NETWORKING FOR INTROVERTS
‘Networking’. It’s a word that can send shivers, or at least moderate apprehension, down the spines of some people. The very word for some conjures images of ‘working a room’, engaging in small talk with strangers, clinking wine glasses, attending social functions, doing deals and, for some, spending time in a space well outside ones comfort zone. Nevertheless networking is an important function of any venture, be it business or social. Knowing people, knowing what is going on in the market or a circle of interest, being able to pick up the phone and make contact with someone, and simply selling ideas and products through the people we know is a vital skill. It’s not one that comes easy to some, despite the fact it is important and can also be, personally, very rewarding. Many people will acknowledge that the networking event they were dreading often turns out to better than they expected. All it takes is one contact and one enjoyable conversation to make the time spent worthwhile. Extroverts usually find networking engagements less confronting. Energised as they are by conversation, more talkative by nature, and more comfortable in crowds of people they seem, to their introverted colleagues at least, at ease. They’re not. Some are, true, but many aren’t. They just hide it better and have better natural skills at finding comfort in that networking space. So, in sympathy for my introvert networking colleagues, here are a few tips to help the introvert network more effectively and comfortably. 1) Find the ‘bubble’. Learn to be more comfortable than you currently are being ‘on your own’ in a room. This is difficult, I know, but a very important skill to work on. Don’t fast walk to the corner of a gathering where you don’t know anyone - saunter slowly. This allows to have time to listen to conversations, catch snippets of information, possibly see someone who know and segue over to them, and slows down your heart and respiratory rate. You’re also less likely to say ‘Excuse me’ as you pass by people, finding those natural gaps that open up in a crowd more easily. It’s OK standing on your own, watching and listening. There will be others doing the same. Head over to them and say hello. A few will like being on their own, but most will feel like you and be grateful that someone said hello. At the end of the day the true introvert is more comfortable with the one-on-one conversation anyway. 2) Piggyback. Attend evens with a presentation of some type. This gives you a reason to go and removes the pressure of having to talk in the ‘networking space’ beforehand. The presentation topic, presenter, or venue gives an easy opening for conversation with others, and gives you a reason for being there – learning. We network by ‘piggybacking’ off the learning experience we are there for. 3) Avoid solo flights. Simple - bring along a mate, a colleague, your partner. Fly as a team and engage together with others. 4) Remember that conversation isn’t about talking, it’s about listening. The art of networking isn’t about how many business cards you can get or give, it’s about making an impact on others and ensuring they are comfortable around you. Ask good questions, listen and follow up on what’s important to the others you are engaging with. People enjoy talking about what’s important to them as long as they feel safe to do so and people are interested. Get interested in others. They’ll carry the conversation and you’ll learn a lot. In general, they’ll also want to learn about you too and that’s a great chance to exchange business or contact cards and catch up afterwards to further the contact that’s been made. 5) Bring business cards – let them do some talking. How often have we forgotten business cards? In informal business cultures this isn’t such a big deal but in formal business cultures this is seen as unprofessional, as though you’re not prepared or aren’t serious. Keep half a dozen in your wallet. If someone gives you their card it’s an unwritten invitation, at least in Australasia for you to give them yours. Spend some time looking at it and reading the details, front and back. Don’t just put it in your pocket. It represents someone just as yours represents you. Respect it. There may also be details on it that can further the conversation. 6) Be clear on your goal. What are you attending the networking event for? Is it to meet people, learn, gain contacts, be there because your company has to have someone there, attend a presentation or training event? Whatever the reason it’s important you know what your goal is so that, no matter what happens, you know what you need to do to achieve it and whether you have or not. Time is valuable, don’t waste it. 7) Practice the soft introduction. Put simply I distinguish the soft introduction as one which doesn’t set any expectation of the other person. An example of a hard introduction (I use the term ‘hard’ figuratively to denote something which might require an extension into a discomfort zone for some) might be, ‘Hi, what company do you work for and what services do you offer?’ Not an unreasonable question but one that for some gets straight to business and implies an expectation of ‘correctness of response’ or else ones credibility is negatively impacted. An example of a soft introduction might be, for example, ‘Hi, I’m Jonathan. What did you think of ....?’ accompanied by a smile and some direct eye context. No expectation, just a friendly welcome. In most cases you’ll at least get the person’s name, some body language indicators showing relief that someone started the conversation, a handshake and smile back, and a chance to talk further. 8) Introduce your neighbours. This is very powerful, especially when you attend an event with others. If you know people who are with you introduce them to others in the group you are part of who don’t know them and, if appropriate, some context. For example, ‘This is Sam, he works at such and such’, ‘This is Anna, we came together and work for the same company,’ or ‘This is Brian, he’s down from Auckland [see Brisbane, Edinburgh, New York] for a few days on business and has come along to see how we do things down here.’ It’s a great way to include others into a conversation, take pressure of yourself, and be seen as someone who is inclusive. Remember, the whole point of networking is to make a positive impact and gain name recognition or further opportunity for contact in some way. There are various ways we can do that and the above ideas are very useful tips for the introverted networker.
MANAGING GENERATION Y
Despite the fact that Generation Y has been in the workforce for the past decade or so I still get asked how to communicate with, manage and understand todays ‘youth’. What is clear is that, for many of us, there can sometimes be challenges relating to those a generation or two different from our own. I get asked, just as often, by todays under 30’s how to understand the perspective of a boss who is fifteen years or more their senior. The truth is that there are greater differences in the workplace than generational ones, but that nevertheless generational differences are very real, and have a real impact on whether we understand, respect, and get on with those we work with. In brief terms todays Generation Y’s (Gen Y’s) are those born between 1981 and around the mid-late 1990’s. There are varied opinions on when the cut off points are exactly and, like star signs (but with more scientific basis), some of us on the cusp have characteristics across two generational boundaries. The Gen Y birth cohort, as a result of social and technological change, parental influences and the like, have developed some very distinct characteristics. Here are the TOP FIVE TIPS for creating a more engaged Gen Y employee.1) Get over yourself: A Gen Y wants a boss who is their peer. They look for collaboration, joint decision-making, and a chance to have their say. Their boss shouldn’t be remote and sit behind a closed door all day. They want access, a chance to learn, and opportunities for the boss to share their knowledge and wisdom – providing they have Gen Y’s respect. Let go of traditional views of autocratic leadership (if you have that habit) if you have a Gen Y team. The buck may stop with you and Gen Y’s understand that, but along the way they expect to have a voice.2) Become a mentor or find one: Coming from an education system that has encouraged self-directed learning and a clear pathway to success (ie. receiving a grade or score that denotes success or absence of failure) most Gen Y’s respond to a senior individual who they believe can guide them, support them, and give some time to assist their careers. Mentors are sounding boards, provide an opportunity to reflect on decisions made and decisions pending, and are valuable for Gen Y’s in being able to guide them through challenges at work, in their careers, and in their lives. So what if it means we start to customise our attention to the needs of an employee? It just means we get the best out of them, they stay longer and are more understanding of the business and what it’s all about.3) Include them: Almost everyone likes to have a say, and Gen Y’s are no exception. They seek to be asked, involved, and sought out for their opinion. They have ideas and want to share them. They have knowledge that can be valuable. There is a strong desire among many Gen Y’s to have their views listened to. This isn’t the same as an expectation they will be agreed with. Far from a burden on an organisation this is an excellent opportunity to identify new ideas not hamstrung by old thinking, and discuss with younger employees the why’s and why not’s of decisions made. What better way to educate, show value for input, and encourage a continual desire to be curious and think?4) Give feedback: A myth about Gen Y’s is that they want to be praised and thanked all the time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, younger employees appreciate acknowledgement and recognition for contribution and effort made, as we all do. But, what they are seeking is confirmation that they are on the right track. This is not a sign of general lack of confidence. Rather, it is a sign they value their time and a) do not want to waste it, and b) gain satisfaction by adding value and doing what is meaningful for the business.5) Embrace the ‘Why?’: Why is it that as we age we become less curious? Gen Y’s ask “Why?” more than any other generation, and will probably continue to as they age as well. After all, they’ve been educated to be curious, ask questions and challenge assumptions throughout the information age, and rewarded for doing so. Unfortunately many older employees and managers interpret someone asking “Why?” as a challenge to authority or an established method, process or way of thinking about something. The thing is, there’s another way of looking at the question “Why?” And that is that Gen Y’s just want to know. They are curious to know why something is done a certain way – and that’s it! It’s not a challenge, it’s just a question. And an invitation to educate and maybe learn something ourselves along the way as we try and explain or scrutinize an approach we are simply used to:)
GETTING THE BEST OUT OF STAKEHOLDER AGREEMENTS
Stakeholder agreements are a useful tool to aid the achievement of mutually agreed outcomes in any partnership, alliance or joint venture. Whether between business partners, commercial entities, investors, suppliers and consumers of goods, or a service provider and community user stakeholder agreements allow a framework that confirms the expectations of each party, protocols of operation, and goals or objectives shared by all and to which all parties are, theoretically, aligned. A good stakeholder agreement clarifies roles and responsibilities, informs planning and day to day operations, assists the management of risk, and aids constructive communication. Every stakeholder agreement, however, is merely the start of a journey shared by all those involved. It is not a static document but one subject to changes in market forces and personal circumstances, alterations in financial interest, and movements in political and economic conditions. All too often excellent stakeholder agreements, and parties entering into such agreements with great intentions and a clear vision and understanding, come across rocky shores that with some minor planning can be navigated with reasonable ease. What are some key factors for stakeholders to keep in mind, particularly when constructive working relationships are key to mutual success, to get the best out of their stakeholder agreement?1. Clarify what consultation and inclusion means. Of all the factors I hear most about that negatively impact most stakeholder agreements it is the dual issues of consultation and inclusion. Both are different but related. After all, if you have a ‘stake’ in something this is often interpreted as a degree of ownership and input into the process(s) undertaken, and what the final result and shape of the ultimate objectives looks like, irrelevant of personal direct investment or involvement day to day. Clarifying mechanisms of consultation and inclusion, means of communication, and key responsibilities of parties to the agreement plays a significant role in managing emotion, improving relevance and accountability, and reducing the twin challenges of unnecessary fear and complexity. 2. Provide a mechanism to ensure key assumptions made within the agreement remain valid. Circumstances can and will change. An agreement highly relevant last year may need tweaking now as a result of unanticipated changes to factors impacting the original outcome. Regular review, every 12 months minimum (preferably more frequently), as part of business as usual will ensure a stakeholder agreement that remains current to the best knowledge and ability of the stakeholders involved. Minor alteration now amidst a culture of adaptability and continuing focus on relevance is preferable to radical change two years later when it is clear earlier modification would have been in all party’s interests and has impaired achievement of stakeholder goals.3. Ensure a way to monitor and evaluate milestones and key measurables (both tangible and intangible). This provides a structured opportunity to evaluate progress, ensures sharing of outcome information relevant to all parties, and enables an opportunity for continued stakeholder awareness and involvement, no matter the level of ‘investment’ in the agreement itself. Sample questions might include, for example: What are our measurements of success? What are our key milestones and why have we decided on them? How are we tracking? What is our forecast and what factors are likely to impact that forecast in the short- and medium-terms? How are we ensuring continuing alignment of core values? How are we managing known risk factors?4. Generate an opportunity to clarify core values held by different stakeholders at the start of the process. Clearly this is far more complicated for large and complex agreements between stakeholders with broad geographic, demographic, financial, and cultural variation and diverse objectives (e.g. between a public entity and a metropolitan community). However, it is this very appreciation of diversity and incorporation of it that aids the development of robust and enduring stakeholder relationships. Far more depth in values similarities and differences can be explored where stakeholder agreements exist between a few parties with relatively narrow interests (e.g. stakeholders in a financial investment or business opportunity), some significant personally controllable factors, and greater relative influence on the success and/or failure of the objectives the stakeholder agreement is designed to meet. This is referred to as the ‘Psychological Contract’ and relates to what assumptions and expectations we have regarding how others are likely to think (interpret information), act (information provided and actions undertaken as priority), and feel (the style or manner in which information is passed on or discussed and reaction to disappointment or disagreement). At the end of the day this is about identifying the hidden factors that can pull us toward (build trust) or push us away (distrust) from our agreement partners.
DEALING WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE
When we think of someone “difficult” to deal with we typically think of someone resistant, stubborn, disagreeable and unwilling to compromise. At work this might be the employee who regularly sabotages a meeting, a colleague who dominates the team by force of a critical and unsupportive type of personality, a manager who is autocratic and nitpicking, or a good old fashioned bully. People who are difficult, however, also include those who are overly submissive, passive-aggressive, ignore others, and are unmotivated and unwilling to take personal responsibility. The most common workplace difficult people are the inherited problem, the bully, and the ego trip. The inherited problem is typically an employee who has been around for some time and is the dominant personality in the team, but who has learned that they rule the roost. Challenges to their authority are met with resistance, at times bullying behaviour, alienation of the party that offends them, and team politics. Often the team is polarised around their followers and the others. The “others” consist of those who oppose the dominant person and those who want nothing to do with the situation and have become desensitised. A new manager comes along, recognises the problem and tries to tackle it. Unfortunately the manager realises that the dominant person has everyone so cowed and unwilling to challenge them, even top management at times, that the new manager feels out on a limb. The inherited problem has learned that he or she has more endurance than the new manager. The bully comes in various guises. Interrogation, intimidation, and passive-aggressive techniques are their favourite weapons of war. The interrogator is critical and fault-finding, focuses on details and not the big picture, is impossible to please, and their main form of attack is to undermine peoples’ sense of professional competence. The intimidator is personally aggressive in the way they use their body and voice, reacts with hostility to challenge and questions, sees compromise as weaknesses, is territorial and their main form of attack is to peoples’ sense of personal safety and self-worth. What their targets can do is not questioned but who they are – their character. The passive-aggressive bully conquers through division. They are political animals. They can be nice one day and mean the next, and often attack when people are in a weak position and there are few witnesses around. They ostracise, criticise indirectly, and talk behind peoples’ backs but never to their face when others are around. It is this sense of unpredictability and unfairness, and the difficulty victims have in making others understand behaviour they are experiencing, that creates significant health and performance problems long term. The ego trip has a deluded sense of their own self-worth, irreplacability, and importance to the organisation. They may be good at what they do, used to be good at what they do, or never were any good at what they do. The point is that their perception is their reality not matter what hard evidence others give them. They do not react well to those who do not give them their due respect, expect to be listened to, and expect to be acknowledged for their expertise. In their own words, “You don’t know how good I am at what I do.” Ironically they’re usually right but they way they go about it often means that their colleagues no longer care how good they are. The ego trip has lost perspective of what is negotiable and non-negotiable. That is why they argue over the smallest things, because to them they are hugely important and symbolic of their personal and professional status. At the end of the day what unifies all difficult people is that they resist what we want them do either do or think and they do not want to, or are unable to, accept personal responsibility for their actions. In others words, nothing is their fault. There is always a reason for their bad behaviour, whether that’s a bully yelling at a colleague, an employee quietly sabotaging an initiative, or an impossible to please customer. Managing difficult people successfully requires an understanding of three key issues: the difficult person themselves, the situation at hand, and you. People are difficult for a reason and understanding aspects of personality, background, history and expectations provide insights into what is motivating and causing a particular behaviour or pattern of behaviour. The situation at the time can generate a degree of conflict as a result of past experience in similar situations, the personal symbolism and meaningfulness of events for people, and the specific goals of the individuals involved. The final piece of the puzzle is you. How comfortable are you confronting difficult issues and individuals? What expectations do you have of people? What personal issues do you bring to a meeting or casual conversation that affects how you interpret what people say and do? In other words, how we interpret things makes a big difference to getting the outcome we want, even if that outcome is simply the desire to walk away calm (at least on the outside), not to second guess ourselves for hours afterwards, and sleep well that night. Let’s face it, not all difficult people go away and many can only be managed, which comes down to managing their impact on ourselves. For managers and business owners there are a number of strategies that help generate an environment where difficult behaviour is either lessened or makes management of it easier. Firstly, select for fit as well as ability. The old adage that we hire on technical ability and fire on attitude is often right. Willingness to learn, accommodate others, communicate openly, and adapt to the needs of the team rather than the desires of the individual are all important characteristics. Together they minimise the selection of naturally difficult people and help create a group culture where difficult people are less likely to be tolerated. Second, implement a thorough induction process where behavioural standards and expectations are made clear, alongside the consequences for breaching those standards. Doing so, provides little excuse for people to say they were not told what behaviour was appropriate or inappropriate, and removes the danger of making assumptions. In other words, assuming that everyone knows what is expected because it is “common sense”. Third, manage behaviour as proactively and constructively as you manage performance. It is well recognised that the impact of a bully or resistant colleague on employee engagement, innovation, openness to new ideas, adaptability, and resilience has significant impact on staff health and productivity. Everyone who has any team experience knows that the difference between a team that gets on well and respects each other and one that does not is quite large. If managers and team leaders are expected to manage difficult people, then business owners and senior managers need to provide them the training and support to do so effectively. Fourth, make standards clear and reinforce them. Tackle difficult or problematic behaviour straight away, as soon as you have firm evidence. Managing behaviour is problematic because it is grey and vague, subjective, and often un-witnessed by those in positions of authority but it can be done if behavioural standards are upfront and clearly understood by all. Get the advice you need and start communicating to the key people involved as to what behaviour needs to change, why it needs to change, and the consequences to the business and individuals of it not changing. Fifth, up-skill key managers and get the right advice. Managers and business owners sometimes do not have the knowledge and skills to manage difficult people the way they wish they did. They may have the desire, but early experience teaches them that the cost can be high in terms of personal time and energy. The cost of mistakes can also be high in legal liability, ruined work relationships, the cost of replacing staff, and the ongoing impact of difficult people in influencing the development of a negative workplace culture. With all this in mind it is also important to recognise that there is a difference between a genuinely difficult person and someone who is simply difficult for “you”. Lovers, friends, and workmates will always have debates, robust conversations, disagreements and at, times, be on opposite sides of the fence. Yet we would hardly describe those we like or respect as difficult in general. We understand that their perspective is not one we take personally and their communication with us reflects their understanding of our situation, willingness to listen, and consideration of a perspective different to their own. With genuinely difficult people, however, there is none of this. A final tip – plan ahead. Just as a house can’t be built without a plan if you want it to survive more than a few years, the same principle applies to managing difficult people. Planning ensures you think ahead and remain objective. Have courage – and you may just be able to deal with those difficult people better than you thought.
TIPS FOR KEEPING HEALTHY WHEN LIFE IS GETTING HECTIC
Every now and then most of us face a time in our life, usually more than once, maybe more than once a year, where the obligations and commitments we have just catch up with us. We might have over-promised, we might be expected to over-deliver, we might be juggling multiple obligations or dealing with repeatedly complex problems. We might be extraordinarily time poor with not enough hours in the day to do what we want to, when we need to, and take care of ourselves at the same time. The universal thread that combines all of these together is fatigue. We become tired earlier in the day, we become more irritable more easily than we used to, we lack the energy we used to have and we feel like we’re working on someone else’s best day and not our own. In short we’re a bit frazzled and know we need to either have a break or re-think how we are doing things in order to keep our head above water.At times like this it’s useful to take a little time out to recharge our batteries, manage our day a little better, and re-prioritise the time we spend on others urgent needs compared to the important needs of our own. After all, if we take care of ourselves we are in a much better position to take care of others, both personally and professionally. Here are seven tips when we need to self-manage, re-charge, and maintain our energy despite not being able to take a break even if we really want to. None of them are complicated and none of them are new. But when we are hectic we tend to forget about these basic strategies for self-management amidst the busyness of our life, and we simply do not give ourselves permission to do them. Stick with them and commit to them and they’re tips that will change our lives, for the better.1. Go to bed earlier. Just aim for getting to bed an hour sooner than normal. Improved sleep hygiene is critical to allowing us to sleep best, uninterrupted and with better quality deep sleep. Occasionally we stay up late for work and while that is essential sometimes most of the time that’s just bad planning or a lifestyle choice. Wat we need to be cognizant of s the consequence of that choice. Most of us stay up late because in a busy day we lack time to ourselves and late nights provide us that self-time but at the cost of seep. Improved sleep means improved cellular recovery, better energy levels, and better productivity. No electronic devices an hour or two before bed – let your brain switch off. Go old-fashioned – read a book.2. Never schedule more than 80% of your day in advance. Allow some wiggle room in your day; I guarantee you will use it productively in some way. This allows time for those meetings that go over time, the emails that take longer to respond to, and the opportunity to take advantage of positive time on a task or with others that might involve more investment of time than you initially planned for. It is OK and understandable to squeeze in as much as we can, and sometimes we need to do this, but not as often as we think we do.3. Prioritise time for yourself – creating a ‘meeting’ with yourself. There is a saying in business that if we need to spend time working ‘on’ the business, and not just in it. How are you prioritizing yourself each day to spend a little time working on you and not for others. Maybe it’s that first morning coffee quiet time browsing the news, a catch up with a friend, reading something of interest or entertainment, exercise, thinking and reflecting, or simply finding a quiet space to enjoy the solitude. We all need a way to recharge the batteries and work on ourselves in some way. A good way to do this is to create a meeting with yourself. We don’t like to miss meetings with others, so why not give ourselves the same courtesy?4. Breathe. Learn the difference between breathing using the diaphragm (deep breathing) and using the thoracic cavity only (shallow breathing). We need oxygen for many functions in the body including skeletal muscle and brain activity. The way we breathe is one of the quickest things that changes with a busy life, and not always for the best.5. Be aware of negative momentum. That feeling of just go go go and not being able to get off the treadmill. Multiple busy weekends, multiple late nights and early starts, multiple commitments that thin out your engagement and sense of being in control. Reset your day and upcoming priorities. Look at what is within capability and what is beyond or blurring the edges as to what you can do with reasonable quality, attention to necessary detail or true engagement with the people involved. Choose what you can do and excel at; not merely accept commitments and comply by tolerating them. It is not always easy to do this, but for many of us it genuinely is a matter of giving ourselves permission to change some habits and get creative as to possible solutions.6. Get active first. When you rise in the morning do some exercise. Whether we prefer to exercise in the morning or afternoon, middle of the day or evening, get up and do something; anything. Stretch, cycle, some press ups and core work (if there is one thing you do for exercise make sure you do core and pelvic floor work), yoga, a walk or run. If you are not a morning person that is OK, just get active for 10 minutes to wake the body up and prepare your metabolism for the day. You will feel much much better for it. This is important for any age but the older we get making sure the machine that is our body is maintained is critical for our ability to enjoy life and function well physically.7. Limit processed foods. When we are in a hurry we often rush and grab something quick, easy and often processed. Plan ahead and develop some simple routines. Leftovers from the night before for lunch, a quick sandwich/roll and some heathy snacks. Often when we nip out for a bite to eat because we cannot be bothered cooking it costs us more than it would to cook and takes as much time by the time we got in the car, went to the restaurant or fast food chain, and got home again. This isn’t about being the health Police; it’s about making choices that make a real difference. By all means eat processed foods every now and then but try very hard not to use them as our ‘go to’ when we are tired and busy.