you will). Then go around the outer circle, cutting it into slices. Once those are dished out, the smaller, inner circle can be cut into quarters or six slices, depending on size, and each will have a reasonable amount of frosting. No end slice-glob trying to cut a circle cake into square shaped slices.

  160. the gold digger

    I make awesome pies. The trick, of course, is the dough. My grandmother taught me not to overwork it – that’s what makes it tough. I will err on the side of huge chunks of butter and lard (I use a 50/50 mixture) rather than overprocessing.

    My friends who avoid carbs at all costs will eat my pies.

      1. BSharp

        Oh! I’m actually pretty good at gravy, even gluten-free. My trick is to start with sautéing spices in the fat, ideally butter or bacon grease, then whisk in a little flour (tsp at a time!) til it’s about the consistency of shampoo. Med-low heat. Once you have the roux (roux = flour + fat) you can slowly stir in the broth. If it’s not thick enough after 5 minutes of simmering, create a small paste of flour+water in a separate bowl and whisk that in slowly.

        Gluten-free: I like brown rice flour, I’ve heard garbanzo is good, and tapioca starch works nicely in a pinch but don’t use too much as it thickens way more with time. NEVER CORNSTARCH IT IS EVIL and turns any sauce into a graveyard of clumps and weird gel.

  161. Anonymous Educator

    I’m really good at writing small. I usually squeeze about three lines of text per line on lined paper.

    1. cuppa

      I can write small, too! I used to get in trouble with a teacher in high school (although, that just encouraged me to write smaller. )

  162. ThursdaysGeek

    I am good at picking up snakes. I’d like to try it with a rattlesnake sometime, but since my spouse freaks out when I pick up a scorpion, I’ll leave the poisonous snakes alone. I’m also very good at imitating an angry tom cat in a cat fight, stopping to smell roses, and making soup out of leftovers so that nothing goes bad in the fridge.

    For the snakes, don’t grab them right behind the head. Grab them halfway down the body, so they can still move. It stresses them less, and they are less aggressive if they feel less threatened. Hold them away from your body until you find out if they’re still upset enough to want to bite.

  163. Emmwasie

    I an really good at figuring out what company policy should be when there are legal ambiguities, and getting people to consensus on a policy while removing discretion. I look at the law, and any a pliable agency regulations or court / admin cases. I then look at a combo of company policies, other jurisdictions, and other similar statutory language. We usually have a reasoned basis for judgement to shape our policy.

  164. Petulia

    I’m good at whistling!

    A trade secret: to get that lovely vibrato, flutter your tongue as you whistle.

  165. Tiffany

    I’m really good at planning. Events, vacations, anything really. Most of that is great organization skills. I can organize just about anything into an Excel document, which makes life easier when everything you could possibly need relating to whatever you’re planning is in one place.

    I’m also really good at packing. Which is hard, because my family definitely has that ‘over-packer’ gene and it’s a struggle every time to overcome it. I fly Spirit airlines when I travel, and I hate paying for baggage, so I can fit anything I need for at least a week inside 1 backpack that will fit under the seat. This generally includes a Windows tablet, DSLR camera w/ lens, a Kindle, my planner (because I can’t live without it…it’s custom made, by me, and is wonderful), plus clothes and such. It’s all about constantly asking yourself “am I really going to need this in the next week?” If the answer isn’t a definite yes, then it doesn’t get packed. So many people pack for what they think they’ll need and the reality is most things you probably won’t and if for some reason you do, it’s probably cheap enough to just have to buy it once you get to wherever you’re going. For example, I used to take a first-aid kit with me when I traveled. I don’t know why, but I just always did. Then I realized most places will have one (especially hostels) so now at most I’ll have a couple band-aids and a small tube of ointment. If I was traveling to the wilderness or something, then maybe I’d take one, but otherwise it’s not needed. The other key to packing well is to have a good bag. Anything you can find at Wal-Mart probably doesn’t count. It’s gotta have the straps that go around your chest and stomach and lots of pockets to keep things organized. Obviously, you gotta make sure the dimensions are good so that it’ll fit under a seat but I find that most are fine.

  166. Anonymosity

    I’m really good at inbox coverage! I create subfolders for clients/projects, have a category system for “taken care of,” “forwarded to backup,” etc. Meanwhile, I keep a spreadsheet of important developments/FYIs that happen while my colleague is out, divided by client/project, and I send that to him/her at the end of the day before she returns so she will see it first thing. People compliment me on this all the time, and everyone I’ve covered for says that it’s a great system and really helpful!

  167. AnotherAlison

    I’m good at getting people to do stuff.

    Getting other people to do stuff seems to work for me because I’m not really a people person. When I ask for something, people don’t think it’s optional. For a practical implementation of this, I have a few tips. I am transparent. I let people know why I need something, when I need it, and I check in to see how it’s going mid-way through the time frame. I ask people if there are any barriers to them getting something done, and I’m not afraid to talk to their manager to find out if we can clear their plate or move the task to someone else. I also define the task clearly. This seems to be the biggest barrier I’ve found when people don’t do things — they didn’t know exactly what you wanted.

    I didn’t really think this was a skill, but the whole fam was in the car the other day, and my husband was complaining about a client that hasn’t paid 3 invoices. My son said to have mom call. She can make people do stuff.

  168. CC

    I’m pretty good at getting information from people. A major part of my job is interviewing facilities managers and figuring out what is going wrong with their systems. I am usually there in person, but occasionally I have to troubleshoot complex systems and machines over the phone. I train other people on this and typically I can get a good outcome in 5-10 minutes when some people can take 30-40. I am technically competent, but generally I end up with better client outcomes than some of my more technically talented peers. Here are my tips:

    1.) The person you are talking to is the expert. They have the information that you need. You may be able to process it into what needs to happen, but if a person says that they have a problem with something, there is a problem with it and you need to take it and them seriously. A person might use the wrong terms, which may make the problem seem improbable, but there is likely an issue at hand. This is important because if the person you are speaking to feels like you aren’t listening, they are likely to stop giving you as much information as quickly. Also, and this could be more specific to engineering, but enough engineers tend to be arrogant that being respectful and understanding goes a long way in getting the other person to think that this will be a more positive experience. This doesn’t mean that the person you are speaking to will always be correct about details, but a problem exists in some form.

    2.) Try to get the information presented visually. If you are on the phone, see if you can get a picture emailed or texted. This can quickly let you make a few determinations as to what is going on, and it can also eliminate the possibility of technical dialect differences. (There are like 15000000 different ways of calling an H&V unit, for example) This also makes fixes easier. “Turn the screw behind the flap by the green switch” is much more straightforward than “Adjust the pentiometer on the sensor that controls feedback”.

    3. If things are going long, explain your reasoning. Saying ” Hey, I know you said this isn’t connected to the system, but I’d just like to be able to check this off so I can rule a bunch of causes out” shows that you are paying attention, at least.

  169. Collarbone High

    Crossword puzzles. I always finish the NYT Sunday crossword in 15-20 minutes.

    What helped me get there:
    * Doing lots of smaller, easier puzzles, because there’s a “language” of crosswords that you have to learn to tackle the harder ones.
    * Reading a wide variety of books and magazines, because I’m always picking up new words or facts that might show up in puzzles.
    * Newspaper headline writing. When you write headlines for a pre-designed page, you have to find the right combination of words that will fit into the allotted space, so I’m good at unconsciously sizing up a word and determining if it will fit into a given space.

    1. Kelly L.

      Yes! There are “crossword words” that are very often in crosswords and almost never in regular speech. “Sere” is always the one that comes to mind.

      1. Elsajeni

        Short words with lots of vowels! Etui. Alae. Olio. Oleo, for that matter, although for some reason not nearly as often as olio.

      2. Collarbone High

        I once met a professor from Elon University. He said “You’ve probably never heard of it unless …” and I said “Crosswords! You’re always in crosswords!” I recently moved to North Carolina and I was really excited when I saw an exit on the interstate for Elon.

  170. LV Ladybug

    I am good at personal/emotional crisis resolution (with other people). I have talked two people down from committing suicide, I have assisted in PTSD outbursts, flashbacks, etc. These have all been family members. But in those moments I am able to keep a level head, call the paramedics if need be, give detailed information, talk calmly to metro, just be able to be in control and take care of what needs to be handled.

    How I do it? Not sure, but I would suggest trying to keep a level head as much as possible. I just push my emotional connection aside and do what needs to be done. I process everything that just happened at another time.

  171. pop tart

    I am really, REALLY good at quickly googling and researching items. I work in prop fabrication and we get a lot of requests to source components. Last week I had to find a doll wig for purchase, so I spent about a half hour researching doll wig sizing, specific dolls that wear the size I needed, where they’re available for purchase (Korea and China if you wanted to know), and then searching for that item in stores that could ship to the US next day. I’m really knowledgeable about doll wigs now. Another example was a couple months ago I had to look up a specific kind of vintage longbow, so now I know a lot about specific brands and sizes of compound and long bows, and that they are not typically made in smaller size for a child. My friends use this to their advantage and will ask me to help find say, a Slim Goodbody costume for a child, or the best pizza place by the beach within a 100 mile strip. I know it doesn’t sound super impressive, but I’m really fast at it and have no problem combing the depths of the internet to find an authentic looking 17th century witch broom if I need to. My trick is to do several searches at once using different terminology (“taxidermy fish” “fish blank” “taxidermy blank” “catfish taxidermy” “unpainted fish taxidermy”), open everything that looks like it might be relevant and search within those sites for my key words if necessary. You’d be surprised at how much you can learn about a subject by scanning forums and old Geocities websites!

    1. CollegeAdmin

      I missed your sentence about “I work in prop fabrication” and was so perplexed as to why you would need to look for doll wigs and longbows in your daily life.

      1. pop tart

        I know way too much specific information about way too many subjects I just do not care about. I am wondering when my brain will run out of hard drive space, to be honest.

    2. Marvel

      Man, as somebody who works in theatre (stage management), props people are my FAVORITE. Want to know about something random yet fascinating that is irrelevant to 99.999% of modern daily life? That’s who to ask.

  172. Scotty_Smalls

    I’m good at setting up computer and entertainment systems without the manual. (Except printers, don’t take chances with printers, just read) I remember where most of the wires go and what port they go to. I don’t know if there’s a secret to it. Just be observant as to the female and male parts, the color, and how many pins it has.

  173. oranges & lemons

    I’m pretty good at vetting recipes! This is something I do both at home and work (I’m a cookbook editor/recipe tester). My trick is pretty basic–I just read through the steps and visualize making the recipe, and what it’s going to look and taste like at each step. It’s a good way to get a sense of whether something will need to be tweaked, or if the recipe isn’t going to work out, or if there are some unnecessarily complicated parts. Another tip is to have a solid reference on hand (I like Cook’s Illustrated) if you’re going to try something more complicated or that you’re less familiar with.

  174. Rebecca in Dallas

    I’ve been told that I pick out great gifts. I guess it helps that I love shopping for other people. My mom always shopped for gifts year-round. If she saw something that she knew a particular person would love, she’d go ahead and buy it and put it aside for their next birthday or Christmas. I’ve started doing that, but I also am a bargain shopper so if it’s not on sale I’ll make a note of it (I have an ongoing Google doc) and check back for it to go on sale.

    1. BSharp

      Did you know there are apps/sites that will monitor the sales for you and email if it goes on sale? I also found one that will scan your email for receipts of purchases already made, then go get your price adjustment for you if it goes on sale later. They keep a small %.

  175. peanut butter kisses

    I am good at delivering the news that no one wants to give.

    I work in an academic library and I was the one who for years was not afraid to go up to the masturbators and telling them to zip and leave. The trick to that one is to be flat and unemotional. They already know what they are doing is inappropriate.

    I also was able to tell two different co-workers that they had odor problems. The main trick to that is to think of the person first before the message. Do it alone. Know when they are in a receptive mood. Give them an out – say perhaps on a hot and sweaty day start commenting on how it is going to be a two shower kind of day for you or maybe that they must have started to work out more because you have noticed their sweat or something like that.

  176. Monika

    I’m good at learning new things and I love learning new things. Give me a book about some software, some time with that software and I’m all set. I do well in a classroom setting, but I need a book/script and time to try it myself too. I always found it helpful to think up a real(-ish) project I want to do with that new software and then start learning.
    I do the same when I work as an IT-trainer, I think up a test-project, and while working on it the students/participants learn what they need to learn.

    Another thing I’m good at is delegating stuff, which is quite helpful when I work as a projectmanager.

  177. Eden

    I have mostly minor strengths, but I have two I think I can list without too much hyperbole:
    1) I am good at getting jobs for which I have no prior experience. I have been a legal assistant, book editor, graphic artist, course instructor, veterinary technician, and university administrative assistant, among other things. Except for moving from one graphic art job to another, every new job I have gotten has been one I had no background in.
    Tips for this: understand what your transferable skills are and make sure they apply somehow to the work, really want to learn new things, and be comfortable with the ‘feeling stupid’ portion of the learning curve.

    2) Photoshop. I learned Photoshop from Version 1, so while I would probably bog down instantly were I to have to learn this behemoth from scratch today, because I learned gradually with lots and lots of practice, I can put your head on a football player’s body and you would not be able to see any telltale signs. I have no tips for this, other than time travel.

    1. Solidus Pilcrow

      Re: Photoshop. I have long held the belief that nobody knows the entirety of Photoshop, or any of the Adobe products, really. They are such huge programs that can do so much, it seems the best you can do is get good at the functions you need.

      One thing I found helped with learning Photoshop is a familiarity with photographic terms and enlarging your own prints. Many of the concepts originate with the physical process, like dodge and burn.

      1. Eden

        Oh I totally do not claim to know the entirety of Photoshop. But I completely agree, if you know those terms you will be ahead of the game!

    2. TMW

      Thank you for that tip about understanding what skills are transferable. I’m currently trying to get a job as an editorial assistant, but I have no background in publishing. However when I look at the description for the job, I notice that for the most part, it involves skills that I have.

  178. Elizabeth Computer Hands

    Troubleshooting tech. A lot of this is experience. Like knowing to first check it’s plugged in.
    My biggest asset is probably patience and persistence. I always keep in the back of my head that computers are stupid, and *something* caused the problem, I just need to find out what. Log files are your friend.

  179. Elizabeth West

    I’m good at moaning. I’m so good at it people tell me I should be British. I read Kate Fox’s Watching the English and through that entire chapter, I was like, “Totally!” ;)

    Hahaha, no seriously, I’m not sure what I’m really good at. :\ I seem to be mediocre at a lot of things, with no real superpowers.

    I’m fairly good at things people have already posted:

    –I can untie knots (shoelaces, necklaces, cords, etc.)
    –Parallel park
    –Writing and editing (though not querying, apparently!)
    –Sorting and organizing files, documents, etc.
    –Reading subway / other maps

    A few others:
    –Mazes (the kind in puzzle books where you trace your way out)
    –Spending an entire weekend on the sofa :)
    –Telling when someone is about to break up with me :P

    I used to be extremely good at singing, though I’m way out of practice. I studied opera for four years, but I don’t sing anymore except in the car.

      1. Elizabeth West

        I like her stuff, and I won a copy of Chuck Sambuchino’s latest Guide to Literary Agents by commenting on his blog (random pick, yay!). I’m working hard on them. They’re even more annoying than cover letters, and I SUCK at those. I’d rather write a synopsis, truly.

    1. Soupspoon McGee

      I always enjoy your posts, and I really admire your persistence with writing and skating. It’s like you decided these were things you valued and wanted to spend time on, and you make time to do it. A Piers Anthony quote has stuck with me for about 30 years: “A lot of people say they want to be writers, but they really want to have written. They don’t want to do the work.” Anyway, I admire your perseverance, and I’m willing to bet you are good at those things because you dedicate time and thought to them.

      1. Elizabeth West

        Aww, thanks…I’m certainly a better writer now than I used to be! Not necessarily a better skater though. In fact, I’m getting really tired of it–there hasn’t been much progress in ages. I’d rather be off having a kid than skating, and I’m beginning to resent it every time I step out onto the ice with other people’s kids.

        With writing, when I look at some of my older stuff, I cringe and realize practice really does make perfect. >_< But I still have a lot to learn. And you know, I hear similar sentiments. People say, "I thought of a good idea for a book, but I don't have time to write it," or "I never got around to it." Publishing doesn't make you a writer; writing does. I keep telling people who say that to sit their butts in the chair and write because that's the only way to do it. I think they are disappointed, like they want to hear, "Wave your pencil around and clap your heels together three times, and you'll have a book!" Sorry Dorothy; it doesn't work like that! Anything you want to do–get better at Excel, master SQL, play the piano, parallel park like a boss–you have to DO IT. But dammit, I do want to publish. My sister-in-law writes but only for herself. I want everybody to see my stuff!

  180. Marvel

    I am really damn good at languages. I can pick up the syntax of even the most un-English-like languages well enough to communicate basics in a couple of hours. My native language is, as implied by the previous sentence, English. I’m not actually fluent in anything else, but damn do I know a little about a lot of languages! Japanese is the one I’m most experienced with, but one of my major projects right now is translating a significant German Egyptological text to English using only Google Translate, a German dictionary, and my own linguistic talent.

    Oh, and on an opera I worked on a while back, we had a Chinese accompanist for rehearsal that wasn’t great with English numbers, so I picked up the proper formation and pronunciation of Mandarin numbers in the course of an afternoon so I’d be able to translate. It was honestly pretty fun!

    Tip: Take a linguistics class, or self-study linguistics using the textbooks they use + online resources. Spend at least a few months studying the topic. Once you understand HOW languages are put together? The actual languages are SHOCKINGLY easy.

    1. Marvel

      Oh, tip #2: Make it a point to study various world cultures on a casual basis. Understanding the culture makes understanding the way the language works much easier.

  181. AnotherAlison

    Oooh, I just wanted to throw this one in on behalf of my husband. Y’all may have heard that there were 800,000 people at World Series parade on Tuesday. The parade ended at 1:50. I was sitting in a restaurant 20 miles away at 2:30. He is masterful at getting in and out of places. Our not-as-masterful son took 4 hours to get home. DH is also good at sneaking into things, like backstage at events he’s not supposed to be at.

    Tips: Think through the whole thing ahead of time. . .what is happening before the event, what needs to happen after, what will everyone else do. Park away from the epicenter.

    1. Lillian McGee

      I worked as a backstage security guard for a while and once my team, collectively, let a woman with no pass whatsoever get all the way INTO Stevie Nicks’ dressing room. Nothing bad happened and Stevie didn’t mind thank god. How she did it? She was wearing a radio and walking with purpose. I’m sure your husband knows that trick!

  182. pony tailed wonder

    I am really good at winning contests. I have been the grand prize nation wide winner in several and I have won over 8 different contests in the last 8 weeks. I usually win at least one prize a month on average. I have even had to fill out IRS forms on my high dollar wins.

    The trick is first to pick and choose your contests. I love to read so I try to win books so I go to my favorite author’s website and facebook page. I sign up for their newsletter and when it comes, I read it. A lot of authors have contests for their biggest fans on facebook and list them in their newsletters just before a new release is coming out. Also, make a list of your favorite publishers and sign up for their newsletters and go to their blogs and facebook pages. There are several book review websites and facebook pages that have at least one contest a week. Newer, less established authors tend to run more contests like Kathy Daley on facebook does. She wants to hook you into buying the rest of her cozy mystery books and so she runs a lot of contests and posts frequently on her facebook page about them. It worked for me, I read one and now know she is my kind of light reading author. Most of my wins are books because that is what I enter contests for.

    The second trick is to take chances on national contests. These don’t pan out as much but when they do – yippee! Only enter contests from companies and authors that you know and trust. And only if you really would like to have the prize. Read the rules each time and follow them. If you can enter daily, then enter daily. You are more likely to win smaller niche contests than the big/win money nationwide contests because everyone would love to win money but not everyone wants an advance copy of the latest book to come out.

    Also, food contests are nice to win. I may not be willing to buy a different brand of chocolate but I am certainly willing to win some. Just look up the brands you love and see what their company page or facebook page looks like to see what they offer. I have heard that Pinterest and Twitter also have companies running contests on them but I don’t like using those platforms.

  183. Mimmy

    Mine are comparatively boring:

    1. I’ve been told that I am really good at paying attention to details. I tend to pick up errors or discrepancies that no one else would notice. No I don’t catch everything, but pretty close! Can’t say that I have any real secrets though – it’s just the way my brain is wired. I sometimes have to remind myself to step back a bit and remember to consider the bigger picture.

    2. I tend to remember super-random things, particularly dates and minor details from long ago. My husband teases me about this because while I can remember what I wore to my very first concert in 1989, I may forget what I ate for dinner the night before. Again, no secrets – just weird brain wiring!

    3. As with many others, I write very well, in fact, I think that I express myself much better in writing than in speaking. Which is pretty sad because for awhile, I was starting to get good at social work. Those days are gone now :(

  184. Aardvark

    I’m really good at reorganizing and linking information. Say you give me a text list of customers, with some notes on either side. I can extract the data and use the results to look up something about these entities in two databases or files and report on the similarities/differences between the result sets.

    My conceptual trade secret? Every data set has a shape. Imagine what the “shape” of your finished product is–is it a list? An Excel spreadsheet? A table? Define it, list the columns, etc.. Write down what the current shape of your data is–a list, a paragraph. Find the patterns in it, then think about how you can extract and map the patterns to your finished product. Use those to define transformation rules–write them out, draw them, think about them. Then, apply them to mash your data into the new shape.

    My technical trade secrets: I use a bunch of tools and I know which ones are best for what situation. SSIS and SQL for larger tasks that need to be automated and repeated, where data comes in in pre-defined formats. Python scripts for complex non-repeating tasks and prototyping. My dirty little secret, though, is that for small tasks that only ever have to be done once…I use Excel and Notepad ++. Notepad++ supports regular expressions and has some other neat features, which helps reformat garbage data enough to shove it into a spreadsheet. Excel has a plethora of tools (deduping, pivot tables, functions, vlookup, searching, sorting, text to columns) that make it easy to get your hands dirty and answer a one-off question fast.

    Related: I can make Excel graphs look only vaguely like they come from Excel. Double click on anything in a chart and you can edit its properties. Get rid of the borders, lighten or remove grid lines, decrease spacing between bars in a bar chart, make them slightly transparent and not that awful red and blue, and you’re in business. Once you have a set of properties you like, save it as a template. Voila–you can apply it to any new charts you make with just a few clicks. People think you’re a wizard when you’re really just efficient and offended by Excel’s choices.

    1. Aardvark

      Also…this is strange and I’m risking doxxing myself to my near and dear, but I can physically feel the shape of data in my neck, shoulders, and arms and will sometimes sit at my desk with my eyes closed moving concepts around using strange raver-like motions. Which is really helpful, hard to explain, and kind of weirdly wonderful. I’m not sure how to apply that, except…internalize the structure of your data?

  185. Stan

    My super power is remembering people’s names. Here are my tips:

    1. Form as many associations in your mind about the person as you can. There are some funny scenes from The Office of Michael Scott doing this. His way is convoluted and offensive, but forming a string of thoughts like “John Doe, horn rimmed classes, works for Chocolate Teapots, Inc., met at young professionals meeting” gives me several ways back to the name.

    2. Use the person’s name several times during the initial meeting. Don’t be weird and use it every sentence, but working it in 2-3 times in that first conversation can give it lasting power.

    3. Visualize writing the person’s name on their forehead. This has been attributed to different people, but it’s been really helpful for me.

    4. Give yourself some context. After meeting new people, I try to jot a note down about them. Then, the next time I’m heading to a similar gathering I can glance back at those notes. It narrows the pool of names that I’m trying to remember.

    4a. Cheat. I use this when I’m taking/teaching classes. Jotting down a quick seating chart makes it seem like I’m magically remembering names when really I’m using where you are sitting to reference my notes.

    1. Steamroller

      Can I just say that I get verrrrry suspicious of people who use my name in a conversation more than once? It always feels like they think I’m not paying attention and are trying to get me to focus, when I’m focusing just fine. I’m also completely fine with people not remembering my name for a while because I can’t remember names either.

  186. Emily (Non profit, Uk)

    I’m really good at building up useful and friendly relationships with overseas colleagues.

    I always try to be helpful and when first talking to people (especially in person) try to be engaging and interested in them as a person. This is because I usually am very interested in other people anyway though! Also I make sure I always make the effort to make their jobs easier (e.g. if I’m sending them a request for information, I will give them all the info we have (that they are allowed access to) if that will help them (so they don’t have to go looking for specific files or look at old emails to find it themselves). I am also extra effusive about saying thank you. I generally will say thank you for your time and your help, even when it’s my time that was asked for and my help that was given.

    I also try to learn the local language. So right now I have two books on [African language particular to one country] on my desk. I also have been taking french lessons and bought Swahili phrase books. One colleague in particular loves to speak to me in his langauge and see if I understand. I had googled online dictionaries in advance so it would only take me a few minutes to respond!

    Skype and emojis also helps too.

  187. LibKae

    I’m really good at being accepted. It sounds completely useless, but it’s a remarkably handy skill. I fit in well with teams and get along well with bosses at work, but I also get treated kindly by car mechanics and DMV folks, and once convinced someone to let me on an airport tarmac in under 15 minutes (previous job — I was allowed on the tarmac, but the usual guy was out, and the new guy didn’t like being told what to do by his bosses, so showed it by refusing any written orders given to him)

    Tips? Being adaptable is the most important bit — being flexible, yes, but also genuinely open to and respectful of others’ ideas and opinions. It also helps a lot if you’re a good listener.

    I’m also ridiculously good at getting lost. I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere for the first time without getting lost on the way. An annoying skill, and one that means I’m always late, but you get a lot more exploring of a city done when you’re trying to figure out where in the world you are (Tip would be to have no sense of direction, but I don’t think this is a skill anyone wants to cultivate)

  188. Elsajeni

    I am great at making sense of bad math! This was super useful to me when I taught math, unsurprisingly — I was better at sorting out how a student had gotten from A to Q, when they were supposed to get to C, than anyone I worked with. Tips:
    1. From the beginning, when you assign a problem, think about how a student might mess it up or misinterpret it. Think about the likely results of serious misunderstandings, and almost-but-not-quite understandings, and also the results of just careless mistakes like adding 2 + 3 and getting 6. (Also consider willful misunderstandings! When I was student-teaching, a classmate of mine wrote the test question: “Can you draw a line with a slope of 1/3?” Bro. Look around at this roomful of snarky 14-year-olds, consider what percentage of them are going to write “Yup” and nothing else, and rephrase that.)
    2. When you get a baffling answer, try to replicate the work in both directions — start at the beginning and work forward, and if you get stymied by how in the world they made that next leap, start at the end and work backward and see if you get there.
    3. Don’t stop after finding one mistake; keep checking to make sure there aren’t other mistakes. It can be hard to spot the difference between “made an arithmetic error on step 2, did everything else correctly” and “made an arithmetic error on step 2 and then another one on step 6” at a glance.

    I also have excellent squat form. To help keep your back tight and your chest up on the way up, imagine you are pulling down on the bar with your hands, so that it bends in the middle into an inverted U shape.

    1. Elsajeni

      Oh, and a continuation of #2 — keep trying to trace the logic, but don’t rule out the possibility that at some point the explanation is “And then I made something up” or “And then I looked up the answer in the back of the book,” and you just won’t be able to logically connect it to the previous step. I saw this most often when we introduced new content that explicitly built on something we’d done before, like going from linear equations to quadratics — students would do great at the parts of the process that were familiar, but when they got to an unfamiliar part they’d get stuck and panic and do something weird.

  189. DJ

    Also good in a crisis. Loose our stuff in a fire? Order my husband around, start inventorying, replacing stuff, etc. Told that co-worker died on vacation? I read the email detailing what happened from his wife (also a coworker) aloud to everyone (is that a crisis? Certainly emotionally fraught). In moments like that, I think that my emotions just go on pause. It is only later that I have a meltdown.

    Unrelated: I’m good at putting “facts” into a network/web. I’m a grad student studying cell biology, so it comes in handy because lots of people think biology is “just” memorizing. I hate memorization, so I figured out how to link all the facts together. I wish I had a tip on how to do that, either my brain was wired that way or I intuitively figured it out.

    1. Aardvark

      I like concept mapping as a tool for figuring out how facts/ideas/entities are linked together. You do that sort of thing intuitively, but a lot of people don’t. Concept mapping is a way of making that sense-making explicit.

  190. FiveWheels

    I think my main work related skill is fixing messes! Anything from books that don’t balance, to understanding a nonsensical file, to translating something technical so others in the teapot chain can understand it.

    The problem is I love getting to the bottom of mysteries but I hate fixing other people’s mistakes. So it’s frustrating when I find a problem and I know I can either fix it today, or send it back to the teapot designer and have them maybe fix it in a month or maybe not.

    1. FiveWheels

      Oh and the tip is read slowly, make notes, and follow through. Never leave something and think you’ll fix it later unless you write it down on a to do list that will sit in your eyeline until it’s done.

  191. Steamroller

    I’m good at remembering obscure trivial junk (I can’t remember the multiplication table though). I’m good at it because when something interests me, I go whole hog on it and consume everything I can. Go ahead, ask me anything about Laura Ingalls Wilder.

  192. Steamroller

    I’m also very good at customer service. I think I’m good at it because I live the “Retail” comic strip motto: Pretend you care.

  193. Cereal Killer

    I’m really good at finding water leaks in other people’s homes. It stinks being the bearer of bad news. But I’ve pointed out potential leaks in at least five other people’s houses. I attribute it to being an introvert and being really bad at sitting properly in a chair. So I am often sitting in weird positions or locations and looking in places no one else is…I don’t know it’s a skill I guess.

  194. Steamroller

    Oh, I’m also good at celebrity interactions. I’ve joked that I should write a book explaining to people how to interact with a famous person so they don’t come off annoying or craaaaazy.

    The main rules are to know what you’re going to say before you open your mouth, keep whatever you’re going to say short (like 10 seconds), say thank you if they’re doing a signing or giving you their time and be judicious in asking for photos. It also helps to be right behind a nut case in line, so you come off looking like the most sane and normal and polite human being ever.

  195. Kat M

    I can look at a mess of linguistic diarrhea somebody put on a page and quickly re-write it in a way that makes sense so people can actually retain the information it contains.

    My advice? Outline, outline, OUTLINE!

    1. For each piece of information, ask yourself, how does this fit with other pieces? How does it different from other pieces? Is it just the same thing said using different words?

    2. Look for themes. Group accordingly.

    3. Check to see if any of these themes builds logically on another. Order accordingly.

    4. Look for logical segues between one and another. Re-order if needed.

    5. Write your intro or titles last.

    Seriously, if people would just take a few minutes to actually outline, there would be so much less miscommunication. I can’t think of any more important advice for people who feel like they suck at writing or public speaking. Once you’re comfortable with it, you’ll do it instinctively.

  196. Christina

    Skill 1: I’m an excellent researcher and love analyzing information. That ranges from figuring out who wrote that song that’s stuck in your head to where the term “American Dream” came from and why it means what it means. I loved being a lit major (and got my grad degree in the same subject) because so much of the work relied on research and analysis (and I love reading so that helped too). Writing my master’s thesis on the connection between the American Dream and ownership of things and self (a home, a car, self-determination) was one of my proudest accomplishments.

    Tip 1: This isn’t too different from the many people above who say they’re great at googling stuff. Research relies on figuring out the questions to ask, following trails that lead you to more information, and refining the terms you’re using as you get more information. Wash, rinse, repeat until you have your answer (or realize you’ve found a more interesting question to ask).

    Skill 2: I also think I’m good at teaching people things. This is a funny one as I consider myself a total introvert and I spent my entire educational career telling people “No, I’m not going to be a professor/teacher.” Yet the thing I’ve found myself doing most often in my job, and that I really enjoy, is hosting technology webinars at a university (getting faculty and staff interested in technology when they don’t have to care is *hard*) and most recently teaching a cooking class. For the webinars, I don’t present the technical information, but I asking leading questions and “translate” some of the more technical details. People seem to really find them helpful. And on the cooking class front, I got 24 people to make and eat paella (some of whom had no idea what it was. and we used squid, mussels, clams, prawns, all kinds of crazy stuff). That was f-ing awesome.

    Tip 2: I don’t know what tips I have as I’m still trying to figure out why and how I’m good at this, but it helps to a) genuinely want to help other people, b) be able to put yourself in the position of not knowing so you have an idea of what questions might come up, and c) be open to totally different ways to do things.

  197. _ism_

    I’m one of those people who can bend Excel to her will, in fact :) More generally, I’m one of those people who can quickly teach myself any unfamiliar software system. As long as I know what it’s meant to do, I can figure it out. (So I might not be so quick to pick up some thermodynamics modeling program, but typical industry things? Sure!) I typically become the master of under-utilized systems that nobody gets proper training for.

    I’m not sure what my trade secret is. I have always been curious about computers and technology from the time they first started putting computers in schools. I’m willing to spend the time playing with, and failing at, something I don’t understand. Trial and error is the #1 way to learn something in my opinion. I don’t get frustrated easily with unexpected results from a computer program, but I do with humans! I am a tinkerer by nature, I suppose.

  198. Anlyn

    I am really good at reading a room. I can walk into almost any place (in the US) and get a feel for the tension and dynamics, even if I don’t know the people or have any information or detail. I think a lot of it comes from being bullied as a kid–it became a matter of emotional survival to sense how people felt about me. I pick up on body language, facial expressions, and voice tone pretty well, so I typically get an idea of the atmosphere. Only tips I can really give is to pay attention to how people move, how they sound, what their facial muscles are doing.

    Because of this, I can usually integrate myself pretty well in a group, just by listening, observing, and emulating. Though I haven’t had much exposure to other cultures, so I don’t know how well I would do in another country. I’d like to think it’s not much different, but I know cultural expectations can vary widely. But if I listen and watch, I don’t think I’d make too much of a fool of myself. I hope.

  199. Adminny

    I make a mean chicken pot pie— from scratch, crust and all. And I am inordinately proud of that.

  200. Newlywed

    I am pretty good at reading people (men mostly, sometimes women)…but it’s more of a sixth sense or instinct. I can very easily pinpoint flaws, strengths, motivations and insecurities from a very short interaction just by observing body language, facial expressions and tone. I’ve been proven right about 99% of the time. It’s almost like I can see people transparently, whether or not they want to be seen that way. On the other hand, I’ve been told by more than one person that I am extremely opaque and difficult to read, which is interesting because I’m probably the most direct, honest person I know. I really don’t know how to lie; I am TERRIBLE at it. But I do tend to withhold information if I judge it’s not safe to divulge.

    Other skill: I can clean my dog’s teeth (like with dental tools, removing plaque and tartar and etc) at home without a sedative. I just put his head in my lap and go to work and give him intermittent treats.

    1. NicoleK

      Yes! I’m also good at reading people. It helps to have good instincts. For me the key to understanding people is to understand yourself.

  201. Lizzie

    I can mimic the proper pronunciation/inflection for a language almost immediately, even if I have never heard the language before.

    I actually think this comes from all my years in choir/chorus/etc. (I have perfect pitch and had to learn pieces very quickly sometimes) and exposure to a lot of other languages because the directors I had were very adamant about us learning more than just “the standards,” but here I am having not been a singer in any remotely official capacity since 2007 and I’m still able to do it.

    That said, for those looking to perfect their pronunciation of a language they’re learning: find some music you like the sound of in that language and sing along. Because apparently that works (anecdotally, anyway).

    1. Jillociraptor

      I took voice lessons for around 10 years and I totally agree with you that it enables pronunciation and inflection. You learn (consciously or not) how to control your whole vocal apparatus down to really minute changes, which helps when you’re trying to produce a sound that doesn’t exist in your native language precisely because you have to think so hard about what goes into the sounds you are really familiar with.

      1. Lizzie

        That’s probably a huge part of it. I didn’t realize I’d retained it so long until I visited a friend who is doing her doctoral research in Prague and was able to ask for something I’d only heard the phrase for a couple of times. She looked at me like I’d suddenly sprouted three heads!

    2. Kat M

      I really think this is true! I’m not much of a singer myself, but when I was in college my classmate was, and I was always blown away by her *impeccable* French accent even though we were both in the beginners class. I never could nail it down. :P

    3. afiendishthingy

      Yes – I have had a lot of vocal training and I’m also very good at picking up on correct pronunciation of foreign languages.

  202. misspiggy

    I’m good at bringing people back from the brink of professional despair. If someone is about to leave, disengage, or throw a spanner in the works, I can help them find a constructive way forward. I help them vent by sympathetically asking for the story of how things got this bad; gently feed back some learning points; and identify the good and unique things about the work. I focus on what’s been achieved so far and the potential to do something even better if we move forward a bit. I help them decide how to salvage the situation, prioritising both functional effectiveness and emotional acceptability.

    If it’s work I’m leading or closely involved in, I’m good at heading people off from crisis points in the first place. I frequently highlight what we’ve achieved and how that’s distinctive, identify what we’ve learned from the challenges, and reorient us towards a positive outcome if problems arise.

  203. AnotherFed

    I am really good at figuring out all the ways things can break or fail. That doesn’t sound so useful, except that as an engineer, people’s lives depend upon us expecting those failures and designing the system to handle them gracefully and safely.

    The big tip for this is thinking through what each piece of the end system has to do, what it has to handle/endure, and how those will push it to break. Then you make sure the system overall fails in ways you can live with by beefing up some things and reducing others. An example would be sizing a circuit breaker so that it pops before you destroy other hardware or start a fire – system no worky, so its still a failure, but it is way better than burning up electronics and starting an electrical fire.

  204. knitchic79

    DH is diabetic…so not much in the way of noodles for us. I make an amazing lasagna that uses thinly sliced butternut squash as noodles. This thing will seriously make you make nsfw noises.

    My secrets
    1) use a mandolin slicer to cut that squash…even slices are the key to the noodle like texture.

    2) make your sauce from scratch, and make it thick…this is because the squash is going to get all juicy while it cooks down. If you make the sauce thick the squash juice thins it out. If you don’t you’re going to get soup.

    3) Let it rest…about half an hour…all those juices get to marry and it just turns to magic.

    And now I need to make this…Lol made myself hungry!

  205. afiendishthingy

    Non-work-related: I am a pretty great person to have in your choir. I sight read well, learn quickly and have a good memory, have a large range, good tone, my face is expressive, and I don’t talk when the director is working with another section because that is super rude. Some of those are due to luck and lots of training, but looking like you care about what you’re singing and not being disrespectful go a long way.

    Work-related: I can form a rapport pretty quickly with most young kids with autism/developmental delays (hint: play with them in more or less the same way you’d play with any kid), and I can usually come up with good, best-practice-base behavior plan for them that works well when executed as written. (The problem is coming up with simple plans that can and will be executed properly by people without much formal training, like parents and entry level staff, but I’m working on that!)

    1. afiendishthingy

      also – key to the behavior plans – recognize that you can’t “fix” the child’s behavior without changing their environment and how other people react to them, and that a huge part of the work comes before the behavior happens, what you do when they’re doing the stuff you want them to do. This goes for everyone regardless of age and ability.

  206. Ruffingit

    Work-related: I’m a great typist. I can type 103 words a minute with one mistake. No secret here, it’s just a lot of practice, which I got from many years of college and working in industries that are document heavy.

    Non-Work Related: I’m good at saying no and setting boundaries. This took a long time, but I finally realized that when I decline to help someone, it can actually be a gift to them because they then figure it out on their own and have more pride about that than if I’d just given them the money, answer, etc. Also, I came to realize that I am not the answer to everyone’s problems. There are others who can, and should and will, help someone. I don’t have to do it all. Those two realizations were game changing in my life.

  207. drivesmenuts

    I am good at handling laboratory mice. The secret is to be gentle but firm. The mice need to feel supported when you pick them up. They don’t want to feel like your going to drop them. Another secret is to be calm around them. The mice pick up on nervousness and know when people are afraid of them.

  208. Soupspoon McGee

    I’m pretty good at dealing with difficult people.

    I used to teach, and a lot of my students were anxious about the topic. Sometimes their lack of confidence or frustration led them to be combative or defensive. I was good at reassuring them, figuring out where they were stuck or getting them past a bad experience from another teacher, and getting them to value their writing. I did pretty much the same thing as a grantwriter. Now I work with elderly and disabled people, many of them confused. I’ve gotten one fellow, who hated my guts six ways to Sunday, to smile when he sees me. Another woman can’t remember my name from day to day, but she remembers that I’ll take care of her, and she calms down for me.

    The trick is to assume that someone’s bad behavior is directed at me personally (this is hard!), then to approach them with compassion and patience. Make it safe for them to talk out what they’re thinking. Be consistent.

  209. Sarah

    I’m really good at going to events by myself and leaving with lots of friends/contacts! I hesitate to call it networking because it’s been at everything from industry events to drunk busses to/from concerts, but I am the person in my friend group who doesn’t mind being the first to arrive somewhere because I know I’ll end up talking to somebody and having a great time.

    Key tips for me: no matter how terrified I am, I find something that makes me smile – somebody’s awesome outfit, a funny memory, whatever – and I keep thinking about it. I also try to find somebody who looks as confused as I feel and buddy up with them. It’s kind of a “Hey, I’m new here too, let’s figure it out togehter!” type thing that means we’ve got two sets of eyes looking for important things (event organisers, name tags, food) and somebody to laugh off mistakes with. Plus when it is an actual industry event, it gives you somebody to introduce, which makes me look competent and well-connected, which makes me feel like I can be competent and well-connected, which then makes me actually well-connected.

  210. danr

    I’m good at searching the various library databases. I got in on the ground floor as the databases were computerized and learned to search past the initial results. I also learned how to search new systems quickly and find the weak points and odd data conversions.

  211. Owl

    I am very good at crowd control.

    Tips:
    Learn your space ahead of time. Where are the bottlenecks? Where are the things that get the most attention. Find them.
    Hang out in the most confusing part of the area to answer directional questions, because people move through faster.
    Keep smiling.
    Use a teacher voice. Be polite, but command attention. Use open, flat hands to direct people. To where you need them to move.
    Make sure people know that you understand that they are tired/frustrated. Give them the appropriate outlet for directing their anger.
    Keep open body language: arms out wide, feet apart. Face the people you are greeting, angle yourself so they walk in the right direction.
    Cheer when the crowd moves in the right direction. Thank them for their understanding.
    Treat all problems as valid problems, but do not let them get larger than they are. A good “it’s a quick walk down the hallway” is much better than “well, it’s going to be a bit farther down the end of that hallway”.

    I am also an expert enthusiast. At work I celebrate everything, even the small stuff. I am always willing to do something (within reason) with a smile. Biggest tip: ask if you can help someone with something, especially if they’re having a tough time.

    I’ve earned the respect of electricians by spotting lights out in a museum within minutes of walking into the exhibit. My manager only beat me in finding a light out before I did once in the 2.5 years we worked together.

    Tips:
    Walk the space daily. So well that you know it without looking.
    Look for every light fixture. Check every one. Count them, to make sure.
    Look at the light, not only the wall it is shining on. Sometimes the light is only an accent and is unnecessary until you realize that it’s out.

    My non-work related skill is being able to befriend gerbils very quickly. The big thing with them is recognizing that they nip when they are nervous. Every gerbil wants to sit differently in your hands. Let them find their comfort spot. Gerbils are also quite physical with each other. It is ok to roughhouse a little bit with them, except for tails. I’ve never had one bite me for food or in play (except for one), even if I am holding food and run it under the gerbil’s nose. I also have a talent for holding three gerbils on my lap at once. It usually just takes being aware of how they feel on your lap. They all walk differently. Some spring, others amble. Also, hold them as individuals daily. They need the break from each other (but should be kept in groups), just like we do. It increases your bond with them as well. No less than 30 minutes per gerbil per day. If you have a solo gerbil (which you shouldn’t), double that time. They are also very smart. They learn their names within a week, and I had two that knew “up” and “down”. All of mine knew “no” but liked to disregard because they’re cheeky, stubborn creatures.

  212. Ingafromsweden