The idea that it’s “who you know” that defines your career path is certainly a valid one – every interaction you have at work or in the field is a part of networking. But getting your name in someone’s little black book isn’t enough by itself.
If you want to be remembered by today’s line manager when she’s tomorrow’s CEO, it’s important to make an impact with the quality of your presence: the way you discuss ideas, resolve problems together, and even pass the time when the pressure’s off.
In short, you need to have more meaningful conversations.
This can sound pretty intimidating to start with. You may have got into your industry because of a particular skill or ambition that has little to do with conversations per se, even if interaction with others is what gets things happening.
And you would be far from alone in feeling this way, as a big chunk of society has a very natural antipathy towards getting into conversations that they can’t get out of.
But conversation is great for developing ideas and for resolving problems – and if you can name an industry that doesn’t have ideas and solutions at it’s core, you’re probably missing something!
Fortunately, it can be straightforward to improve your conversation skills and confidence by working on a set of broadly transferable principles.
The first such principle is to listen. It may sound counter-intuitive if you’re here to learn about how to make an impact, but if you’re all mouth and no ears then that impact will rarely be favorable.
Professionals remember people that they made a connection with, and that requires give and take.
A generous conversationalist gives 100% of their attention to the talk at hand (mathematicians will note that means giving 0% to their smart phone screen), which not only communicates respect for the speaker but improves focus and understanding for the listener.
Instead of thinking ahead to how to counter the speaker’s point, or get across the point that you wanted to make in the first place, you’ll clear space in your mind to listen fully.
Just think about the kind of effect you create when you say that you need a moment to think and formulate a reply, rather than blazing ahead with a response that overlooks half of what your boss or colleague has just said: you are already indicating that you are passionate about working together and developing solutions as a team. Of course, if you slow down like this for every response, it could get pretty frustrating for both of you – but listen carefully and observe the speaker’s body language, and it should be straightforward to figure out when they are making an important or complex point that deserves closer attention.
Once you are ready to deliver a response, there is a careful balance to be struck between confidence and openness. There is a lot to be said for humility – the idea that you are willing to admit you may be wrong or simply not know the answer – but the trick is to be confident in that humility, to convey that your willingness to learn and to make mistakes is actually a strength.
A great way to do so is to ask questions. Aside from facilitating your understanding and showing that you are engaged, posing a question can be a good way to make a point or to guide a conversation towards arrival at a mutually agreed conclusion.
And it is that experience of exploring a problem or an opportunity together that the movers and shakers in your industry will remember six months or five years from now, when they’re looking through their black book for the number of that professional who made an impact all that time ago.
For further insights on how to make that impact, try working through this new guide to meaningful conversation from OnStride.