Sow seeds, give, build bridges: networking our way to happiness

I receive many questions about “networking”.

How can we make good use of our network?

What’s the best way to connect?

What  makes connecting an experience that leaves us happy and satisfied?

One of the fundamental misconceptions about networking is on its very purpose. Many if not most of us think networking is about “asking”, “exploiting” our relationships. At times we think we want to network in order to receive a benefit, we want to ask favors from our network.

 

IMG_3847 This very purpose is flawed.

Networking is about giving.

We give and receive happiness through giving to people we like and trust.  Networking is always about what I can do for my network rather than about what my network can do for me.

How can I help people get better, happier, more satisfied?

Good networking is like sowing seeds. When we sow seeds, we don’t know whether nor do we know where they will turn into plants and fruits. Yet we know that the more openly we will be sowing seeds, the more openly we will reap rewards in return.

We won’t know where, nor when: the fruits of networking happens through “obliquity” and “black swans”.

Black Swans (…) are large-scale unpredictable and irregular events of massive consequence—unpredicted by a certain observer.

Nassim N. Taleb, “Antifragile, Things that Gain from Disorder, Prologue, 2012.

Black Swans can be negative as well as they can be positive. Limiting the exposure to negative Black Swans and increasing our exposure to positive Black Swans is the challenge, then.

John Kay describes obliquity as follows:

If you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve going in another. This is the concept of ‘obliquity’: paradoxical as it sounds, many goals are more likely to be achieved when pursued indirectly. Whether overcoming geographical obstacles, winning decisive battles or meeting sales targets, history shows us that oblique approaches are the most successful, especially in difficult terrain.

Obliquity implies that future opportunities can best be pursued indirectly. Black Swans imply that the only safe thing we know about our next occasion of happiness is that we don’t know what it is going to be.

Here are a few of the things I do when I want to make good use of my network:

  • write a letter to a friend or to someone in my network, just a note, a quick note, maybe a “thank you” note after a lunch together. Perhaps something else, yet something worth putting my handwriting on paper. This gives me an opportunity to reconsider that specific relationship, to enjoy the very fact that this person is part of my network;
  • consider something positive about someone I like in my network and call that person, write her an email, or maybe even just use Twitter or Facebook to show my positive feeling of appreciation about some achievement or some quality that the person has. This is another easy way for me to benefit from reconsidering and nurturing a relationship I have with someone. At the same time, this helps me connect with that person, help them realise how I appreciate some positive things about them;
  • build a bridge across two people I likeI might simply decide that I want to help two people in my network connect. This is one of the most fundamental things one can do the network. Bringing two people together, creating bridges across them is a great way of nurturing the network. But let’s be careful: this does not happen as a result of someone asking. This happens as a result of my desire to give. For them, for the two people I have helped connect, it equals to receiving, yet  not because they asked. Rather, just because they are part of a network where someone gives.

I have noticed this already: the wiser we are in connecting with people we like, the more will we be exposed to positive (and oblique) Black Swans. That person we like, whom we regularly talk to, seek advice and inspiration from, at a given, unexpected moment will come out with that fantastic thought, with that inspiring question, which will lead to our next opportunity, perhaps to our next job.

There’s no predictable limit to the power of relationship, the power of connecting wisely.

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

Three useful thoughts so as not to avoid that difficult conversation

I wrote somewhere else in this Open Thinking that conversation is from the Latin word Cum-versare, literally turning (“versare”) together (“cum”). The goal of a conversation is being in sync with one another, physically as well as metaphorically. When this happens, a conversation bears fruit, as well as meaning and satisfaction.

At times, though, we fear to hold meaningful conversations. This happens just when those conversations would be needed the most.

A lot of conversations that need to happen simply do not happen as a result of fear.

We fear to disappoint, we fear to deceive, we fear to let someone else down. We feel that what we need to say may make the other person diffident, when not fearful. We feel we might jeopardise the relationship. Most of the times, this happens unconsciously.

When we feel we are postponing such a conversation, there’s a couple of things that could come our way to help us out of this unpleasant dilemma:

  • Listen to our emotions and “label” them: the first element is to acknowledge our own emotions. What is our fear? What is that can happen that we would like to avoid? What level of awareness do we have? What combination of feelings do we evidence? We want to “label” our emotions, give them a name. A lot of our tension will just ease out as a result of this acknowledgement;
  • Listen to the other person’s emotions and acknowledge them: listening is such an act of attention and generosity. Listening to the other person’s emotions means “making room” for them, letting them explain. This implies that we avoid interrupting, as well as that we  empathise with them even physically and with our body language;
  • Most importantly, we need to lead ourselves into assuming the other persons’ good faith. Very rarely do we doubt of our own good faith. Hence, when having a difficult conversation, we would be better off if we learnt how to assume, if only for the sake of the argument, the other person’s own good faith. In most instances, feelings are real, good faith is real. In other words, in most cases, when we think that the other person is not in good faith we are wrong.

The above three steps can do much to establish a proper ground for real empathy. When this happens, having “that difficult conversation” may in the end turn out so much easier than we had thought. A difficult conversation can result in a the key building block of a relationship of trust.

Trusting someone means relying on someone’s ability to hold even that difficult conversation instead of avoiding it.

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

Three steps in our journey towards building fruitful relationships

In her thought-provoking “For a Career that Lasts, Build Real Relationships” Harvard Business Review post, Whitney Johnson made the following comment (emphasis is mine):

As we connect and collaborate, give and take, we are evolving, emerging stronger and more capable. … as we invest in connecting, … we’ll be reminded that people are not only a precious commodity, they are a renewable resource.

I favour the concept of “Invest in connecting” strongly. #ConnectingWisely has been one of my favourite Twitter hashtags for long now. How do we select, amongst the thousand people we’ve known in our life, those that we like, those who can inspire us, those we find satisfaction in connecting with?

I had already written about writing those few names (10 to 20) down, in a moment of rest.
Whitney posted a stimulating reply to this point of view and a question to her Twitter audience:

This is about the very concept of identifying people we like and being open to the fact that everyone we meet might turn into a fruitful relationship, as long as we pay attention in choosing.

The following are just three steps in a journey towards relationships that are most likely to bear fruit:

  • connecting through someone we trust: a good starting point is when we connect with someone through someone else we trust and who likes them. People may ask to see me as they seek advice, or want to share advice, as well as thoughts and opportunities, as a result of someone else we trust who addressed them to me. In other words, someone else has acted as indirect builder of a bridge of trust towards us. Most often, this gives more than a reasonable chance that the relationship of trust we enjoy with that former person can easily be transferred to the latter person. If this is the case, this opens up the possibility of building a new and fruitful relationship which will give excellent results and satisfaction over time;
  • listening to others effectively: alternatively, we might have good feelings about people we’ve met, for what they have said, for what we have listened from them. This is more difficult, as there is no bridge-building of trust. Moreover, this requires us to be able to listen to our counterpart, leaving proper room for them to express their needs and feeling. This is lot more difficult than in the previous case. Our ability to listen can be practised and trained but it requires time, effort and willingness. Not least, we are exposed to the risk of making significant mistakes;
  • listening to ourselves effectively: the whole thing boils down, in the end, to a more general, and much more difficult point: learning how to listen to ourselves and understanding whom we like. What we need is self-awareness, the ability to look deeply inside ourselves, even before than into the other person. Identifying fears, emotions, what and whom we love, what and whom we like and what and whom we don’t. This can only be earned individually, through our own introspective work over time.

In all cases, cultivating and building fruitful relationships requires a combination of leveraging on existing trust, as well as on the ability to listen to others, and finally, but most importantly, the ability of listening to ourselves and to whom makes us happy.

Tommaso Arenare

“Never burn a bridge. Ever”

“Never burn a bridge. Ever. This world is small. That bridge will crumble you later if you burn it”.

IMG_2757

This quote from “Stop with the BS” sums up well why I liked reading this book and recommend it: it’s about “relationships” and how we can all benefit from pursuing what we like.

Shane Mac, the author, wrote it on a train ride from Seattle to San Francisco and back, over two days in March 2010.

In my profession, I have been privileged to connect with a large number
of exceptional individuals. With those people, I share thoughts and keep a
constant dialogue on themes I like and consider connected to my satisfaction: leadership, relationship, unconscious misconceptions when talking about “career” and much more.

In reading Shane Mac’s book one gets a feel of refreshing “Gen Y”
approach to life (“Don’t settle”, “Learn, learn, learn”…) and a bit of the
great pleasure of travelling on a train across America.

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

How about a coffee together?

Shall we meet for a coffee? Or for lunch, even?

So many times are we all faced with those questions. In my profession, as a management consultant focusing on leadership, board and executive search, selecting how to allocate one’s time is a daily as well as a lifetime priority.

I find reading Sarah Peck extremely inspiring. This has been since the first time I came across one of her posts, several months ago. Her “itstartswith.com” is home to a number of very thorough and thought-provoking thoughts. One of Ms Peck’s recent posts, when she first tweeted it, sounded as follows:

Her argument: if I say “yes” to all the requests to meet up face to face, this will disrupt my time, making it hard for me to do what I like. Her argument continued, as follows:

I’d much rather do a phone call. 15-20 minutes, tell me what you need, let’s jam while I walk to my next destination. Better yet, send me all the research you’ve done in an email, let me skim it, and specify exactly what you want in clear language and how I can help you. If you tell me what to do, I can help.

My immediate reaction was agreement with how Ms Peck described the challenge (how do I say “no” when needed), in combination with a radically different additional point: more than just learning how to say “no”, our real challenge is learning when and how to say “yes” to that coffee.

Face to face interaction can be so much more effective in establishing trust and building relationship. This, however, on condition that we connect with people wisely. Hence, in a number of occasions, a face to face coffee would end up to be so much more fruitful than a 20 minute call or an email. The tricky aspect, though, is how to detect those instances. I have already written separately that someone living their life in professional services, since their mid thirties, is more likely to have known, in the broadest sense of the meaning, between four and in some cases as many as ten thousand people (think about all the people you’ve known during your school life, then the university, then your colleagues at work…). We live a life of overexposure to connecting, not the opposite.

Let me share three thoughts about how I try to decide when it’s time for that coffee:

  • We might have connected with those people asking for a coffee, as it happens most often, through someone else we trust and who likes them. People may ask to see me as they seek advice, or want to share advice, as well as thoughts and opportunities, as a result of someone else we trust who addressed them to me. In other words, someone else has acted as indirect builder of a bridge of trust towards us. Most often, this gives more than a reasonable chance that the relationship of trust we enjoy with that former person can easily be transferred to the latter person asking for a coffee. If this is the case, this opens up the possibility of building a new and fruitful relationship which will give excellent results and satisfaction over time. Hence, let’s find proper quality time and have that coffee;
  • Alternatively, we might have good feelings about them, for what they have said, for what we have listened from them. This is more difficult, as there is no bridge-building of trust. Moreover, this requires us to be able to listen to our counterpart, leaving proper room for them to express their needs and feeling. This is lot more difficult than in the previous case. Our ability to listen can be practised and trained but it requires time, effort and willingness. Not least, we are exposed to the risk of making significant mistakes;
  • Finally, though, there’s a more general, and much more difficult point. How good are we at listening to ourselves and understanding whom we like? What we need is full awareness of what and whom we like and what and whom we don’t. This may require a thorough introspection, years of psychoanalytical work or else. I have written a number of times about how we need to increase awareness of our choices and our inner feelings. This can only be earned individually, through our own introspective work over time.

In all cases, there’s a combination of leveraging on existing trust, as well as on the ability to listen to others, and finally, but most importantly, the ability of listening to ourselves and to whom makes us happy.

There’s a lot, indeed, before sharing that coffee.

Tommaso Arenare

Disrupting wisely

Disruption as a source of value in someone’s professional history has been the subject of a number of recent HBR posts, including one from Whitney Johnson and one from Claudio Fernández Aráoz, an undisputed thought leader on the subject of making #greatpeopledecisions.

Disruption requires the ability to create a disconnect, learn and benefit from it.

Creating a disconnect requires awareness, courage and empathy: it requires awareness of our feelings and fears, as we initially often fear disconnects,  while we like dealing with the same and again; it requires courage to recognise our fears and move on, temporarily leaving our comfort zone, so as to grow it over time; it also requires empathy so as to put ourselves into somebody else’s shoes, being able to share our thoughts, listening and learning.

Creating a disconnect requires unconventional wisdom, being able to pause and think, taking the time to find people who inspire us, connecting with them and sharing thoughts with them.

Disruption is listening, creating room for those we like, asking open questions, then keeping silent so as to absorb as much “open thinking” as possible.

Disruption is being as innovative and open as our ability to connect to people who can contribute, share their voice, and again inspire us.

Disruption is luck, being open to luck, knowing that luck will play its role and not fearing it. Disruption is dropping “career” for “choice” or, as Gianpiero Petriglieri puts it, creating your own “work of art”.

Disruption is knowing how to look for the next positive Black Swan, as good as the people we like. Disruption means dealing with Obliquity, or looking for our next move knowing in advance that the only thing we know is that we don’t know what’s next.

Disruption is finding satisfaction in people we work with, rather than in what we do.

Disruption is connecting wisely.

Tommaso Arenare

Snap judgements, the Savannah and that “reply” button we hit too quickly

This is about identifying and avoiding wrong judgements we make as a result of an unconscious bias, dating back to millennia ago.

Such as when we say…

How come I was so wrong in assessing him when we first met?

Or even:

I wish I had waited a bit longer before replying to that email…

These and similar questions and observations come across so very often, when I talk with people about mistakes we make when we interact with people, select them or react to them.

Humanity is thought to have taken its modern form some 200,000 years ago. Back then,  when we used to live in the Savannah, in small closely knit family groups, most of our key decisions where about a “Fight or Flight” dilemma, when we would face dangerous animals or other dangerous human beings and we had to decide, in as little time as possible, if the best way to save our life was to fight or flight away.

A snap judgement, as the word implies, is our habit to make a decision about people, or reacting to people, unconsciously, in a matter of very few seconds (I would better say milliseconds) after we meet with that someone or we face a situation we consider as a challenge. A snap judgement is a very precious and important habit, which we have developed over many millennia. Over time, though, it has become highly dangerous if we can’t identify and address it properly.

We can change this to our benefit.

Let’s remeber that our brain has largely remained the same, after millennia of evolution. It’s the same brain which helped our ancestors make the right “Fight or Flight” decisions.

Think about today, though: our immediate reaction to that bad email we’ve received, or to that difficult situation we had to face during a meeting, or many similar situations, they all bring our brain back to the Savannah and our fight for survival.

But now we know.

We know that’s exactly when we need to acknowledge our inner feeling of fear, pause and take the time to decide differently. This may require, for example, postponing our decision to the next day, or perhaps involving a friend or colleague we like in re-assessing the elements with us, before we decide.

All of this can be far better than a snap judgement.

Let’s think about it next time we make a judgement about someone we meet or when we decide how to respond to a challenge we face, or when we select leaders for our organisation, as well as when we choose friends or partners in our daily life.

Yet, we may just need some extra time.

That little extra time will result into us reacting more effectively to challenges or selecting better, more talented people, who complement us and bring the added value of difference and diversity, as well as the benefit of far greater personal satisfaction.

Tommaso Arenare