Don’t Make this Stupid Communication Mistake #12

October 2, 2009

Here’s the Situation:  A professional colleague and I were discussing an incident that occured  in the association we both belong to.  It was one of those incidents that ocur in every organization that involves volunteers.  Leadership on the board had turned over with a new year, and the outgoing leadership had neglected to provide the recognition my colleague felt she deserved. 

Here’s the Stupid Mistake:  The colleague began several of her sentences with the words, “I don’t care about the recognition, but . . . ”  Other sentences began with, “I wouldn’t say this to anybody but you . . . .”  What’s worse is that these type of statements consistently pepper the conversations I have with this individual.  As I result, I am quite sure she does care about the recognition and she does make these statements to me and to others. 

When a person is indirect about feelings such as being hurt, it results in the person seeming petty.  When a person claims she won’t say certain things to anybody but you, it  results in the person seeming like a true gossip.  These statements erode trust and make the listener cautious about interactions with the person making the statements.  We tiptoe around people who have a high need for recognition.  We withhold confidences from people we perceive as gossips.  We certainly lose respect for these folks.

Here’s the Solution:  If you are slighted by someone’s failure to recognize you in a professional context, deal with it directly, with the person who committed the error.  If you don’t feel it’s worth it to confront the person directly, then shut up about the whole thing!  If you talk about it behind someone’s back, don’t kid yourself into thinking you don’t look petty.

Gossip is never attractive, and it never builds respect and trust.  Avoid it at all costs.  If you have to say, “I wouldn’t say this to anyone but you . . . , ” reevaluate the comment.  Chances are it should remain unsaid.

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For Networking Success: Break the Superficial Ceiling

December 12, 2007

Over a cup of coffee, a technology professional remarked with a sigh, “I know I could advance in my career if I did more networking, but I don’t. I can’t stand the superficiality—I’m not interested in talking about golf, or team sports, or the weather.”

Many of us equate networking with paper plates and shallow conversations with strangers. Even people who are lucky enough not to be terrified by large events often dread them. After all, superficial conversations seem to reign, and two hours of predictable talk can be insufferably boring. Sometimes it seems that there is a superficial ceiling at these events. That ceiling can seem as impenetrable as any glass ceiling ever was.

Challenge your assumptions

If you find yourself expecting a conversation to be superficial, take a look at the assumption behind the expectation. Just because large events are often superficial doesn’t mean they have to be. Chances are that the majority of people you meet at any event are intelligent and interesting people, just as you are. To assume anything else is both arrogant and silly. If you make a commitment to engage at a meaningful level, you will. Take personal responsibility to connect at that level. Be willing to be respectful, open, and even a bit vulnerable, and it will happen.

Also, examine your own contribution to conversations in large group events. Do you keep abreast of a wide variety of topics? Are you reading widely and constantly learning? If you are excited about ideas, trends, and things that you’ve learned, chances are you’ll be a good conversationalist who draws out the best in others. If you are distracted, unfocused, or overtired, then you are contribution to the superficiality problem.

Offer a good question

In many cases, all it takes to break the superficial ceiling is few well-positioned questions. In a large group situation, good question is one that gives the other person an opportunity without putting that person on the spot. Sometimes it’s appropriate to give your own perspective first. If you are sincere, and you set the question up smoothly, both you and your partner in conversation will enjoy a deep conversation without feeling awkward. Here are some possibilities:

  • I started a great biography on the plane yesterday. Are you a reader? What’s your favorite type of book? What’s on your “must read” list?
  • I see that you are a human resources specialist. What changes have you seen over the course of your career? What advice would you give to someone new to the field?
  • I see that you are in the insurance industry. Did you plan this career, or did it “happen along” when you weren’t expecting it?
  • I’m looking forward to tonight’s speaker. I hear she’s inspirational. Who would you say has been the most inspirational person in your life?
  • Out of curiosity, I’ve been doing some non-scientific research on parenting (or how people prefer get the daily news; or people’s reading habits, or fitness, etc).
  • I’m interested to hear this speaker’s perspective on future trends in our industry. What are your predictions? Or what are the biggest challenges facing your company right now?

There’s no rule that says enforces superficial conversation at networking events. Often the people who complain about it are as responsible for the problem as anyone else. Make a commitment for your side of the equation. The superficial ceiling is not that hard to break after all!