Posted on

The networking skills that give your career a little extra spin

Networking can feel risky. You’re putting yourself out there, inviting people to get to know you. Building and maintaining relationships takes a little dexterity and persistence, you have to keep things spinning by injecting a little energy every now and then, a bit like spinning plates. Eventually, by building an active network, you’ll develop a useful asset that can potentially benefit your career.

Networking, the art of building relationships, is underpinned by a sincere interest in people. Motive is important. As with many professional skills, networking only works if you’re prepared to commit to it, for the right reasons. Regarding people only as rungs in a ladder is counterproductive. You might succeed in climbing up to the next job but beware of the reputation trailing behind you.

A healthy approach to developing your network, whether within your company or beyond, may well help land you a promotion. It can also widen your knowledge, make you more ‘plugged in’ within your industry and bring more opportunities inside and outside your business. Our eLearning Learnflix course on Networking Skills explains more in detail, but the following two-step process is a good way to begin.

Step 1: Reframing

“Hell is other people”, suggested the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, perhaps shortly after a networking event. It can be hard to win over people you don’t know. It’s tricky to start and it takes time to accomplish. Finding the right thing to say can be awkward, there can be moments when you need to speak without having anything to say. And at any moment during the process, the other person might suddenly become attracted to the nibbles on the far side of the room.

Talking to people whom you don’t know well, or at all, need not be a white-knuckle ride. By reframing networking, and regarding it as no more than an exercise in storytelling, it becomes an easier prospect. Your stories can be inspired by the things you do well, the knowledge you have, the expertise you’ve developed. Of course, other people have stories too. Networking isn’t about setting yourself up to be judged. Reframe it as an opportunity to swap valid information with someone you value.

Step 2: Technique 

In starting a conversation, it helps to be prepared. Before meeting someone new, do your homework. Look into the other person’s background, find discussion topics that will help you start a conversation. Try to discover where their thinking is at the moment. What big projects have they recently been involved with? What are they currently working on?  You don’t need to know every last detail of what they’re involved in, you just need to know enough to hold their attention with a couple of well-informed questions.

From there, you can steer things towards more familiar or comfortable ground, which is an important part of networking. Speaking with ease, knowledge and direction shows that you are a person who is relaxed, knowledgeable and forward-thinking.

Keep things going over time

Remember that you’re offering the other person a mutually beneficial conversation, not just a shop window on your personal brand. Try to find subjects of conversation that you’re both interested in. Present your position but be sure to listen to theirs. It’s especially important to listen to – and remember – basic details, starting with their name and their company. Afterwards, remember to follow up; a brief ‘thank you, nice to meet you’ is always well regarded, largely because it’s rare. Standing out as an exception makes you memorable.

Try ‘network mapping’ which involves taking a close look at who is in your circle of influence and where the gaps are. Is there a senior person or thought leader in your organisation who you want to get to know? Try speaking to someone in your network who may work with the people you want to meet. Could they introduce you? You’ll be surprised by how many people have the right connections. 

Above all, remain true to yourself – connect with people you value and show that you respect them. This will help to build rapport and preserve the relationship over time, which is ultimately the goal. It’s important to stay in touch and keep the plates spinning. By keeping energy in the relationship, you’ll be able to leverage it when you need to and reap the dividend of your hard work.



Posted on

Managing up by reframing things with your boss

‘Managing up’ might feel like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, but there’s no sorcery involved, just a strategy that anyone can learn. Managing up is the process of consciously working for the mutual benefit of you and your boss. If you have a boss who makes that seem as attractive as dental work, then here are some suggestions that might just help.

According to a US survey, nearly twice as many Americans would be happier at work with a better boss than a pay raise. People are often promoted on the strength of their technical expertise rather than their managerial skills, and not all newly-minted managers are given the support they need to make the transition.

In working with your boss, whether they’re new to the job or a seasoned player, some options are beyond your control. Forget trying to reboot their personality. The best strategy relies on using communication to reframe things.

According to Mary Abbajay, author of Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss, a mutually beneficial relationship is a better approach than simply seeing things in terms of power. Abbajay says this is because “in a relationship, everybody has agency.”

Perhaps you and your boss get along fine. Even so, there are two of you in the relationship and managing your end of it might benefit from a little TLC. In reframing your relationship with your boss, whoever they are, you can find all the advice you need in our Learnflix eLearning course on Managing Up which focuses on three specific steps you can take.

 1) Laying the groundwork

Rather than examining personalities, yours or theirs, better to improve the communication between you. Who are you communicating with? Get to know your boss from their perspective. What are their priorities, challenges and expectations? By understanding the bigger picture, you’ll be better prepared when you communicate with them. By learning to speak your boss’s language, you’re more likely to place your concerns in context, and they’re more likely to hear you.

When you’re ready to speak to your boss about your working relationship, what should you be looking for? Bruce Tulgan, author of It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss, believes that in managing up, employees need four essential things from a boss:

  • Clear expectations
  • The skills needed to perform the job
  • Honest feedback
  • Recognition or rewards

2) Building the relationship

It will help to swap notes with each other on the best way to communicate. Your boss might prefer you to approach them more often than you usually do, or less. They might prefer direct conversations or emails or something else.

Build the relationship by being specific. You might be happy to do the tasks required of you, but when something else comes along your boss needs to know about the clash of priorities. It’s not that you’re rejecting one thing or another, it’s just that you want clarity in managing the challenges you face.

Of course, communication allows for positive suggestions too. Sharing your ideas with your manager helps to develop trust, especially if those ideas speak to the challenges they face.

3) Be the solution

Between them, these communication suggestions will strengthen your position. By striving to be the person who takes the lead on a new project, or who handles a problem or difficulty, you’re making your boss’s life easier. Play it straight. Personal comments, kissing up or trying to gain the upper hand are likely to be counter-productive.

A better alternative is to make yourself known as a stellar employee who gets things done.

Working hard and offering solutions to challenges that you and your boss may share responsibility for will make communication easier still. The goal is a positive relationship. Once you’ve got that, perhaps you will have pulled the rabbit out of a hat after all.