Friday, December 18, 2009

Speak Easy Note #15 - T'is the Season to Connect with People

Last week I wrote about support systems. This week as we are deep into the holiday season, it feels timely to talk about another important aspect of relationship-building and relationship management: NETWORKING. During the holidays we traditionally reach out to people we do not stay in touch with at any other time. We send holiday cards to old friends that we haven’t seen for years. The belief is strong that there is little or no hiring taking place during the holidays. Hiring freezes continue to abound and unemployment remains high. All of these elements point to the importance of reaching out to people.

Here are some selected sections of the chapter about networking, Expanding The “Who -You-KnowQuotient from Speak Easy, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success available through Word Craft Press:

Many people think of networking as a primary job search tool. As much as that’s true, it would be foolish to see it in such a limited way. Networking is much more than a critical job search ingredient; it’s one of the key factors that contribute to good career development and successful career management. Moreover, it’s a primary and essential life tool at every level and in every facet of human activity and human endeavor. The exact same networking concepts can be applied in limitless life arenas from recruiting, sales, fundraising, and taskforce development to the pursuit of a life partner or the search for a good electrician or a new school for your children. It’s extremely rare that any person can exist and thrive without networking.

How often have you heard statements similar to these?
  > “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
  > “Networking is the key to finding a___ (job, spouse, plumber, etc.).”
  > “He made it to the top because he’s part of the Old Boys’ network.”
  > “She didn’t make it because she was so busy with her nose to the grindstone that she never paid attention to making connections with the right people.”

We will encounter much more success in all of our endeavors when we recognize the high value of gathering information from real people who’ve traveled the road before us and of building strong and lasting bonds with them.

The word, NETWORKING, is used so freely and widely that its basic meaning has been diluted and it has lost many of its most important nuances and benefits. When career advisors emphasize the importance of networking, they often neglect to teach its subtleties adequately and to fine-tune their clients’ networking communications well. It’s easy to see why many jobseekers think that networking is simply informing as many people as possible that they’re looking for a new job.

Certainly, letting people know you’re looking for a new job is a much better strategy than simply sitting by the phone, waiting to see if someone will call you up to offer you a job. However, if your bottom line is no more than a numbers approach of seeing how many people you can get your resume in front of, the benefits of the fine art of networking will be sadly missed and the process of continuing the endeavor will become stale and unrewarding. After all, how many times can you say to someone, “Here I am again, still looking. Got anything for me?” No wonder people become so disenchanted with networking – both on the asking AND on the receiving end!

Since the term, NETWORKING, is so freely used and so often badly leveraged, I’d like to refer to it in other terms going forward. My definition of this word appeared a few paragraphs back:

The high value of gathering information from real people who have traveled the road before us and of building strong and lasting bonds with them

To alleviate its limited and stereotypical definition, I’m going to rename NETWORKING as R&R: Research and Relationships. The “N” word translates into the R&R formula:

Research and Relationships
Gathering Information/Building Connections

It’s also fun and gratifying to refer to an activity like NETWORKING that people find difficult, tiring and demanding as R&R, a known acronym for Rest and Relaxation. How delightful to re-label NETWORKING communications with a symbol of pleasure and satisfaction that people always seek out and appreciate!

Whenever people are energized by the subjects they’re talking about, others are drawn toward these speakers. Without passion for a topic, even if it’s your unanswered quest to find a new job, you will find little enthusiasm from others around you. The trick is to find the elements that you can remain passionate about and make sure they’re at the forefront of your R&R communications.

An unappealing image that often blocks people’s natural agility in and genuine enthusiasm for networking communications is the hat-in-hand beggar needing a handout.  This empty-plate approach to networking is what gives people such an uneasy feeling about it and what takes them so far away from the main concepts of R&R: RESEARCH AND RELATIONSHIPS.

Finding ways to engage others in conversation about your key interests and to demonstrate how knowledgeable you are ensures a much better approach to people and a much higher success rate in obtaining meetings with others. There’s also the added benefit of feeling strong and focused when you’re sitting down with someone to have an important R&R conversation.

So often, people begin a request for a networking meeting with, “I’d just like to pick your brain.” This clich├ęd phrase inserts a terrible graphic picture into the process and contributes, on both sides of the communication, to the concept of begging or neediness. Picking a brain is what vultures do to dead animal carcasses. Picking a brain is a one-sided approach to a conversation and demonstrates taking from someone rather than contributing to a dialogue. In contrast, if the request for an R&R meeting is to brainstorm ideas together, the stage and tone will be set for an entirely different communication. Brainstorming is a two-sided (or multi-sided) approach to a conversation and demonstrates bringing something to the table to engage in a give-and-take dialogue.


Next Friday is Christmas day and the following Friday is New Year’s so I will wish all readers health, prosperity and happiness and will write another posting in 2010.

Until then,
The Wordsmith

Friday, December 11, 2009

Speak Easy Note #14 - The Value of Support Systems

There is a circle of support in my life that is astounding.  People I care about deeply are facing life crises and challenges that are huge, painful and overwhelming.  When they turn to me, I am grateful to be there for them.  There are those I know I can turn to when I am facing dilemma and strife.  What would life be like if we did not have each other? 

Bridge Over Troubled Water
by Simon & Garfunkel

When you're weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all
I'm on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can't be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you're down and out
When you're on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I'll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

The following excerpt from Speak Easy, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success available through Word Craft Press examines the value of support systems:

So often we're much harder on ourselves than others are on us. Rather than beat up on yourself, feed your guilt, or be a martyr; turn to others to gain support and perspective and to have a sounding board for your communications. You will frequently hear people describing their biggest challenges this way, “I could’ve never gotten through this without the help of others.”

Seeking support is better than going it alone. Recognize, though, that when you seek the backing, comfort and counsel of friends, family members and coworkers, you can also be building a case and fueling the fire. It’s clearly beneficial to ask for input from others about the way you’re communicating in challenging situations and to have an ear to listen. In tough times, there’s nothing more valuable than having a support system around you. If you don’t already have people that you turn to, rethink your views and practices, and build a strong support network for the good times and the bad.

Being able to turn to others to share your story or even just to unload can be advantageous and satisfying. Make sure you include people outside of the actual setting or situation to do this with and make sure you’re choosing people that you know you can trust for confidentiality. The benefit is to gain awareness and ease your heavy feelings. If your goal in bringing others into the picture is to vindicate yourself, add fuel to the fire, or defend your position, think carefully about what you’re choosing to say. If the outcome is escalation of an already tense situation or further pressure for you or others, then seeking support will be self-defeating and only add to your challenge.

The best type of support is objective. The less involved the person is with your story, the more able that person will be to listen and respond without bias and concern for personal repercussions. A natural instinct of someone connected to you personally is to come to your defense and to say what you want to hear. Cushions like that feel wonderful to sink into; just make sure there are also those in your support mix that are free from wanting to please you or protect their own self-interests.

There’s a good reason why people choose professional counsel and why professionals, like attorneys and psychologists, remove themselves from situations that can be seen as having conflicts of interest. Give yourself the cushion of support and choose supporters who can listen and respond as objectively as possible. Find people who will give you candid feedback and who can critique your communications and your strategies.

All that being said about objectivity and professional input, never underestimate the value of a good hug. To survive infancy, babies must be stroked and held. The human need for connection is universal. Enrich your life with balance and surround yourself with an array of support cushions. Take initiative, be responsible for yourself, seek input from others and make connections.

Until next week,
The Wordsmith

Friday, December 4, 2009

Speak Easy Note #13 - On Being Thankful

Thanksgiving week has come and gone and with it came reflections on being thankful. The challenges of this past year bring a whole new perspective on feeling grateful and expressing thanks. It seems as if everyone has financial pressures and is looking at how to survive on less or on less than nothing in many cases. Yet somehow the crisis we face has brought out something quite wonderful. There is this sense of we are all in it together somehow. People seem more considerate than ever:
             I lost my gloves in the theater last night and a person I did not know went to great lengths to help me find them.

             I dropped my Playbill on the curb while waiting in the rain for the Number 1 bus on Fifth Avenue and a complete stranger picked it up and wiped it on his pants to dry it off and handed it to me.

             Two of my dearest friends volunteered to serve a Thanksgiving meal to the homeless at the Guthrie Center (known at one time as Alice’s Restaurant) at the Old Trinity Church in Great Barrington, MA.

It is good to be appreciative of what you have and it is good to express your thanks.

Here are relevant excerpts from SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success, available for purchase through Word Craft Press:

A good way to manage difficult or challenging communication is to respond with a thank you:

“Thank you for telling me this; it’s important for me to know just how you are experiencing this situation.”

By thanking someone, you

> Indicate that you welcome openness

> Show that you want to increase your awareness

> Demonstrate that you value others’ viewpoints

When we choose to respond like this, it’s best to refrain from adding a disclaimer. If we say thank you to someone and then add, “But that isn’t the way I see it.”, we have erased the thank you and defeated its purpose. It’s wonderful to expand on the positive and share differing perspectives. If the purpose of the “thank you” is to acknowledge without engaging in a debate or doing battle with someone, then END your communication at the thank you, rather than expand it.

We know that over 90% of how we receive communication is non-verbal. Changing the words we use, however, still has the power to change how we feel and how others react to what we say. We will begin to see situations differently when we begin to choose different words to describe them:

“There’s only half a glass left.
“There’s still half a glass left.”

“She never calls me.”
“I’d like to talk to her more often”

“At my age, there are so few options left for me.”
“At my age, I’m so clear about which options I want to select.”

It’s true that in many instances there’s a smaller amount rather than a larger one to express in our communication. Rather than being about how full or empty the glass is, it’s about explaining what there is in the glass to drink. If there’re only three drops of water in the glass, the point is to figure out how to describe quenching your thirst with whatever amount you have. You can’t articulate how to drink the empty part so it’s unproductive to focus on it.

Until next week,
The Wordsmith