What Networking and Your College Room mate have in Common

Allow me to start by asking you whether you’ve been approached before for some “change” by someone at random. Maybe they needed it to call someone, or buy a meal or perhaps gather enough for a bus or train ticket.

Has that ever happened to you?

Here is where it gets interesting, can you remember the thought(s) that was/were running through your head at the time? Do you recall how you felt when you were asked? And if this happened to you more than once, how many times did you actually have change in your pocket?

Its important to preface this next bit with the disclaimer that everyone is different and these scenarios often times bring out the best or worst in people, our goal is to simply focus on the emotional psychology that most people go through before they even make the decision to offer or withhold change.

I went to school in downtown Toronto and this scenario has often occurred several times in a single day for me – my initial reaction was fear, I wasn’t sure if the man was asking or demanding but as time went on and I began to experience it more often – I honestly can’t say that I have become “use to it”.

It’s deeply troubling when you see a person that is in apparent need, so it wasn’t “easy” to just walk by even if they didn’t really “need it”.

But consistently and in every case, I felt uncomfortable.

I worked evenings and weekends to finance my education, and when I didn’t I was studying as hard as I could to excel in it. It wasn’t easy – it was brutal! It was hard, and it hurt like hell. I knew that the road will be tough, I knew it would be hard but I was brave enough accept the challenge.

So every time I passed by a person asking for “spare change” I felt like they wanted the end result of my sacrifices. I was also very distressed and bothered by the fact that they really didn’t care who I was, they just wanted the spare change. They didn’t really care if they got it from me, an 80-year old lady on disability or an 8 year old girl who just dropped her allowance money – they just wanted the end result – the change.

At no point did we mention that this “person in need” is of a specific type in society, this could be the man on the corner of Yonge & Dundas or your college roommate who is asking for money. I did this for a reason – the person asking for change is of little relevance, what’s important is how the person being asked feels when this is happening.

…Why?

Because if we understand how asking people for something, without knowing them, working with them and establishing a relationship with them, can make them feel then, perhaps we can be better at …Networking.

I hope I haven’t lost you.

Networking in a professional setting is where a bunch of people, diverse in professional and cultural backgrounds get together for the goal of building and expanding their network of professional relationships.

People who do not know one another, have not worked with each other, and do not have any existing relationships or ties.

Networking events were always a hotbed for professionals seeking opportunities. Even in corporations today, internal networking events or sessions are often (but not always) frequented by those who “want-something-from-somebody” and see it as an opportunity to “get close” and “go in for the kill”.

Now whether you are new grad attending a networking session in hopes of pitching yourself as a strong candidate for a new role or an existing employee hoping get face time with a senior executive to market a question or an idea or even a concern. I want you to think about the feelings that are generated when complete strangers ask you for something. First impressions are extremely valuable, because they will be the ones that determine whether you will be remembered after you turn around and walk away.

My personal success at networking has always come from my desire to know more about the person I’m networking with, to understand them a little better and to perhaps get a view into what drives them, what keeps them moving. I don’t do this as part of an illicit scheme or strategy, I do this because I genuinely care about understanding the person I’m networking with and more importantly taking an interest in them.

When you take an interest in people, something strange happens – they start to take an interest in you. It’s in this special phase of the networking relationship that people start to help each other – it’s because they begin to care. You no longer become someone seeking a service, or a favour. You no longer become a person seeking to cash in on their years of service that have gotten them to where they are today, and perhaps more importantly, you become the type of person that cared enough to seek a connection when you didn’t necessarily require or need anything. That my friend is rare! It is sadly rare.

So my advice is to keep networking, keep smiling, keep building connections and keep taking an interest in others and learn to enjoy this process even if you don’t tangibly benefit because by doing so you are establishing yourself as a very rare commodity in today’s world of business – and rare commodities tend to have very high value.

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Know how to say No!

We all know how exciting it can be when you first start out in a new role, especially one that you like and enjoy.  There is this great sense of satisfaction coupled with the determination to ‘prove yourself’ and prove that you are capable of doing the job at a high level.

During this time you may find that you’re more likely to accept the volume (and nature) of work that comes your way – after all, who wants to say no to something after just starting out?  Not the best strategy career wise.

This ‘thing’ that forces us to say ‘yes’ early on in our career is also attributed to our need to belong and be liked by our peers.  We try to over-please and over-deliver so that we can earn our stripes so-to-speak and are included and recognized among our colleagues as people of value.

Its equally true that as we grow into our role, and progress in our careers we become (ideally) better at saying ‘No’ to the things we cannot do or the things that put us above our capacity – and its great that we are able to identify what we can and cannot deliver based on our capacity, because this translates into a healthy work-life balance but we must be careful in how we do this.

Suppose you’re working at 100% when your manager approaches you about taking on an additional task, they say that its very important and they need your help to get it done.  What would you say?

Well, here are your options:

1)      You can elect to say ‘No’ I am already working at 100% and this would keep me in the office longer than I want to be.  I have been working non-stop these past few months and this is too much! So NO! I can’t do it.

Let’s assume you choose this option, its well within your right to provide this answer and it may very well be a 100% factual description of your state at that time.  But first you have to ask yourself, what am I trying to achieve? If I’m trying to convey that I am not planning on staying in the office any longer or a sacrificing personal time to do this, then you may have achieved your objective. 

But what other effect does this statement have?  It may tell your manager that you are unable to manage additional work and perhaps reached your capacity within your role.  It may also communicate that you’re not a person that can be relied on in key situations or that perhaps you’re not someone they consider to be a problem-solver, someone that works around obstacles to achieve what is required.

You may not necessarily agree, and you may even object that such conclusions can be drawn from that statement, but these are possible conclusions, and if your managers come to any one of those conclusions they may not be enablers or positive reinforcement to your career.

Well then, how can we communicate our message of not wanting to work overtime without leading our managers to have a negative perception about us?

2)       We could say “Sure! No problem, it sounds like you really need to get this done so we better focus on it.  In the meantime I’ve been working on the weekly metrics report and the vendor project to meet this week’s deadline, which one do you think we should move-out to give me some time to work on this?

Ah! This response does 2 things.  1) It certainly communicates to your manager that your bucket is full and if they want to add something to this bucket then what are they willing to remove or takeaway? 2) It puts the decision back on your manager, now your manager must decide “is this something that really needs to be done now or can it wait until the other priorities are completed?”  In either case, you won’t have to work beyond your capacity.

This option also gives your manager the impression that you’re always willing to help, and you’ll always find ways to get things accomplished.  Even if your manager ends up deciding that your current priorities are more important, they will be the ones making this decision but at the end of the day you will come away from this situation as the person who was willing to help.  We didn’t change WHAT was communicated; we changed HOW it was communicated.

In both scenarios above you will have effectively communicated that you are busy and running at 100% but only 1 of those scenarios positively reinforces your career in the long-term.

The biggest misconception that people make is that we need to have big career aspirations to communicate the way we did in Option 2, but that is simply false.  Option 2 reinforces your character as a team-player, a person whom others can rely on, a problem-solver and someone with a positive outlook.  Regardless of Career aspirations we all want to be regarded as supportive people, who are approachable and well-liked by our peers much like that day when we first started. 

Take ownership over your career and continue to build yourself regardless! 

“People will not remember what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel.”