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It wasn’t long ago that networking meant going to a physical location—an event center, a restaurant/bar, a clubhouse—and hobnobbing with strangers. You made small talk, you asked about others’ expertise, you asked for and handed out business cards.

For some, this experience was energizing and exciting—a chance to meet and mingle with potential clients or collaborators. For others, it was uncomfortable or downright terrifying. Regardless of which camp you fell into, the reality is, networking is changing (and has been for years).

Today, more than ever, our communication happens in a virtual space. We log into meetings on Zoom, Hangouts, or Skype. We send information through email. We chat with co-workers through platforms such as Slack or Discord. As this has become the new normal, so too has networking shifted into a virtual space.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to this virtual shift.

One huge advantage is that virtual networking is more accessible for more people. In the past, it was difficult for many groups of people to attend an in-person networking session—parents with small children, people who are unable to drive, those with a demanding work schedule, those who live far from typical networking locations. So, even though we may be sacrificing the “in-person feel,” we open the door for a whole new set of people.

Today, networking may lean more towards online presentations or programs than a “let’s mingle and get to know each other” session. So…how do you get to know others and make valuable connections?

Hopefully, the program monitor will facilitate some icebreaker activities or small group break-out sessions. If that’s the case, be sure to be personable and make yourself memorable. Tell others a quirky fact about yourself or slip in a relevant achievement. You could even wear colorful clothing or accessories to make yourself stand out a bit more.

Another thing you can do during online sessions is to ask thoughtful questions. I am a huge proponent of asking questions, whether they are clarifying questions, questions that expound/expand upon the topic, or questions that invite a dialogue. Being engaged, in general, is always a good idea.

Toward the end of the session, if the monitor hasn’t mentioned anything about exchanging contact information, be sure to (politely) ask about it. You might even ask others for their contact info if you’re in a small break-out session. Don’t force it, but if you’ve established a good connection with others and it seems natural to ask for contact info, go ahead! It doesn’t hurt to ask.

As with any other kind of networking, it’s a good idea to follow up with potential connections afterwards. Add them on LinkedIn and send out an email to anyone who might be a valuable connection. You might even discuss meeting up in the “real world,” or you might plan to attend a similar virtual program together in the future.

The future of networking is virtual, so we might as well learn to adapt and embrace it!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE. 

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NOW 50% off: MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

Cats climbing over keyboards, children screaming in the background, co-workers nodding off while your boss is talking—these are the realities of a world governed by video conferences. We are faced with any number of distractions (from dirty dishes to dirty diapers!) that we wouldn’t normally face in the workplace. It might seem impossible to control the video chat chaos, but there are certain steps you can take (whether you’re in an official leadership role or not) to improve the online conferencing experience.

You might not be able to control whether or not your co-workers are wearing pajama pants, but you can control other aspects of video conferencing.

Here are four steps you can take:

1. Start with a check-in

Get team members involved right away by checking in with each person (if you’re meeting with a relatively small group) and asking for a two-minute update. This will help people feel involved right from the get-go, and help them be more connected to the group, even at a distance.

If you’re working with a larger number of people, you might ask everyone a simple question that can either be answered through the chat feature or by giving a simple “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” For example, you might ask, “How many of you are actually enjoying working from home?” Or, “How many of you cooked or baked something fantastic this past week?”

Engaging the group right away sets a precedent. It shows that they are important, and you’re happy they bothered to join the conference.

2. Encourage Video Use

It’s tempting to shut off the video function during an online chat, especially if you haven’t combed your hair or your house is a tad messy. Even so, it’s a good idea to keep it on and to encourage others to also keep theirs on.

Why? Because seeing other people helps the meeting be more interactive and engaging. It also holds people accountable (they can’t just turn off their video function and leave for an afternoon siesta). What’s more, if you’re the speaker, it is completely discouraging to talk at a wall of black screens. You’re already feeling distant, as it is!

Help people overcome their fear of the video camera by speaking openly and honestly about it. “Video might feel uncomfortable at first,” you might say, “but you’ll get used it. Besides, we’re all in this together, and your presence is important.”

3. Ask Questions

I am always a proponent of asking questions, whether in a video conference or an in-person meeting. Questions help clarify information and also help people become more involved with the information. Beyond asking good questions, you can also encourage others to ask questions by specifically calling out a particular group, i.e. “Does anyone from the IT Department have any thoughts on this?”

4. Treat Distractions with Grace

Distractions are inevitable. Someone’s dog is going to bark; someone’s child is going to break a dish. Instead of letting the group get completely off track and pulled into the distraction, acknowledge it right away and deal with it appropriately. There’s no need to either A) make the distraction-causer feel bad or B) make a big deal of the situation. Instead, address the person who caused the distraction (or whose child/cat/dog/parakeet caused the distraction!) and say something like this:

“Oops! Looks like you have to go deal with that situation. Do you want to turn off your video and microphone for a little while and take care of it? Come back whenever you’re ready.”

Then, move on. There’s no use dwelling on a distraction, getting angry, or letting it go without acknowledging it. The best course of action is direct, swift, and calm.

Virtual meetings are our current reality, but I’m guessing they’re not going away anytime soon. Now that we’ve grown accustomed to working from home, there’s a chance we’ll continue doing it more often, even after the COVID pandemic has passed. If that’s the case, we’d better get used to virtual meetings and how to make the most of them. Otherwise, we’re doomed to endure black screens and petty distractions, instead of quality engagement with our virtual community.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW 50% off: MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Defeat the Workplace Jerk

Sometimes the office can feel like junior high. There can be cliques, hurt feelings, and even bullies. Unfortunately, some people never outgrow their habits of picking on others, over-asserting themselves, or acting just plain mean. Instead of trying to change a bully’s ways, focus on yourself and utilize a few strategies to make bullying behavior more bearable.

NOTE: If bullying is emotionally or physically damaging, that’s MORE than bullying. It’s harassment and should be reported.

1. Surround yourself with positive allies

Strength in numbers! I think (and hope!) you’ll find that the majority of people you encounter in the workplace are perfectly decent, respectful human beings. Find those people and befriend them. Life is too short to try to befriend and change the office bully. Surround yourself with positive influences and you’ll find your days at the office much more enjoyable.

2. Think “big picture”

Will the annoying behavior of an office jerk affect you tomorrow? Next week? Think in terms of the big picture and don’t let a few irritations get to you. You’re bigger and better than that.

3. Minimize the bully

Bob Sutton, author of The A**hole Survival Guide: How to Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt, suggests thinking about workplace bullies like bugs in a jar—they are fascinating specimens that you can examine from a dispassionate distance! When you think about it, bullying really is clownish behavior. It’s someone trying to scrabble up to the top of the heap by being cruel or downright nasty. When you think about bullying behavior as something immature and ridiculous (what is that bug doing in its little jar?!), then the behavior seems less harmful and more laughable.

4. Build up your reservoir of confidence

Don’t let bullies diminish you. Build up your confidence before and after you meet with a bully by reciting positive affirmations, talking with others who are positive and affirming, or practicing your power pose. Know that you ARE a worthy person and a valuable contributor and no single person can change that.

5. Report it

If the bullying is so bad that it is inhibiting your ability to work and thrive, you need to report it. Sure, everyone has their moments, but if those moments are more like months, something needs to be done. If you feel comfortable talking with the bully, you may want to sit down with him/her first and let them know what’s on your mind. If you are afraid of a nasty backlash, go directly to the bully’s supervisor. No one should feel threatened or belittled at work. If you’ve tried the first four tactics and things are still not improving with your bully, it’s time to formally report their awful behavior.

 

Don’t take bullying lying down! Start with these five strategies and, if you find they’re not working, there’s absolutely no shame in taking action and reporting the toxic individual.

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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