It’s Time To Step Out Of Your Cocoon And Connect Properly With Others.
"The future's in the air
Can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change
Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
In the wind of change”
Wind Of Change By the Scorpions (click here for the music)
“Throughout your career you need to dedicate time every week to building strong connections with key stakeholders, customers and colleagues”
Manager in a coaching briefing to my new client.
As we emerge from the cocoons of lockdown and our virtual world, into a hybrid way of working there will be the opportunity to grow and foster our professional networks once again. Be mindful that some people will feel strange reconnecting in person with colleagues after an extended period working in physical isolation. 2021 presents a unique opportunity to revisit old habits and think about what you want to do differently. It’s the perfect time to pause to ensure that you don’t just accumulate linked in connections (or business cards) but build real meaningful connections with people. What are the benefits of a network?
Learning new things
Understanding Market Opportunities
Generating New Ideas and Innovations
Making Great New Friends
How do you make meaningful connections of reciprocity in a short amount of time?
“The point here is to turn the whole idea of traditional networking on its head:if you want to build a network of people who recognise your value, don’t focus on what you can get. Figure out what you can give.”
Whilst the research shows that it takes many hours to establish close connections, the reality of the professional environment is such that we need to make a good first impression (click here for my blog on first impressions). As with every important conversation the key is in the preparation: Self-awareness: define your values, and personal work purpose, set some goals relating to the reasons for expanding your network and connecting with others. Set the Aim: Be careful not to be too ambitious or preoccupied with your own agenda. It may be to simply understand what matters to the other person on both a professional and personal level. Achieve the necessary mindset: Regular readers would be aware of the need to listen with curiosity in order to fully understand what matters to another person. When we are stressed, preoccupied with our own agenda or have a preconceived idea about a person it inhibits our ability to really listen. Switch off from previous work: (click here for my blog on relaxation hacks and the third space) Identify and regulate your emotions: keep the nerves, excessive frustration at bay so you have a clear head. (click here for my blog on feelings) Identify any personal assumptions or biases that may have an impact, so that you can suspend judgement and listen with curiosity. Look for genuine opportunities to help: (click here for my blog on give and take, and here for my blog on why people don’t ask for help )
“At the highest level, the goal is to help people because that’s a value of yours—or because you believe in them and their values.”
Set up the opportunity to remain in contact: To remove the awkwardness, if appropriate it can be helpful to gently raise the topic of the best way to keeping in touch in the future. Follow up: The timing and nature of the follow up thank you email an excellent way of demonstrating that you genuinely listened and care. Remember even if you are unable to help in the way you expected it is polite to convey this. Finally, it is important to take the time to explain the positive impact of their advice, suggestions, and time. Often the benefits of a meeting take a while to come to fruition, making contact to share this delayed outcome is delightful for all involved.
“Well .. the conversation with the head of finance did not go as expected. He kept asking difficult questions that I couldn’t answer properly, I felt misunderstood, a bit sill and embarrassed and that I had wasted his time. A week later the penny dropped, his was actually being kind. The questions caused me to think laterally, to view the situation from multiple perspectives, skills I will definitely need as I progress in my career.”
What are the fundamentals of a good relationship?
Understanding- I understand what is important to you
Validation – I respect you and what you want
Caring- I take active steps to help you meet your needs.
What about the longer term?
Fortunately building a network is not reliant on you telling people how fabulous you are, asking them for things or trying to sell something to them. (click here for my blog on authentic relationships).
So find a natural way to keep in touch over the long term, remember what they have told you in the past, and ensure that include polite questions that will lead to a deeper connection and understanding of what matters to the other person.
There is that common situation in which two casual friends bump into each other, and one asks the other: "What’s been going on in your life?" “That action is meaningful because it says that whatever is happening in your life I want to bring into the present in my relationship with you,” says Hall. “Consider how many people you don’t bother to ask. You wander into the office and you say, hey. That’s it.”
What about the introverts?
“I’m an introvert,” someone inevitably tells me when I speak about building a professional network. “Networking is just not for me.”
According to the research while extroverts gain energy from being around others it doesn't necessarily mean that they are spending time getting to know people on a deep enough level to properly connect. In fact, some introverts are better networkers because they concentrate on the deeper connection with fewer people.
Whom should you build connections with?
In the short term it’s important to decide if you want to focus on maintaining or expanding your network. Maintaining a network
“Little things I should have said and done I just never took the time But you were always on my mind You were always on my mind”
You Were Always on My Mind by Willie Nelson (click here for three versions of the song)
Beyond the obvious list of colleagues, direct reports, customers, and stakeholders, there are other members of your current world with whom a connection can be fabulous. Colleagues in other parts of the business: Regular readers would be aware that collaboration across an organisation is essential, reaching out to colleagues to better understand their role and how you can be of help is extremely informative and beneficial.
Dormant ties “just because a tie becomes dormant does not mean that uncontacted individuals go into hibernation; instead, they typically continue to encounter new and different experiences, observations, and information. Thus, reconnections may provide a new, diverse array of independently accumulated knowledge”
Levin, Walter, and Murnighan
Dormant ties are: former classmates; co-workers, or any contacts from a previous career (to name a few). Unlike complete strangers, dormant ties are easier to connect with in a meaningful way given your shared background. In addition, it is likely that they will have unique connections and knowledge compared to your current network. If it is a person with whom you had a strong positive connection, reflect on what was exceptional about your past interactions, and leverage off the experience for reconnection.
How do you expand your network?
There are creative ways to organically expand your network beyond the traditional networking activities like attendance at events, and involvement in professional associations and groups. Host Your Own Events: Hosting your own get-togethers is a good way to add value for existing clients and connections, and can also be an opportunity to meet and develop relationships with prospective clients. Bring a friend The next time you consider inviting a current client, connection or strategic partner to an event or catch up, ask them to bring someone they think you should meet and offer to do the same. Do good work Over time your reputation will build and people will seek you out. Be cognisant of how you respond to these requests to ensure that (unless they are trying to sell you something) your reputation of being open, curious and helpful is maintained.
“It’s true that networking can help you accomplish great things. But this obscures the opposite truth: Accomplishing great things helps you develop a network.”
What about wellbeing ?
Regular readers would be aware that when done in a genuine manner, connecting with others to form real relationships has a positive influence on wellbeing. For example, it increases our resources in the form of genuine social connection, gratitude and helping. It decreases our demands by reducing interpersonal conflict and receiving advice and support.
If you are feeling uncertain about reaching out to people, that your interpersonal skill’s are a bit rusty, don’t worry you are not alone. The easiest way to gain confidence is to rehearse in a safe environment. You can approach a close friend or colleague, or send me an email and make a time for to practice.
References: Burkus, D. (n.d.). Why introverts might actually be better networkers. [online] Quartz. Available at: https://qz.com/work/1277113/networking-events-why-introverts-might-actually-be-better-at-them/ Levin, D.Z., Walter, J. and Murnighan, J.K. (2011). Dormant Ties: The Value Of Reconnecting. Organization Science, 22(4), pp.923–939. Coburn, D. (2016). Don’t Waste Your Time on Networking Events. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2016/09/dont-waste-your-time-on-networking-events [Accessed 18 Oct. 2021]. Hall, J.A. (2018). How many hours does it take to make a friend? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(4), pp.1278–1296. Hall J.A. (2018) How many hours does it take to make a friend? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 36 ( 4,) 1278-1296 https://hbr.org/podcast/2021/07/stop-networking-start-connecting