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“Huff And Puff” - Proof Yourself. Build Your Career On Relationship Bedrock
One of my favorite children’s stories is the Three Little Pigs. In the story, the big bad wolf gets two easy meals by blowing down the pig’s houses made of straw and sticks. When he gets to the third pig’s house made of brick, though, he hyperventilates trying to blow down the house. So much for a third meal of the other white meat.
Throughout my career I’ve seen one too many professionals build their professional relationships as if they were erecting a house made of sticks or straw with a thin facade. Maybe they built a less-than-trustworthy reputation for themselves. Or maybe they were viewed as a rude jerk by some people in the office. Or then again maybe they saw networking as something that only co-dependent weaklings did. More often than not, the lack of focus on relationships hurt their career and caused them to have to rebuild their relationship house by healing old wounds and changing bad habits. Often not a pretty picture and completely avoidable.
Maybe you’ve had your relationship house blown down or you’re building a house of sticks or straw through poor relationship management. Maybe you think you just don’t have time for that stuff. Think again. There are three easy ways to build your relationship house of brick: building trust, minding your manners and networking regularly. These three will make a big difference in your professional life. Make the time for them every day.
1) Show you can be trusted.
Know what other people expect when you want them to trust you.
a. Get-it-done trust shows you can get things done on time and effectively. You ask for help when you even guess you might be late or need support.
b. Expertise trust comes to you when your suggestions and ideas are sound and your experience stays current. Be careful to always check and double-check your sources and keep up-to-date to keep up this trust.
c. Political-savvy trust can be tricky. If you ever talk about what you discuss with others you may not “get it” about being politically savvy. Loose lips do sink ships, or at least can get you in trouble. Get an okay to discuss anything – even a simple brainstorming exercise. You never know what will hit the organizational grapevine and get misunderstood.
2) Show your manners and respect to everyone
We heard from our parents how important it is to “mind your manners.” Those manners are not just for your betters. You need to be showing respect to everyone you meet and even those you may not meet who are behind the scenes. Everyone you meet needs to believe that they, and what they do, matter. Aretha Franklin was right: everyone wants R-E-S-P-E-C-T to defuse negativity and lubricate organizational wheels. I’m always surprised when people don’t have time for manners, especially with support staff. In fact, the lower someone’s job grade the more gracious and polite you should be. Your kindness will be appreciated and returned in unexpected ways. In contrast, individuals who see themselves as slighted can react by causing trouble in more subtle ways, acting as “antibodies” in your working life as they try to get back at you or the company. Resentful people may try to put obstacles in your way or refuse to do more than the bare minimum for you. So be polite to everyone no matter how you personally feel about them; it never pays to make enemy “antibodies” at work.
With small gestures you can become known as someone who considers others and values their contributions. This doesn’t mean memorizing a big book of etiquette. It does mean consistently polite and patient.
When you use your manners consistently you show you’re capable of assuming a higher-level position and moving ahead in your career.
3) Networking needs to be a way of life.
In some cultures in the world networking is the only way to get anything done. Whom you know and who knows you are key to getting business done in Asia. It’s not so obvious in the US but just as important. You can do your networking in passing, by just talking with other people about your work or yourself during the everyday process of organizational life. Really good networkers network all the time. Unearthing someone’s background and interests allows you to identify commonalities and start building a history of shared conversation. It’s these shared conversations which help others to let you know about themselves and to learn about you.
You can do your networking actively by talking with others with a specific purpose in mind. Your networking may consist of polling others to get feedback or just to talk things over with them. Active networkers keep a mental, or a physical, file of people they’ve met, remembering who is interested in what, who would like to connect with whom, or who just likes having an interesting conversation. A business card reference system can help. It’s worth writing down information on the backs of your cards while the encounter is still fresh in your mind. Don’t forget to have cards of your own handy too. Just be careful not to write on those cards in Asia. That can be seen as an insult. It also can be an insult to be with networkers who are motivated by self interest. They may strike you as phony or self serving. Remember that networking is about enjoying the conversation and showing others the interest they deserve.
Build Trust. Mind your manners. Network regularly. Three simple relationship strategies that will help “huff and puff” proof your relationship house and keep that big bad wolf from making a meal of your career.
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