Was I always as excited about networking as I am today? Obviously, not.
As a young, outgoing Croatian living and studying in Madrid, life was all about going out, studying, part-time working and meeting new people. When you are in your 20s and 30s, people come in and out of your life all the time, especially if you live in a big city. If you also move around a lot, you will probably loose touch with the majority of those people. In short, you can be surrounded by people in one stage of your life and then be alone somewhere down the road and wonder: what has just happened?
For me, meeting people has always come easy and Madrid was the best training ground. The Spanish are naturally gregarious and they will use any opportunity to chat (or chat you up!). I was ( and still am) quite confident and bubbly, so meeting new people gives me energy. But when I was younger, most of these interactions was with my peers. I wasn't interested in expanding my circle beyond my fellow youngsters from university, work or weekend parties. I didn't call this ebb and flow of people networking and it never occurred to me that these people I now knew by name or by sight were people in my network. I had no idea that one day there could be opportunities from this network such as access to information, connections, jobs or business.
When you are young, and starting your career, you may think that a job is something the government provides, or you find yourself because of your studies or CV. Maybe your family has a business or some good connections, so it seems like things will work out easily. The sheer amount of time and effort it takes to find opportunities - that never struck me until I was older. As a naive 20-something, I had a University diploma, and some work experience. I spoke three languages (in Spain!) and the world was to be my oyster. But, as most of us know, it's not that easy. Finding a stable and interesting job was really hard. Contracts were short-term and the pay was low.
Networking came to the rescue. I was lucky in that I learned about networking from my mother, a professional diplomat with an excellent understanding of culture, a warm personality and a love for people. I only realised how valuable those lessons were much later. But most jobs I have had since I was in my late 20s and early 30s were due to networking. It wasn't usually my peers who freely and directly provided the information or opportunities. It was the older generation, who held the connections who knew someone, who in turn knew me. Being the right person at the right time in the right place meant everything.
Young people should be taught about the value of networking early. Networking is a skill that can help you throughout your life span, especially for work, but also for any situation when you might be on your own, like moving, starting to study or work, changing jobs...but also divorce and lost friendships. Networking is not primarily about business or getting a job, but rather about collecting and planting seeds, which may or may not grow later on. These seeds are not commercial exchanges, they are investments into your social capital.
These days, I feel like anything is possible when I realise that I do know a number of nice and interesting people and they know and trust me. We connect from time to time on a variety of topics, and sometimes years go by but the network is still there. I don't have a neighbourhood community, and my family of origin is far away, so networking gives me that sense of connection, an access to information, social ties and potential for friendship.
Let's tell our kids that networking is important, and teach them early on:
Most organisations have a process for recruiting new employees. Smaller organisations will sometimes do this in a spontaneous, even chaotic manner. There may be a person in charge of recruitment, or even an external recruitment consultant but, most often, it is the manager or a future colleague that will do the recruiting. That person may actually be you.
Since there is so much at stake when a recruitment is not successful, it surprises me that the recruitment process is often treated lightly. I know it can take a lot of time, and you have other (important) work to do. But quick and scattered recruitment will waste even more of your time, slow down your work, affect team atmosphere and damage motivation.
As a Communication Skills trainer, I also help my clients with the communication aspect of the recruitment process.So, here are some tips to improve your hiring process immediately:
Before deciding that you need to hire someone please make sure that you REALLY need to hire someone. Candidates love it when you need them, when there is a job to be done and when the job is clearly defined. Too many job announcements today look like an amalgam of two or three jobs, not making it clear which is the one job aspect or result that will make the most impact.
In the short run, you need someone to fill in a position. In the long run however, you need a series of specific results that an actual human can achieve with the resources you will provide. That should be clear from the job ad. Write it well!
2. FORGET THE HYPE. WHAT'S YOUR TYPE?
Decide whether this is a completely new position or if someone (anyone!) has already been successful in this exact job. If it's a new position, keep it realistic. If someone has already held the job, make sure you are not looking for exactly the same kind of person. This is not fair to the new candidate, since no two people are alike.
Consult with your people, especially direct colleagues about the type of person you need. Ask yourself: do I really need an a creative, self-starter as we stated in the job ad? Or will I resent them as soon as they come up with ideas? Think about what you need in terms of skills, experience, but most of all the personality style. Too many similar personalities in a small team may clash. Some people just don't work well together even if they work well apart.
Candidates can embellish their resume, can deliver a great interview, but most cannot pretend for long that they are someone else. You don't need fancy personality tests, just your own experience of what worked in the past and what did not.
3. TURN THE COMMS UP BEFORE HIRING
As soon as you have made a shortlist from the people who have applied, start communicating. Choose to have either a longer e-mail exchange ( 2 to 3 emails) or a couple of short phone calls with them. Make sure that in these exchanges candidates can also ask questions about the job and the organisation. You need to know who they are and how they think. They need to know if they are interested in what you offer. If you hide your actual offering, they might hide their true personality. This is what we want to avoid, and more communication will help us to avoid this common pitfall in hiring processes.
Before you actually sit the candidate in front of you for an interview, you want to already be in a relation of some kind. some candidates may charm you too quickly in a face to face settings. Others may not impress you, if you meet them too soon, but they might be a good fit overall.
Now, candidates will always try to impress and reassure you. This is their job. Yours, as the hiring manager, is to probe, ask, doubt and take your time to decide.
4. KEEP IT ORDERED, STRUCTURED AND PROFESSIONAL
Make sure to keep the in-person interview structured, formal and as similar as possible with each candidate. We all love to have nice conversations that lead to a friendly feeling of connection. But in-person interviews are not the place for this.
Only invite candidates that have gone through the communication exchange described before. It will be like meeting a set of acquaintances, for a formal occasion, and the interview will be better for everyone. This method will also create a level playing field, since all candidates will receive the same questions.
Let's just state the obvious: interviews are moments where you ask the questions and the candidates answers. Interviews are opportunities to ask about their knowledge, results they obtained and past behaviour with people. Interviews are not great for talking about the future, personal issues, wishful thinking and any organisational or personal issues. The candidate is the one in the hot seat, and that is fine.
The whole communication approach I just described can also set a good stage for any further relation you may have with this person. In the end, they may be hired by someone else. They may become a client. The world is full of surprises, but if you treat everyone with respect and as persons you might meet again, everyone wins.
5. GHOSTING CANDIDATES IS OUT OF THE QUESTION
If after having those short intense communication exchanges or an official interview, you decide not to continue in the process, let the candidate know as soon as possible. The sooner you tell them that you will not be continuing, the better. There is nothing worse for a person to be in a relationship of any kind and then to receive only silence. Most hiring managers will claim they don't have the time or energy to deal with those they 'dropped' along the way. You should strive to be different.
If a candidate asks for feedback, your job is to provide personalised feedback for those candidates that invested their time in getting to know you (not every person that sent the application, obviously).
If you do offer a candidate a position, make sure you enter the negotiation phase gracefully as well, since you will now be a close step towards working together. Communication will be slightly different from now on, there may be twists and turns, and people may even change their mind. But that is the topic for another blogpost!
Would you like training on communication and recruitment? Get in touch of discuss the options with me here.
thank you for writing.
I do agree that, if you lack confidence and have issues in communication, that this may be an obstacle in your career. This is especially true if you are from another language or culture background ( as you imply) than the one where you are working in. Even when you are working with people from the same culture, you may see things in different ways and therefore sometimes feel as an outsider.
I also understand your hesitancy to undergo coaching . In most cases its quite expensive and the results are not immediately clear. This is usually because people don't know exactly what they wish. Becoming a good communicator is not good enough. We need to define what this means for you concretely.
What I propose is first to explore together what may be the issue. Sometimes it's your personality (introvert/extrovert). Sometimes it's about the way you were treated and has deeper roots in feelings of shame and even trauma. Sometimes it's simply a matter of culture and expectations, or even gender expectations- what you believe is expected of women and men in the workplace. In most cases, failing to communicate effectively has to do with a lack of self worth. Therefore, we need to always start with that: to find out what is your value, your skills and what you already do to provide value to others. Then we see how you can communicate that. We also need to find what you enjoy doing, because that can already be communicated by the spark in your eyes.
It's not about achieving clear cut results: “Bingo, now I can communicate well!". It's a process. It's about growing and starting to be aware of ourself- how others perceive us and what we can do about it. It's a way to get you out of your shell, to reach out to others, to be brave, to speak in stories and pictures... to connect.
This is what I teach.
Have a wonderful weekend and please get back to me if you have anymore questions!
*Cathy is not my clients real name 🙂
Meeting and learning online is here to stay. What used to be a slight annoyance, a temporary situation, is staying with us long term, and even preferred by some. But are we learning anything online? And are we listening to each other, connecting with new people or simply talking into the camera and hearing our own voice?
Here are some tips to lead or facilitate an online meeting:
1. Define your meeting occasion and set the rules. If you are not sure which words to use (online meeting, workshop, course, get together, standing meeting, meet up, etc.) use a headline to define what the objective is and what you expect participants to do. Should they participate? Camera on or off? Will they learn something from an established expert? Or is it about knowledge sharing? People should know what to expect when they sign up or receive an invite to your event. Do not be afraid to set the rules.
2. Control the level and time of participation. Instead of telling people how important it is for them to participate, make sure to identify exactly the moments where participation is expected. Then, as much as possible, identify people you want to hear from ( if they know in advance, even better). Also, try to all people by their name (not an easy feat, but make sure you know their first names!) and get them to respond (if participation is what you expected in the first place). In summary, don't just hope that people will be proactive: create opportunities for them to say something.
3. Start your online meeting with a bang. In any new situations, our brains are scanning the environment wondering whether what you are presenting is relevant. Is this content worthy of my staying around for the next couple of hours? You need to get my attention from the beginning! After the introduction, which sets out of the event's objective, we want some good quality content and to learn something from the start. Use what works in any presentation: an attention getter like a story, an anecdote, a fact or a striking image. If possible, avoid video at the very beginning as it changes the pace and takes away attention from your objectives.
4. Always introduce yourself well at the start. Remember one important point- this is not show business. You are not there to be entertaining, fun and happy. If you are the facilitator or even a trainer in a participatory workshop, your role is more of in the background. But there needs to be some reason why you are leading this event and not someone else. So some info on your skills, qualification, knowledge or interest are key. If you are presenting some expert knowledge or information, it's even more important to establish your credibility. Also, a good idea is to practise the art of introducing others. Introducing oneself is a bit awkward but knowing how to introduce others effectively will help you when introducing yourself effectively as well.
5. Quicken the pace! In an offline setting, pace can be adjusted by the many cues you get from your audience. It is easy to feel if people are restless and adjust accordingly. So, be ready with loads of content. Have more slides and activities that you would if this was an offline event. In addition, whenever possible, have one person present the content and another deal with messages in the chat, questions of all sorts, technical issues and logistics. Of course, certain questions and issues may need to be responded by the presenter or facilitator, but make sure to know which information is relevant to all, and which is highly individual and therefore not needing an immediate reply!
If you want to learn more about the my training and coaching programmes to help you or your team become a great virtual communicator, book a session with me here.
I call myself a Communication Coach and Trainer, sometimes even a Mentor but I haven't always called myself like that. It is hard to find a suitable name for what you do these days because professions change and expectations vary, and language is changing even quicker. At certain times one word is trending and we all believe that it describes us well, but it may just be a passing fad!
I would love to call myself something pure and simple, like "teacher". I always wanted to become one, so why can't I just put that word on my website? Well, most of my potential clients will not type the keyword "teacher" when they need some help with their presentations or communication issues. My corporate clients will use this word even less. They may use the word "trainer" or "facilitator", but they often gravitate towards the smooth sounding "coach". For individual clients, the word "coach" sounds reassuring, personal and comfy. I have therefore embraced the word "coach" and can live with it, except for one thing: the word "coach" sounds very expensive.
Is coaching expensive?
The short answers is yes, but it all depends who is paying.
I am aware that not everybody "should" be calling themselves a "coach". People who have paid expensive Coach certifications certainly have the right to be annoyed that an army of consultants, teachers, and other wise men and women are invading their professional territory. Certified coaching (e.g life coaching) follows certain rules and standards.
I am simply here to reassure you, the potential client, that having your own Communication Coach is not as expensive as it seems. What you get is quite unique. In a world where managers and directors of organisations are not always leading and mentoring the way they should, having your own coach to teach you and talk about work is priceless. This is an investment that your boss should easily make if they have promised you training opportunities.
I do understand however that sometimes you just cannot pay coaching out of your own pocket. In this case, no, I will not try to sell you a coaching programme. I will not make you feel that "You are just not ready to invest in yourself" because, let's face it, these investments should ideally be made by those that believe in you as an asset. This is not a problem for most organisations with a training budget, but it may be a problem if you are living month to month with a salary that just covers your main costs. I am not always talking to high-flying executives and people with lots of funds. I want to reach those of you that will benefit enormously from taking your communication skills to the next level.
If you want to learn more about the programme, its benefits and how to talk to your employer about it, just book a session with me here.
One day I had a strange dream. I was sitting in a big hotel ballroom filled with mainly women, all seated against the wall. A dark-haired, handsome man was walking around, very sure of himself. He had probably just given a speech and was walking slowly and deliberately. Suddenly, all of us who were seated realized what he was doing. He was walking and checking out the women, so that he can pick one for himself!
I could sense the indignation rise in all of us who were present. Yet nobody said a word. Nobody stood up, nobody left, nobody commented with their neighbor. All of us remained seated, too afraid to move or say anything. Then I had an idea. I quickly took a large thin piece of fabric, a sort of scarf, and threw it over my head and body. I essentially covered myself in protest. He could not see me, I could not see him and this is how I refused to participate. I could not see the reactions of the others, but I could sense what they were thinking. The reaction would probably be swift and painful. I might be punished for such boldness from the so-called leader. I did not know, in that dream, what country or century I was in. As I waited for what was next… I woke up, relieved.
I don't know much about dream analysis, but I do know about communication. This dream reminded me of two crucial points related to communication:
At the workplace, both men and women will sometimes gossip their heart away about what a difficult colleague said or did, how it affected them and why it was wrong. But they will rarely, if ever, say anything to the perpetrator of the injustice. People are afraid to lose their job, to miss out on their promotion or simply, to lose face with others. But if the injustice is real, this only serves to keep it going.
Let's remember therefore, that we don’t always have to SAY something. Our actions can also speak louder than our words. Many great men and women were not amazing public speakers, at first. They acted upon things, in the right time and at the right place. The later, when they reflected on their actions they knew which words to use.
For us, assertive people, our boldness is often a pain. It gets us in a myriad of tricky situations. We lose jobs and friends more frequently because of our tongue. To be better communicators, we, the assertive and outspoken ones, should remember to listen more and speak less. The best assertiveness is the one which can use as little words as needed. It needs to be just the right amount of salt to make the point. Not a pinch more.
So, which one are you, the bold type or the one who is rather quiet? In both cases you can be a change maker but choose your words and actions wisely to communicate your values, and be ready to accept the consequences.
Over the years I have been working as a communication coach, I have had more male clients than female. I have also noticed that amongst these men, there is a type who come often for public speaking coaching or training, but the communication issues they have are much wider.
These men are highly intelligent and often work as engineers or consultants. They get hired for their high analytical skills or their tech and data knowledge. However, for all the talent they have with analytical skills, they are often lacking in the social and communication skills department. I coached one such man, we will call him Leander, as he needed to prepare for a competency type of job interview.
Now, I like to put my clients just a little bit 'on the spot', so that I can understand them better. Luckily, most men like to be challenged in such a way. I grew up with three brothers, and I love how easy it is to speak to men directly. We analyse things together and try to find a solution to their communication problems.
With Leander we role-played types of questions he would get asked at this specific interview. But it was difficult to progress through the questions. He liked the challenge but seemed to be seriously annoyed if I wanted to know the details of a work situation he described. If I probed into why he thought or did something in a project, he would become defensive. Throughout the role play interview, his body language showed a complete lack of rapport with his interlocutor. In addition, he was restless: he wanted the whole thing to be over and done with! He was only interested to discuss theory, and how things should be in the working world, but not how things are and his role in causing situations that occurred at work.
Although Leander struck me as insensitive and inflexible, I really liked him. I felt that there was more to him than was meeting the eye. I felt empathy towards men like him. Although employers try to avoid any prejudice in terms of culture, skin color and gender, they do have a of bias in terms of personality traits and brain disposition, and this is a difficult one to get rid of. This is where social and communication skills training and coaching becomes useful.
When you meet someone like Leander, it is easy on focus on their lack of tact and thus miss the qualities that these analytical thinkers have. Men like Leander work extremely well when left to their own devices. Yes, they need to learn to communicate better and to work in teams, but they should not completely change their personality to suit an ideal “competent candidate”. They need to simply brush up their communication skills and be aware of what others are thinking about them, so they can react and adjust accordingly.
In some cases, these men who have a hard time with social skills suffer from severe social blindness, which is not apparent but which has made them the subject for ridicule when they were younger. We do not want them to change. Their role is to become aware of what and how we all communicate to work together. Their colleagues need to be patient and have empathy as social and communication skills do not come naturally to everyone. They can be learned but some people have a hard time learning them, as they are 'wired' in a different way.
Are you in need of a communication coach? I can help you decipher what is holding you back and make a plan to become a good communicator. Let's set up a short call here.
Paralysis. This is the word that perfectly defines the 2020 Covid pandemic for a lot of us. Some people were working more than ever, while others enjoyed family time in gardens and sunny locations. Millions lost their lives, their family members, their jobs. Most of us faced a slowing down, and we were not sure what to do about it.
Before the pandemic we had taken for granted our everyday life, our social contacts, our meetings, workshops and conferences. We were sick of emails and screens, and yet we were glued to them all day. We ran from one place to another, we had no time to respond to the growing demands, and no space to think and do the kind of work we wanted to do. Those of us with children, had taken for granted that our kids would be in school or nursery for many hours. That our spouses have their own jobs, free time and space. We were proud until then, that we managed to create a separation between free time and work, a separation between our roles. One space and role kept invading the others, but we pretended it wasn’t such a big deal. We had it all under control.
Slow living was not something we thought would be placed on us, unless we consciously chose it. But in 2020, slow living was what we got. With the epidemic, time was suddenly redefined. Our roles and identities were not the same. We have become more of something, and less of something, at the same time. Some of us started questioning what role work played, whether domesticity was really such a boring thing ( baking bread anyone?). We had to look at our family members and spend long periods of quality time with them. We could not escape the usual interactions by running to meetings, events and trips.
What helped me to stay a bit sane during those times was:
Having a schedule: I become inspired by the monks and their "rule of life". I made a schedule for myself, and for the children. I experimented and changed it a hundred times, but at least I had something to look up to in terms of structure, something bigger. I keep glued to schedules and time blocks to this day.
Stepping up on leadership: Sometimes it’s you who is in charge, sometimes it is someone else. I took the lead at home, my own little castle of influence. I perfected my cooking skills, showed positive energy, practised creativity, spoke about beliefs and ideas. I did not have to wait for a manager to step up, or the kids to call the shots. I was intent on guiding others in the way offered to me.
Keeping connected: I did not feel like it. I wanted to sit behind the screen and consume news and content, and maybe write. But I soon realised that hearing people's voices would be the antidote to loneliness and anxiety. I didn't sit on Zoom but I did make many calls to family and friends. I found a way, to call people every single day. This is the best time to listen, and share and make each other laugh.
Looking back at that time now, it was a positive time for our family. But it also taught me not to take anything for granted. Changes will happen and the only thing we will have to keep us sane is the family and friend networks we have built by staying connected to others and being a positive influence.
At certain times, all of us doubt our own accomplishments. Since starting out my communication coaching a decade ago, I have carefully listened to hundreds of smart and successful people confide in me their fear of public speaking or a generalized anxiety of speaking up.
One version of this fear and anxiety in public speaking is the so-called Impostor Syndrome. It presents itself in both young and mid-aged professionals. I believe that it affects men and women equally, although more women talk about it. Michelle Obama even admits she had it, in her latest biography called Becoming. A lighter version of the Impostor Syndrome is often found in "generalist" jobs that abound here in Brussels where I live: in policy or public affairs jobs, consultant and communication professions just to name a few.
It is actually getting more common for professionals to talk about things without being experts. We change jobs often these days (or clients if we are consultants) and this requires us to present an organization and even a sector that we may know little about. I remember working on a “sustainable energy” communication campaign back in 2009. I was in my late 20s and feeling on top of the world but I didn't have a clue about “sustainable energy”. I had to present the campaign to audiences around Europe, crowds of specialists and enthusiasts on the topic. How did I manage? I just put on a brave face and hoped nobody would find out.
Good communicators are not mythical beings with a talent for bragging. One sign of a good communicator is precisely the ability to be comfortable with talking about things we are not an expert in. The good communicator finds their own unique angle to approach any topic, and highlights what they DO know and think. They learn fast and, what they do learn, they make sure to show. Sometimes they feel fake as well, but they don’t allow that to ruin their chances. They know that “a bit of faking it, is the key to making it”.
So here are my three main tips to deal with Impostor Syndrome, if it ever catches you in its claws:
1. Make sure you are the right person for the job, and if you are not, that , at least, you want to become the right person for the job. This will involve being curious, extending your network and learning everything (relevant) about the new job, organization and sector. Find spring wells where information and knowledge flows abundantly. Then drink from it.
2. Scan the environment of your organisation, team and workplace for any people or situations that may bring you down, criticize or simply make you feel insecure. Stay away. Look for those people and situations that build you up and allow you to grow in your role and confidence.
2. Use simple coping statements to help you feel better when you are inclined to find fault with yourself. For example:
Uh-oh I made a mistake. I have to think ahead!
This is new to me, so mistakes are to be expected
It’s ok to feel anxious. I just have to concentrate on it not letting it take over.
Some situations are going to be harder than others.
In summary, be good to yourself, try harder and learn to cope. Keep smiling. And remember: overcoming Impostor Syndrome is the key to becoming a good communicator.
If you want to learn more and get some training for your team or individual coaching please contact Masha at firstname.lastname@example.org