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man distracted by cell phone

Technology can be a wonderful thing. It helps us connect people from across the country (or world) through a video conference or virtual chat. It allows us to easily create charts and map out data. It allows us to better serve our customers.

But there is a dark side to technology. It’s the side that affects our everyday interactions with people—the side that completely sucks us in and tethers us to our devices.

Have you ever walked into a restaurant and noticed friends, couples, or even entire families absorbed in their smart phones? Or noticed people out for a walk, with their heads buried in their devices?

Are you guilty of this too? Do you catch yourself shooting your co-worker an email when you could just walk to her office and ask a quick question? Do you find yourself flipping through social media or the news or weather instead of engaging those around you in conversation?

Yes, technology does great things, but it’s also killing our communication skills. According to MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle, author of the book Reclaiming Conversation, our deep absorption in our devices has caused us to lose our ability to have deeper, more spontaneous conversations with others. We begin to lose our capacity for “empathy, introspection, creativity, and intimacy.”[1]

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I think about the implications this has for our relationships. Are our conversations lacking the depth they used to have? Are we missing opportunities to look others in the eye and truly connect with them?

Looking at it from another angle, are we missing opportunities at work because we’ve greatly reduced the number of face-to-face interactions we have with others? Sherry Turkle says YES. She points to many studies that indicate that when people are allowed to talk to each other, they do better—they’re more collaborative, they’re more creative, they get more done.

And what about networking? I’ve talked with many people who say that the younger generation has difficulty with face-to-face networking. It’s a skill that doesn’t come easily for them because so many of their interactions are digital. That’s troubling because, according to Hubspot, 85% of people say they build stronger, more meaningful business relationships during in-person business meetings and conferences.

Face-to-face still matters!

It’s time we stop multi-tasking, set our cell phones aside, and rediscover meaningful conversation with others. Our relationships—both personal and professional—will be better for it.

[1] Suttie, J. (December 7, 2015). How Smartphones Are Killing Conversation. The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_smartphones_are_killing_conversation. Accessed 12/19/16.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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tips for successful networking

Even if you’re not looking for a new job, networking is still a valuable pursuit. It’s a chance to learn more about your industry, the jobs you didn’t know existed in your field, how to advance your career, or how to start your own business. For some people, networking can feel like shallow interactions that are barely masking the attitude of “what can you do for me?” but this doesn’t need to be the case. With a positive disposition and helpful strategies in place, networking can be the start of a nurturing, collaborative, trustworthy community for you.

Practice your intro

You may not be selling a product or an idea, but in networking scenarios, you need to market your skills and talent. When people ask you about your job title and your pursuits, have a clear, short summary ready to go. Practice it in the mirror or record yourself, if you can; hearing your voice played back can help you determine where to pause or when to punch up your pitch for optimal recollection, for you and your potential contacts.

Set goals for yourself

Networking goals will vary between people and industries, but it is important to set them. It’s far too easy to sweep that type of work under the rug, but setting goals will keep you accountable. Create goals that are achievable: attend at least one networking event within the next month, reach out to three new people in your industry, or schedule a meeting with an existing contact. Once you meet those goals, make new ones.

Treat every encounter as important, because it is

While it is easy to think of networking as a means to a new job, there is more to be gained from these interactions. Don’t dismiss someone because they can’t help you right now: the benefit of continued communication could come around in three months or three years. Keep in mind that they could also introduce you to someone else who needs your skills.

Follow up

After you meet these new contacts, you need to reach out before they start collecting dust. Use the method of communication that works for both of you: phone, email, Skype, or face-to-face. Check in regularly and ask them about what they’re working on, what projects they see for the near future, and the skills and experience needed to complete their work. If your skills don’t align with their needs, you might recommend someone from your network. Consistent, thoughtful communication will hopefully result in contacts thinking of you when relevant opportunities come across their desk.

Bring people together

As you your network grows and you learn about the skills and needs of your contacts, you may realize that one needs the services of the other. This is what networking is all about: helping people connect. Hopefully, they will get a chance to repay the favor: when one of those contacts comes across a job posting or freelance opportunity in your field, you know they will think of you first.

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