Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Networking

Over the past recent years, the word "schmoozing" has become quite popular when folks discuss the act of interacting with others. While I do not take exception to the phrase or the word picture it paints, what does bother me is that it does disservice to efforts of business men and women, for example, or job seekers, to cite another group, to broaden their network of potential contacts. To me, schmoozing suggests a level of informality or coziness that one might find at a singles bar during Happy Hour. While I certainly have nothing against such a setting, I believe it fair to at least question the degree of sincerity being exhibited by the participants.

Call me old-fashioned, but I much prefer the term "networking" when it comes to the interaction of professionals. In such a context, participants exchange information and seek out ways to work together. In other words, one does not go to Happy Hour to network. Happy Hour is for schmoozing while conferences and professional events such as chamber of commerce luncheons are for networking. If one attends a chamber event with the idea of schmoozing, then they are in all likelihood going to fall short of whatever expectations they may have. It would be like attending a memorial service with the idea of breaking in a stand-up comedy routine.

To network well requires preparation. One needs to have a firm grasp of what it is they wish to share about themselves as well as a good sense of the kind of professionals that will also be at an event and what their interests might be. Those who network well never go into a situation with the idea of "winging it." They know this might be their only chance to talk face-to-face with a top business executive. Their goal is to make that executive and others aware of their expertise and the service that they provide. The dynamic at events for professionals is a lot like the challenges one has at speed-dating sessions. Time is limited, so you need to know what to say, how best to say it, and how best to engage with others.






Sunday, January 19, 2020

Selling

I have two what I will call very close relatives that are self-employed. One in particular has been doing this for several decades while the other is still new at it - a little over two years. The one with the greater experience is well established while the other is still facing a learning curve and start-up challenges that come with such a new undertaking. Despite the difference between the two in experience, I am struck by the similarities they have when it comes to communication. Specifically, each spends much of their time selling their expertise. This requires being "on" much of the time when interacting with others, including folks they have known for a good while and folks who they are meeting for the first time.

This means, like most of the rest of us, they often do not have the luxury of having what I would label a regular conversation. For instance, if I engage with someone and talk about such easy topics as the weather or local traffic, I do not have to worry about going beyond that unless I want to. Thus, whatever pressure I might feel from such interaction is slight. But in the case of my two relatives, when they discuss the weather or traffic with another, they have the challenge of trying to come up with a way to introduce their business/service in a manner that is smooth and not off-putting.

To do this and do it well requires two primary things from them: they must have a clear idea of what it is they want to say about themselves and they must listen well. Both of these are key elements when it comes to effective communication. If you do not know exactly how to verbalize what it is you want to say about yourself, then the chances are when you do give it a try you will be inarticulate and even difficult to understand. Further, if you are not listening well, then the best moment of when you introduce your business into a conversation will come across as forced, thus making you look unprofessional and the other person feel uncomfortable. When it comes to selling successfully, message and a good sense of timing are the keys. (Of course, delivering well on what you are selling is equally vital.)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

New Book on Listening

A few years ago I began writing a book on what I view is the least emphasized and appreciated aspect of communication: listening. Without active listening, the chances of there being acts of effective and lasting communicating are almost non-existent. On the one hand, people on the receiving end of a communique need to put energy into hearing, of course, and understanding messages that are being put forth to them. On the other, those who are sending a message have a responsibility to frame their messages in ways that best enable the receivers to listen as well as they can.  When it comes to communicating, senders and receivers share equal responsibility.

Presently, I am half-way through book on this very important topic. My progress is slow. Still, I am hoping to finish it in 2020 and, if lucky, have it published the following year. Despite that, because of my interest in listening, I was excited to learn of a new book on this topic that recently came out called, "You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why it Matters" Written by Kate Murphy, the book delves into such topics as the benefits of good listening, examples of bad listening, and reasons why bad or ineffective listening is wide-spread.

According to the author, benefits of good listening include more interesting and informative conversations and a more enlightened outlook on the surrounding world. Examples of bad listening, as researched by Murphy, include disruptive phone calls, efforts by people to isolate themselves from others by using head phones or ear buds, and off-base responses to what was just said. Public health officials, Murphy says, an "epidemic of loneliness" in the U.S. represents a major piece of fall-out that is triggered by the reality people do not believe they are being properly heard. My own research suggests that as social creatures, we strive to connect with others. Not being heard interferes with that fundamental need. High-five to Murphy for her work on this topic.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Nothing Like Face-Time

In the arena of job hunting, for a good while now the standard process seems to be for job seekers to send in their resumes/applications and then wait for the hoped-for call-back. This is similar to how job hunting has pretty much always been with what I consider to be a major exception: face-time is discouraged. Prospective employers seem to not want to sit down with possible employees until they are ready. In keeping with that, those possible employees go along by confining their outreach actions to communicating in writing. No face-time. While this is understandable since this is what the employer wants, by taking a more passive role, the job seeker is compromising their most valuable weapon: themselves.

The great thing about the face-to-face interview is that it gives candidates the opportunity to present themselves in-person, give their prospective boss a chance to get a sense of them as a person and determine how well they would meld with the staff and overall office environment. More than anything, it is the interview that ultimately determines whether a candidate will be hired. This is why it is an important strategy for the job seeker to arrange as many face-to-face encounters with a prospective employer as possible. Such encounters give them a better opportunity to successfully market themselves.

Job seekers need to be more proactive when it comes to making themselves known. This includes in-person encounters as they are a much more powerful tool when it comes to self-promotion. Also, in the broader context of communication, interacting with another person is the best way to establish a connection that lasts. This is why I encourage job seekers to not be satisfied with simply sending out their resumes as their only strategy toward becoming employed. Initiate meetings. Let potential bosses see your face, hear your voice, get a first-hand sense of your presence. There is nothing like face-time when it comes to communicating with others.  


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Being Confident

Being confident is a great feeling. With such positive energy bubbling inside, it gives us a sense of inner strength that helps us step forward, speak out, make a decision, confront others, etc. Confidence gives us the kind of juice we all need to face up to or take on challenges that we might not otherwise want to deal with. Further, feeling genuinely confident is something that others often pick up on. They sense the firmness of our actions. They feel the kind of straight-ahead demeanor that comes from people who are confident. In many ways, others draw strength and, yes, confidence from others who are giving off confidence vibes. Everyone wins from when confidence is part of the mix.

But what happen when one is not feeling confident? Specifically, what happens when we are not experiencing that internal burst of strength and focused belief in our words and actions? What do we do when we are being called upon to communicate well, yet lack the confidence needed in order to help make a strong and lasting impression on others? Though tough to do, connecting with others is doable even if you are not feeling on top of the world. It starts with the words you are using. Are they accurate? Are they understandable? Do they speak to the interests of those with whom you are trying to reach? If they answer is "yes" to those questions, then you are on your way.

Speaking to others, regardless of the setting or circumstance, is a mechanical act. Much like, say, hitting a baseball or sewing, the more you practice the better you get. Speaking is no different. Knowing the mechanics is a confidence booster all by itself. If the actual words we are planning to use are the result of research and thought, then added to whatever mechanical ability we have makes our presentation, well, presentable. Confidence is often drawn from numerous sources. They can range from a dictionary to a video tape to another person. It is important for all of us communicators to tap into as many resources as they can. Collectively, they build on our confidence.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Not for the Faint-Hearted

The downside of messing up while attempting to communicate is that others become immediately aware of your goof. While we all understand and readily accept the fact none of us are perfect and that we make mistakes, the other part of that reality is that when one among us does misstep, it is not uncommon for that imperfect soul to be mocked and attacked for their mistake. (What does that say about our nature, by the way? We know we all misstep yet often show little mercy when it comes to pointing out and judging others when they stumble either verbally or in-writing.) In this regard, communication can be a nasty business.

An incident made the Internet recently where an engaged couple sent out wedding invitations that contained several glaring and, yes, careless errors. Instead of saying "You are invited....." they wrote "Your invited.......")  Also, they misspelled the word "ceremony." The reaction from those receiving the wedding invitation was pretty grim. According to the news, comments ranged from mocking to outright attacks. And this from family and friends! Granted, the errors should not have been made as obviously the copy on the invitation was either not carefully reviewed or whoever did the proof-reading is a very poor speller. Still, those on the invite-list sure seemed to be a tough crowd.

It is incidents like that that illustrate why many folks are hesitant to speak in-public or shy away from sharing their thoughts in-writing with others. Many purposely confine their communicating to quick texts or tweets or casual, informal comments - formats where little importance is placed upon grammatical and spelling accuracy. To communicate in a formal context is to place one's self in a position of vulnerability. Putting forth a coherent and understandable message is enough of a challenge all by itself. But to communicate an error-free message raises the anti big-time. As has been said before, effective communication is not for the faint-hearted.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

More on the Truth

My most recent blog entry focused on my concern for the future of truth in our country. In it, I pointed a finger at President Trump who these days seems to lie most every time he opens his mouth. I suggested because of the position he holds, Trump is a major contributor to the trend that being honest or telling truths is not nearly as important as it used to be. Instead, increasingly people seem to behave as if they have their own truths, thus making it all the more difficult for us to discuss issues since no one seems to agree upon basic facts. Despite the fact he has been President for nearly three years, a sizable portion of the population continues to assume so much of what he says is true simply because he holds the most revered office in our land.

Coincidentally, the same day as my blog the executive editors of The New York Times and The Washington Post were interviewed on NBC's Meet the Press. The topic was the same as what I wrote about in my blog. This does not make me any kind of genius or particularly smart-guy. Rather, it suggests that others share my concern. Those executive editors - Dean Baquet of The New York Times and Martin Baron of The Washington Post - are professional communicators. How well they and their papers adhere to the truth determines their success and credibility. Consequently, they take truth-telling as seriously as anyone.

Reputable media outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post are not in the business of "spin." They exist to inform and enlighten. Ideally, they make it possible for the rest of us to let loose with our opinions when talking with friends and family. Generally, we base our views on the facts as presented to us by an array of sources, including reputable media outlets. But when the so-called sources such as the President of the United States do not communicate in a reputable way, then it leads to a breakdown in effective and respectful communication. It is going to be interesting to see whether this trend of playing loose with the truth continues in 2020. Hopefully the pendulum will swing in a much healthier direction. Whether it does, of course, is up to all of us.