Extreme Anxiety And Meeting People

Whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, content in your role at work or looking to make a change, you’ll find that having positive, working relationships with others can open opportunities which you’d otherwise miss. For many of us, establishing relationships with others is easily done, as is maintaining and growing those relationships.

On the other hand, there are a great many for whom the idea of striking up a relationship with someone they don’t know is stressful. They’re fraught with anxiety about what to say, how to get started, wondering what to talk about and how to keep a conversation going, knowing when and how to end it and move to another etc. Just thinking about talking, communicating, listening, smiling, interacting and – ah, it’s just so exhausting!

Whoa…let’s take a few deep breaths, relax and start slow. The thing about communicating with others is that it seems incredibly simple when we look around us and see people engaged in conversations. It is after all, just talking, listening to the other person, responding, listening again; an exchange of both hearing what is being said and responding. It all seems so effortless and easy.

If you wonder why some find it so hard to do, think back to a time in your life when you were trying to get up the courage to speak to someone you had some strong feelings for. Perhaps you wanted to ask them out on a date, find out if they felt the same way about you that you felt about them. Just asking them straight out however – while the most obvious way to get the information you’re looking for, was not how you went about it. You worked up the courage to approach them and made some small talk, dancing all around what you really wanted until the time seemed right to bring up the topic of a date, grabbing a beverage etc. Remember that anxiety? Remember the angst of wondering why talking to THIS person seemed so much more effort even though your motivation was high?

Well, now imagine how intense and on edge a person might feel if they experienced the same level of anxiety at the prospect of starting a conversation with just about everyone they come into contact with. Feeling such pressure and stress with respect to engaging in conversations with people throughout your day would be exhausting. And these are what many of us might consider every day commonplace conversations we’re talking about here. Now, if we throw in the odd conversation where there’s more on the line, such as a job interview, professionally networking, approaching a Receptionist at a company we’d like to work with etc., you can see how that anxiety is ramped up tremendously. What’s hard anyways just got a whole lot tougher.

Like I said, take a moment and breathe deeply. In and out; inhale, exhale. Again.

Okay, so let’s talk – you read, I’ll write. This conversing thing is a skill like any other and some do it better than others. It’s not a fault of yours if it doesn’t come easy. Let’s look at these conversations and how to get started.

First of all, it might be best to practice interacting with others with a short conversation in mind, and one we can walk away from at any point without being too awkward. You don’t want to practice on an important conversation. Let’s even suppose we don’t have a friend to practice with.

Can I suggest you start with a quick conversation – just for practice – and we then build on our growing confidence over time to longer conversations. One possible place to start is a convenience store. You can look through the window and pick a time when the person there is by themselves. Where you’d normally go in, get your item, pay for it and leave fast, this time your objective is to actually say something. It will be brief, it will be over fast and you can leave, get outside, breath and recover.

Okay, so picture the interaction before you enter. Not the way it’s gone before but like this. You walk in, get what you want and approach the counter. Place your item on the counter and say, “Hi”. As an employee they might ask you if you want a lottery ticket or if you found everything you wanted; every store is similar but different. Think about what they said and say, “No thank you, just this.” If you can, look at them while you say it, give them your money, get your change and leave. Add a goodbye if you want.

This is extremely basic for many people but a anxiety-filled interaction for others. If you can put a series of these short exchanges together with people you don’t know, you are laying a foundation for interacting with others when there is more at stake. Returning to the same employee on different days will help you feel more comfortable too, and you will have days when you things go well and maybe a day or two where you feel you haven’t made progress. That’s to be expected when trying to overcome a challenge.

You may want to try other brief encounters such as saying good morning to a Bus Driver, wishing a Bank Teller a nice day or just looking at someone you pass on the street in the eyes without saying a word. Small steps.

Conversation Starters

There they sit on my desk; a compass, a magnifying glass and a clock. The compass has the inscription, “Life is a journey not a destination.”

Whether it’s after a workshop or someone has dropped in unannounced and would like a word in my office, when someone draws up a chair beside me, these three are close at hand. Invariably, their eyes take in the objects and they make some comment. Picking up on whatever they say, a conversation ensues. Usually I’ll ask them which of the three speaks to them, or which of the three is the most important to them and why.

The compass you see provides direction; it not only helps you find your way when you’re lost, it can help keep you on track when you know which way you’re headed. The magnifying glass brings things which are small and hard to see into focus; enlarging them. The clock? Well the clock never stops does it? Time is moving on and the seconds that pass as we talk about time can never be reclaimed or experience again once they’ve ticked past. Time? Time to get going. Lest you see the clock as only marking regret for time lost, the clock can also be a blessing if it reminds a person they have time ahead of them as well; time to spend.

Now the thing about the three is that neither is more important than the other, but to any one person at the point we meet, one will take on greater importance than the others. To someone confused about their career direction, what they want to achieve or do – the compass and the direction it implies is what they want more than anything. To someone with multiple barriers or so many things going on in their life they find it difficult to give their job search the focus it requires, the magnifying glass speaks. The clock maybe not surprisingly, speaks more to the mature or older people who take up the seat next to me. Younger people in their 20’s say, well, they believe they have all the time in the world; certainly enough that the clock isn’t as ominous as it will be one day.

It was out in a store during a busy Christmas shopping trip that I spied the three. They weren’t assembled as you see them in the photo here. No, they were in various parts of the store, but it was the line of work I’m in and the conversations I have many of that first brought to mind the idea of assembling them together. My brain just works this way; always thinking of creative ideas. Even now as I write, I think about the old-fashioned journals so popular in book stores, and how one of these and a quill pen might be good additions, for those who’d like a fresh page to begin writing the stories that make up a life. However, maybe my desk might get a little cluttered?

They are pretty good conversation starters though. The nice thing is that I don’t have to actually say anything to get conversations going. While we talk walking down to my office, sometimes I’ll take just a fraction of a minute to let them get settled in as I load their personal file or feign moving a few things around on the desk to give them room. The objects before them draw their attention in and while most just make a remark, some will ask if they can hold one. “Why that one?” I’ll ask.

And that’s all it takes. It’s not so much about the ones a person didn’t take up or talk about, even though all three are important. No, the most important thing is just to listen and comment on what I hear. A question here or there; sometimes what they share is better, more relevant and certainly much quicker delivered than had I asked a slew of questions. In fact, a litany of questions might come out more like an interrogation!

Work spaces are very personal areas. Do you have pictures, quotes, maybe a combination of the two, other articles etc. that draw out or inspire conversation? Would you be willing to chime in with a comment about what you strategic place in your work area, why you’ve chosen what you have and the impact of those things on those who come into your space?

It would be interesting to share, to read and perhaps for some to copy. I’m sure I’m not the only one to have objects around them for conversation; possibly others even have the same three objects as I do. Sometimes, I move the clock so it faces me and I substitute in an hourglass. Same kind of device to mark the passing of time; the thing about the hourglass is people like to flip it over. so it becomes interactive. Time appears to stop when the last crystal of sand drops, but of course it stops no more than the clock does when it’s battery expires. Time marches on.

These I have penned about before, so if my musings sound reminiscent of a post past, good for you for recognizing the recurring theme. The interesting thing is sometimes a person returns to my office after some time and they suddenly recall the three, and they remark how their priorities have shifted. That’s groovy.

Reframe The Job Interview

Looking for a job, writing resumes, going to interviews, worrying about whether they will call you or ignore you; this isn’t most people’s idea of a good time. In fact, most of those I know see the process as a roller coaster of ups and downs, built up expectations and dashed hopes. In short, a stressful experience to be ended as soon as possible by getting a job.

When I ask job seekers to share with me what they find most annoying or unpleasant about looking for work they almost always tell me it’s the job interviews. They typically say they hate them, (and hate is a pretty strong word). Why does this word get used over and over to describe the experience? Typically it’s because of those feelings of nervousness, feeling judged, evaluated, setting themselves up to be accepted or rejected.

Imagine how the experience of the job interview, and more importantly the anticipation of the job interview became something to look forward to however; something you perceived as an enjoyable experience. If job interviews were fun wouldn’t you look forward to them even if, yes they still caused you some nervousness?

An analogy might help us out here….hmmm….what would work for us…? Ah ha! Think of going on a date with someone you’ve heard good things about. Better than a blind date set up by one of your friends, suppose you’ve got a date Friday night with someone you’re looking forward to meeting face-to-face. You’re looking forward to sitting down with them because what you’ve learned so far about them has your interest peaked. You hope that meeting them in-person they’ll live up to what you’ve found out so far. Are you nervous? Sure you are, but it’s a good nervous and the anticipation is a good thing.

Why can’t a job interview be along the same lines? You do your homework and find out about the company you are interviewing with. You hope when you sit down face-to-face that they’ll live up to your expectations. Are you nervous? Sure you are, but again it’s a good nervous. You just might make a long-term working relationship out of this first meeting. You’re hoping to hit it off with them and them with you. Just like a first date, you spruce yourself up and look your best and come ready for conversation.

Now perhaps you can’t see any parallel beyond what I’ve described. In your view, it’s not like a date because in a first date each person comes with their questions, each feeling out the other and the conversation goes back and forth. Perhaps it doesn’t work for you personally because you view the job interview not so much as a first date but more like an interrogation from some spy movie where you sit on a cold steel chair under some intense light being grilled by some thug extracting all your information in the most unpleasant of circumstances. The worst part is that by submitting your résumé, you actually walked into this interrogation voluntarily!

Job interviews are like so many other things in life; how we perceive them in our minds goes a long way to how we will actually experience them. Imagine it to be an interrogation and that’s what it will be. Imagine it to be a fun enjoyable experience and it will be as well. Now I know it takes more than just picturing it as a positive experience to make it so, but when you shift your thinking to seeing interviews as good experiences to look forward to, you’ll also find putting in the work to make the experience a positive one is something you’ll undertake with enthusiasm.

That date this Friday evening? Likely you’ll get your outfit ready ahead of time, you’ll wonder what you’ll talk about and prepare yourself with a few questions for them. You also think about what you’ll share on this first date, probably putting your best qualities on display and concealing some of your faults until you get to know them better. You’ll think about what you’ll do, wonder how you’ll get out of it if things don’t go well, or if they do, you hope they’ll like you as much as you like them. When it’s over, you’ll hope they’ll reach out and ask to see you again or be receptive to your own follow-up.

Sounds like an interview to me! In fact, what if the term, ‘job interview’ was replaced with, ‘opportunity conversation’? What if you told yourself you have an upcoming conversation about an opportunity? It’s just a small thing perhaps but it’s one step of reframing this experience from the negative event you dislike into one that you could view as positive; something to look forward to even.

Conversations are one way we find out information and confirm what we’ve learned previously. For both you and the interviewer(s), this interview is an opportunity to sit down face-to-face and get to know one another. They’ve got your résumé and you’ve got their website and whatever your research has revealed ahead of time. Now they and you have a chance to ask questions, listen and rate each other, ultimately deciding if you have a future together and if so, under what conditions.

Tell yourself ahead of time this date is going to be a disaster and it likely will be. Envision it positively and it has a chance to work out and be enjoyable; for both of you.

On A Career Journey? Learn From Tracey

On March 1 I received a message via LinkedIn from a woman who had read one of my blog posts and was touched by it enough that she reached out to me and asked if I’d be willing to meet with her face-to-face to hear first-hand about my career path. On her own career journey, she respectfully asked for 20 minutes of my time over a coffee, and even then said if not, she’d understand and wished me well in my passionate endeavors.

First thing I did was look up her profile on LinkedIn and read up on who this person was and what she’d done to date. We exchanged a couple of messages and the short of it is that we agreed to meet last evening in a public café. I mean here was someone doing exactly what I and many others so often suggest doing; reach out and network, ask for 20 minutes and see what you can learn. I was impressed.

So last evening we met at our agreed time and after introducing ourselves, Tracey made good on her offer of buying me a tea. In exchange for that small investment and the cost of the gas to get to and from the meeting, what she got was more than 20 minutes. We sat there and had a great conversation for…are you ready?…..3 hours. Yep, 3 hours.

When did you last meet someone for the first time and not only found yourself happily immersed in talking but found this interest reciprocated for so long? This was special. The conversation had a nice flow back and forth, both of us sharing experiences, and how those experiences have us where we are in the present. There was something in that post of mine that prompted Tracey to feel she could benefit from meeting; perhaps gaining some insight into what she herself might do with her own career moving forward.

So I shared my working philosophy, the significant characteristics I believe are essential in this line of work, the benefits I derive, what I actually do and what I learn in return. As I spoke I observed Tracey and noted many positive qualities which we’d all do well to replicate in similar situations should we initiate such meetings ourselves.

She listened attentively, made excellent eye contact, smiled, commented on what she heard,  added her own experiences to the conversation so it was a two-way exchange. She was well dressed, came prepared with some written questions and had a pen and paper at hand. Now ironically, the questions she’d prepared didn’t play much of a part in the meeting, as our conversation went back and forth at a comfortable pace and apparently satisfied her questions.

I was interested to hear that in addition to myself, she was meeting with others too; people she had been referred to by others. She said it this meeting was the first time she’d reached out on her own to someone she didn’t know, and we laughed a bit at that. It’s prudent to be cautious when doing so of course, but we were meeting in a public space and sometimes that courage provides new perspectives; hearing from others actually doing the kind of work you might be considering yourself.

I found it interesting that she’d spent 4 years teaching abroad, has recently invested in upgrading her education in Social Sciences and has experience working as a Researcher. More significant to me was hearing her speak about her own love for helping others, having a need for innovation and creativity and how much she enjoys interacting one-to-one. Like attracts like, and so being innovative myself, connecting with others one-on-one, loving helping others and being creative I envisioned her as a professional colleague in the same line of work. Having just met, I don’t know her inside and out, but still, I started to read her and see if she had what it would take to be in this field and succeed. No question about it.

What struck me was her dilemma. What to do? Look for work in the field she just upgraded her education in or possibly pursue a career in something else. Now as I said to her, if her heart was in the work she’d just went to school for, she likely wouldn’t be sitting in a café having a conversation like the one we were having; she’d be enthusiastically out there applying for jobs. Yet here she was. That is a most telling reality; seems to me she’s looking for some work to do with passion herself; helping others in some capacity and looking to feel fulfilled. That apparently hasn’t manifested itself where she is right now.

In the end, it will be Tracey who makes up her mind as to where she goes from here and what she does next in her career journey. She’s an intelligent woman gathering information and others perspectives, and I’m very interested myself to stay in touch and hear what transpires. I’ve made myself available in any way that she might find helpful too, be it further conversations in-person or otherwise.

Now as for you and me, this is yet another example where connecting via social media is a good start, but leveraging these connections into actual conversations and truly networking is what we could do more of. 3 hours you might not get I acknowledge, but asking for 20 minutes…priceless. Happy networking!


Not A ‘People’ Person?

The gift of gab,  a born charmer, a real people person; some people are described this way. Whether they are surrounded by friends, co-workers or being introduced to others for the first time, they just have a natural ease with engaging themselves in conversations. They make it look so easy and for them, well…it is.

However for many, it’s a struggle to mix and mingle with others. When preparing to go anywhere where a gathering of people is expected their anxiety rises. For some reason, very competent individuals who have particular talents and expertise may have poorly developed interpersonal skills. The lack of these skills, or their under-development could adversely affect an individual’s ability to meet the right people or impress them enough when they do meet them to be considered for promotions or special projects as they arise.

If you are the kind of person as described above, you may desperately wish you had better people skills but have a greater fear of what it will take to improve in this area. Like it is with anything you wish to improve or learn, it does take some effort; and you may have some setbacks along the way where things don’t go smoothly. Don’t give up trying though; the payoff is increased self-confidence and a comfort level you don’t currently have in both social and professional situations.

Let’s look at a few things you could do. For starters, when you’re about to meet people for the first time, remind yourself that they don’t know you until you are introduced. Therefore, they don’t know the lack of comfort you are experiencing either. For all they know, you may be quite comfortable and at ease with holding your own in a conversation. Use this to your advantage.

Planning on keeping conversations short with any one person is another way to go about gaining some assertiveness by building on small successes. If you envision meeting someone and having a 10 minute one-to-one chat, the anxiety you could work up fretting about how to fill a 10 minute conversation may stop you before you even say hello. So reframe that conversation into a polite but short introduction.

One thing it is very important not to overlook is that a conversation is a two-way exchange. You are only 50% responsible for the dialogue and don’t have to talk the entire time. Some people make this mistake; do all the talking and exhaust both themselves and the person listening as they move from topic to topic until they are out of things to talk about. While it may appear to you as an onlooker that this kind of person has great people skills, in fact they don’t. They are talking for the sake of hearing themselves and not really engaging in true conversation.

This brings us to listening skills. Whomever it is you are going to chat with provides you with both words to listen to and thoughts to respond to. Listening attentively to whatever someone else is saying gives you things to consider and then respond to. You can’t anticipate and plan what to say until the other person gives you the information to respond to. Overly anxious and nervous people are often so busy thinking of what to say next they fail to pay attention to what the other person is talking about.

Take a deep breath or two and slow down the pace of the words coming out of your mouth. When we get anxious or nervous, or even excitable, there can be a tendency to speak quicker, making our voice tremble and the words harder to understand. Slow things down, speak clearly and you may find you engage more with the conversation as it ebbs and flows back and forth.

Asking open-ended questions of those you meet rather than yes/no questions is also helpful in shifting what to say to the other people you are chatting with. Just one or two of these questions is enough to get things started and then as mentioned above, you can demonstrate your listening skills by responding to what you hear.

Can you really ever become comfortable; really comfortable engaging in conversation with others if you’re not a people person? Like any skill, interpersonal skills can be improved upon. If you are expecting however to change your entire personality; going from say an introvert to an extrovert, not only is this probably not going to happen, you shouldn’t feel compelled to have to. Many people who are naturally shy or introverted can and do have sufficient people skills to engage with those around them.

It is not necessary that you transform into a naturally gifted public speaker or the life of the party. Turn down the pressure you perceive to be that kind of person. You are best to be true to yourself; be authentic and just work to develop in this area as someone else might work on areas they too wish to improve in.

Consider starting with people you meet in brief moments throughout your day. Be it the Bus Driver, a Server, a Cashier at the grocery store; a short conversation and a smile in these situations can give you the confidence you need to engage with others. Remind yourself too of what’s the worse that could happen with that store Cashier? You leave.

Interpersonal skills; people skills; worth paying attention to and developing.





Inanimate Items Prompting Conversations

I have three items on my desk which are within arm’s reach of the people I assist in my role as an Employment Counsellor; a clock, a compass and a magnifying glass. I also have on the wall a collage of inspirational quotes on various themed pictures. All four of these items are inanimate; they just sit there and don’t utter a sound but boy do they stimulate thought and conversation.

Now not everyone who comes in my office makes a comment. Sure there are those who are so focused on discussing their own situation that they are blind to anything that might cause them to get sidetracked from what’s on their mind. However, for the vast majority of people who walk in and sit down, at some point their eyes wander over to these objects and they make some introductory remark that I follow-up on with a remark or question of my own.

So I might ask someone who is looking at the quotes, “Which one(s) are you drawn to?”, “Why that one?” or “What meaning do you get out of that quote?” Something that gives the person an opportunity to share what is obviously of some meaning to them personally and may just give me an insight into what they see as important and how they think. I wonder whether they like the quote because of the quote itself or the picture in the background that accompanies the quote.

So sitting in front of them are as I said the clock, the compass and the magnifying glass. To me they are symbols of time, direction and illuminating something clearly that they couldn’t see without the glass. So which do they instinctively reach for? Why that one? Do they fiddle with all three or focus in on one of the three and why? When I tell them why I have the three items on my desk and what they mean to me, they usually respond with some version of, “Oh, that’s cool!” and then they follow this up with something that reveals to me what they are thinking at that moment about their own future and what they need now to realize it.

You see these are really aides that I use to stimulate conversation in a very non-threatening way. I’m sure you know people who are chatty and who require no stimulation whatsoever to engage in conversation. For people like these who are willing to talk about anything under the sun, the items just steer the conversations without me having to do so. For those who are more introverted and less talkative, the items become things they touch, look at, are drawn to; giving me the opportunity to seize on their actions and begin a conversation. “I see you like the compass; it’s good for finding direction when you don’t know which way to move. Have you ever felt that way yourself?”

What I think is interesting is that I didn’t intentionally think of obtaining these things with the purpose of stimulating conversation the way they have evolved in my office. It started with a trip at Christmas when I was actually shopping around for others and spotted the three objects. I couldn’t really buy myself all three at a time when I should be thinking of others, so I did what many people do; I notified those that were on the lookout for items I’d like to receive and got one of the three gifted to me. Buying the other two after Christmas because I liked them and they formed a nice set out of brass which I was drawn to.

And sometimes that’s exactly what happens; we stumble onto ideas rather than set out with purpose and grand design. Then one small thought leads to another and voila, we’ve got this product, this program, this concept realized that helps us and helps those we serve. We could of course tell everyone that we thought of it all along as a complete master plan put into action, but really, we just worked on small pieces and brought them together to create something better than the individual parts.

 I wonder if like me, you have created something where you meet with those you serve that is novel, of interest, piques curiosity, stimulates conversation etc.? Would you be willing to share your personal tools that we readers might benefit from?

The great thing about social media is sharing; sharing in this case that is about what creative ideas we have that stimulate conversations and draw people out their thoughts and into dialogue – all with what’s on our desks or on the walls perhaps that surround our workspace.

There are many ways to draw people into conversations and not all those ways begin verbally. Not only are the items useful for stimulating the start of dialogue, they also keep some occupied while I turn to entering information into their file, or leaving momentarily to obtain a printout of a document.

Sometimes, when a conversation is wrapping up, I’ve had people say, “I don’t know why I told you what I did. I wasn’t expecting to talk about that at all; you’re the only person I’ve told that too.”

Amazing that inanimate objects can do so much.


Not Working? Net Working?

If you’re not networking, you’re not working.

You have heard no doubt that fairly common phrase which goes, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” It sums up nicely the idea that getting to know people may result in one of those you come to know being able to help you with your hope for employment.

Those who network well and make connections with others will tell you how much that networking proves useful, while those who don’t network will lament that it shouldn’t be about who you know at all, but what you know. Either way, both the two groups of people are acknowledging the power of networking.

I really think that if you aren’t networking, it’s likely because you either don’t know how to go about it, or you don’t want to put in the effort. Like most things in life, if you want something bad enough you have to work for it, and building up contacts and networking takes work. It is after all called, ‘NetWORKING’.

So what is networking. It’s actually easier to tell you what it isn’t. Networking is not having 2,000 friends on Facebook and sharing a photo of you and your cousin at the local restaurant having a pizza. It’s not about going to some conference or seminar and sitting at your table and talking to the 3 other people who sit with you about the topic and then leaving either. There are many people who go to conferences and seminars who never do any networking whatsoever.

Networking occurs when you engage others in conversation and that discussion shifts beyond the original reason for the dialogue. So if you go to a meeting about leadership and only talk about leadership with others, you aren’t really networking. Talking of the weather and the drive to get there is social courtesy but not really networking. Networking would be where you are chatting with someone on your mutual break or lunch hour and opened with, “So tell me about your work. How did you get started?”

With that kind of opening remark, the conversation shifts from speaking of leadership to that of showing an interest in the person’s work and how they got into the position or field. You are now networking. In a moment or two barring the conference getting underway again, you’ll be asked no doubt something similar about what it is you do.

Some people I know are painfully awkward when it comes to networking. They fear the moment when someone will ask them something and they’ll have to actually talk and engage in conversation. In short, their people skills are weak and instead of casually talking and enjoying it, they feel it taxing and a lot of mental work to initiate that conversation and keep it going.

Consider though that the first person who asks a question, such as the one above, “So what do you do for a living and how did you get started?”, just has to listen as soon as the question is out there. When the person is concluding their answer, a second or third question based on what you learn keeps THEM talking and you listening. “Wow that’s very interesting. So you didn’t plan on this career path at all when you started out?” And away they go!

Now, when it does shift to you, try to seize this chance to share your employment goal if you are unemployed or your hopes for a promotion or change. You’re not there to only exploit others, but if there is a relationship you can forge with this person and perhaps set up a follow-up meeting 1:1 with them, you might be on your way to getting some insights in the field you want to work in, and know you will ‘know’ someone.

Knowing someone in a company or a field in general in order to get a lead or a job offer isn’t a dirty thing; it’s the way of the world and quite a good thing actually. When you know someone they know you. As they know you, they may see a person who would be a good fit with their needs, maybe someone who will work hard or whose attitude would be a welcome addition to the organization.

Let me ask you this: Were you in a position to help someone you know right now get a job either in your own company or a company you know is hiring, would you let them know about the opportunity or help them in some other way? Perhaps tell them who to send their resume to, and maybe even put in a good word for them? I suspect you would. So if you would do that for others, why does it seem a bad thing then for others to lend a hand to people they know? The answer seems to only be when you are looking for work and don’t have the advantage of a network to leverage.

Connect with people therefore on LinkedIn or at the company you wish to work for. Then whether it’s through social media or conversations in real life with those you already know, start networking. Tell the people what you are looking for, ask for help, take and interest in them too. Networking is conversing so converse.

Networking is not magical or complicated. If you’re not networking, you’re not working.


Conversations With Young Adults

If I were in the position of being a Professor in a University or College, or if I found myself commanding the attention of any young people in fact, I’d tell them that above all the other skills they could master, communicating effectively through conversation would top my list.

The stereotypical young person is pretty savvy with most forms of electronic devices; they use cellphones with ease, have I-pods and or I-pads, tweet their friends, and are knowledgeable when it comes to using various apps. However, put away the electronics, turn off the phones and start a real conversation and often a weakness arises.

Now to be fair, what I’m saying doesn’t apply to every young adult I know. But with some, once past the surface issues such as the weather, health, recent school performance and known personal interests, I’ve observed a lack of comfort engaging in meaningful conversation. I can read the expression on their faces as they blankly look off to the left or right, the tight forced smiles which come as they strive to survive a conversation as if they are being interrogated.

Maybe it’s the intimidation factor of being young and talking with older people in general. Is it having a lack of things to talk about or not knowing what to share or ask? I do give young people credit for being information smart. Once a topic is introduced that they have discussed in school for example, they can readily give you their own take on what was presented and what they think of it. In fact, these moments wash over them like a wave of relief when they can share what they know.

Conversation fundamentally is a two-way interaction. If one person is doing most or all of the answering and one is doing most or all of the questioning, it’s trying on both people; the one to keep coming up with questions and the other to keep answering. There are some things one can do to improve the flow of conversation.

For starters, create an atmosphere or environment where questions and conversation in general is encouraged and safe. If you were hosting a University placement student, you’d do well to introduce them to everyone, and to have told everyone prior to their arrival who they are and to have encouraged everyone to welcome them and make them feel comfortable. It’s hard enough on anyone when you meet many people at once. Having one person specifically prepared to play host also gives the student someone to adhere to and look for support and guidance from.

As a young adult, it’s also good practice to keep up on some current affairs in the news. Being ‘in the know’ about some major news story can readily give you the feeling of inclusion; you’re able to participate from a position of knowledge in a conversation. If you don’t know what’s being discussed, you are again in the position of being informed or taught, and that separates you again from those around you.

Sometimes when I’m sitting with young adults in my workplace, I’ll ask them a question such as, “What would you like to ask me? – no question is too bold or off the table.” This allows them to ask anything, go anywhere, and because the invitation has been extended, the conversation begins. Sometimes it’s a tried and true, rehearsed kind of question like, “How did you get started?” Fair enough. Their young, I was once young and in their shoes, wondering at that time how to get started myself. Be prepared to answer or volunteer this information for a young person.

People generally like to talk about themselves, what interests them and share things they find interesting. One thing a young person can do – all of us in fact – is consciously make an effort to ask about the person we are talking with. If you turn all your conversations back to you and how you are doing, what you are feeling and what you hope to do etc., that gets tiring real fast. It’s important to ask about others, how they are doing, feeling and what they are up to.

You can and should practice just talking. Get beyond one syllable answers and really engage in conversation. Every parent can probably identify with the teen/young adult where the conversation goes like this:
“Did you have a nice day today?”
“Learn anything new?”
“Not really.”
“How are things generally?”
“Fine. I’m going to my room.”

Come to think of it, we can probably remember being on the other end of that conversation too if we are old enough. That wasn’t so much a conversation as it was a mandatory daily interrogation where both parties go through the motions; the parent struggling to engage, the teen or young adult seeking to disengage at the first opportunity without being overtly rude. Neither leaves feeling entirely satisfied.

The world of work demands verbal communication skills. Few people can just turn the art of being a true conversationalist at will like a light switch. You’re going to need to speak with co-workers, clients, customers, your boss, folks in other departments, on the phone, in-person. People skills take time to truly master and the sooner you start, the more you enhance the skill – as with any skill.

Love to hear your thoughts on this.

Who Can I Network With?

Networking; everybody promotes it these days as something people looking for work or looking to advance in their work should do. “But how do I get going? What do I say? I don’t even know what networking really is in the first place!”

Networking is having conversations with people about topics that go beyond the original reason for speaking. By way of example, you go in and buy a hammer at the hardware store and talk about two or three different styles before buying one. Essentially the clerk interviewed you to determine what your needs are, but then the sale was made and you walked out. No networking happened even though you talked to each other. Now you go back and buy a tape measure. Again he asks a few things:

“What do you need it for and how long?”
“I’m helping a neighbour frame his basement and 45′ should do it.”
“Done this kind of thing before or first time?”
“Oh yes. I’m a framer by trade; looking for full-time work actually, having recently moved to this area.”
“I might know a guy. Many contractors buy their supplies here. You should leave me your name and number.”
“I’ll do better than that. I’m just a few doors down, I’ll bring you back a resume to pass on if that’s okay.”
“Sure thing. My name is Nick. You ask for me.”

The original reason for the conversation was to buy a tape measure but you can see the conversation expanded and soon it had moved beyond a tape measure and the opportunity to talk about work and job searching was seized. Networking; a conversation where the topic went beyond the original reason for speaking.

Fair enough but who to network with? Could I suggest the answer is everybody? One of my co-workers shared a tool she came across some time ago. It’s called a FRANK list. Under each of the 5 letters in the word, “FRANK” there is a column for you to write down people you know who are a good fit in the column. ‘F’ is for Friends, ‘R’ is for Relatives, ‘A is for Acquaintances, ‘N’ is for Neighbours, and the ‘K’ is for Kids.

For the purposes of this exercise, you would write down everyone you know who should fall into one of the categories. Your Dentist, the Dental Receptionist, the Bus Driver on your route, he kid who delivers the papers, the guy at the hardware store, your mom and dad, former teachers, the neighbour two units down, EVERYBODY. At this stage what you don’t do, is mentally rule out people you know but don’t want to talk to. So yes, your ex-spouse goes down, the brother you don’t talk to, the guy who picks up your garbage etc. This is a brainstorming exercise after all at this point.

Now the natural instinct when you are out of work is to tell as few people as necessary. We don’t want our shame or unemployed status to be shared with everyone out of a sense of personal pride, but the second we get a job, we’ll be telling everyone the good news! How ironic. Ironic? Why is that ironic? It’ ironic because right now would actually be the ideal time to tell all those people we’re looking for work and put our resume in all those people’s hands! In other words, because we never know exactly where our next job will come from, it could very well come directly or indirectly from one of the people we currently know. If they don’t know we are even looking for work or what work we are looking for, how could they possibly think of us when opportunities arise that they hear of?

Now in the case of the paper boy who I mentioned earlier, ‘kids’ is the final column and I want to clarify how that column works. Don’t think for a minute I’m going to take my newspaper with my left hand and with my right hand give him my resume and say, “Hey kid, know anyone who’s hiring a Framer?” That’s funny.

Here’s what I did just two weeks ago however. I actually came home just in time to catch the new newspaper boy walking up my driveway with the paper. He introduced himself as Jack, and Jack’s mom was pulling the wagon as she walked him around on his initial delivery route. After saying hello to Jack and showing him where I’d like him to put my paper, I walked down the driveway, introduced myself to his mom, and found out they live a block over from me. Then I pulled out a business card of mine and handed it to her. Jack came and got the next paper and walked to the next house while we too chatted about what she did and my job.

Now just imagine that scene if I was looking for work. I’d be seizing that chance to tell the woman what I was looking for in terms of a job, and instead of my business card, I’d be putting a resume in her hands and asking her to keep me in mind if she hears of anything be it an actual job or a lead. And I’d be friendly, smiling, and trying to make a good impression on the paper boy’s mom. How do I know her husband isn’t a contractor, or she herself isn’t a contractor? Bet you hadn’t thought of that possibility!

So What Is, “Active Listening”?

Although the term, ‘active listening’ is not new, unless you are familiar with it, you may not really fully understand or appreciate in full what it is and more importantly why it’s so important.

Active listening is a technique used in communication, especially by Counsellors and those who excel in interpersonal communications. The general premise is that you as the listener check on what you hear to the speaker; doing this by re-stating or paraphrasing what you have heard in words of your own. This confirms the accuracy of what was both said and heard, so both you and the other person have a shared understanding.

The value in this is that for the speaker, they can clarify anything misunderstood or not made clear, and ultimately feel they’ve been accurately heard in full and fully understood. You as the listener also are 100% clear that what you THINK you hear and understand is in fact what was really communicated. And it doesn’t stop at just the words spoken. The very best communicator’s and active listener’s pick up on the non-verbal communication going on which is added to the words they hear. If someone is almost lying down in their chair and propping up their head in their hands but is talking about really being enthusiastic in a slow, monotonous voice, the words and the observable body language don’t support each other, and the active listener would point this out and seek clarity.

So what’s this have to do with you personally? Well like driving a Forklift, mopping a floor, teaching a class or cooking a meal, active listening is a skill. And like any skill, you can have it or not, develop it or not, and ultimately use it or not. But unlike the other examples I mentioned in this paragraph, this skill is transferable and can applied in all interactions with literally everyone you meet, be it at home or work, social or professional gatherings.

Now think of job postings you’ve seen where it says you have to work well with other people. Working well with other people does not mean, “you do your job and shut up and let me do mine.” That’s a direct quote from someone I was discussing the idea of working well with others with not long ago. And like any other skill, the more you use it, the more comfortable you get with it, and the more natural it becomes.

If it helps to illustrate the opposite, think how often you are talking to someone in your own life and pick up signs that they are really listening or they are but don’t really get what you’re saying at all. “Ugh, you don’t understand! You never listen!” is the kind of thing you may recall people saying to you personally, and what they are saying communicating is that you really aren’t actively engaged in listening and sincerely don’t understand. The result is the other person leaves in frustration, and the message they take away is that you either don’t care enough to give them your full attention, or you didn’t really listen.

When listening to someone, a good idea is to minimize distractions so that the only communication you are engaged in at that time is the person speaking. Think of a Counsellor who closes their door to others, turns their chair away from the computer, pulling it up to a comfortable distance sitting facing their client, and leans slightly in so they are fully focused on the person they are seeing. That client gets the message very clearly, “I’m giving you my full attention and ready to listen.” I was out for dinner with four other people last weekend and in noisy restaurant it was impossible to participate much in a conversation going on at the other end of the table. I knew I was only catching bits and pieces, and felt frustrated in not giving my full attention to others when they were speaking – it was hard work!

And here’s the most significant thing to be gained from the practice of active listening. When someone knows they have been heard correctly and understood, they say more, and what they say is usually deeper, more meaningful, and ultimately more beneficial because the layer of trust has been reached. When someone says, “Wow, she’s good, she really listens”, what they are really saying is that the person is an effective active listener. But who says that?

You hear effective active listeners clarify often. “So what I hear you say is…” or “What you’re saying is important and I want to make sure I’ve got it right. You’re saying…” Now of course good listeners don’t want to interrupt and sound like they have hearing issues by constantly saying, “If I hear you correctly…” And a no-no for many people who are openly up is to say, “What you’re really trying to say is…” That projects you as some all-knowing superior being, and suggests the person isn’t expressing themselves well, and you may be right or wrong.

The next time you are having a conversation, really listen to the other person, minimize interruptions and give them your full attention. Check on what you’ve heard, and avoid the temptation of naturally forming what you want to say as soon as the other person gives you an opening. When you check on what you are hearing, you’ll have a solid contribution to add to the conversation.