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Monday 20 January 2014

How to achieve that elusive work-life balance

So it's early Sunday morning, and one of the work phone lines rings (my partner and I both work from home when we're not out and about with clients.) He rushes to the phone, and I yell "Leave it!!! - Don't they know it's Sunday?".  He answers it anyway, and after 20 minutes comes back and tells me it was just as well he did answer it, as it was an important new client on the brink of a huge new IT project for him... "Oh that's alright then" I say.

There's the rub. I very much appreciate and value our down-time together, but I am also quite ambitious for our businesses, and get excited about the prospect of new projects. It occurred to me later that evening, after watching a film on TV that our principles and values are only strong to a point. Each person will from time to time feel conflicted when they find themselves in a situation that challenges these principles. The work phone ringing on a Sunday morning was, for me, one of those situations. But rather than beat myself up for too long for not sticking to my principles, I decided it was time to remind myself of why I believe in balancing work and non-work activities, and to put some "all-year resolutions" into place.

First the benefits (I shouldn't need reminding of these, but here we go)
  • Increased resilience - inevitable stressful situations are experienced as less threatening and leave less of a mark.
  • Increased tolerance of other people's behaviour - which protects relationships both in and out of work.
  • Better decision making and problem solving - clearer thought processes help me to identify not just obvious solutions, and to be more decisive.
  • Enhanced productivity - when rested, I can plough through administrative tasks as at a rate of knots. Whereas when I'm overdoing it, it becomes like wading through treacle.
  • Higher motivation - I absolutely love my job. But I appreciate it most when I'm looking after myself too.
  • Optimum performance - without a doubt, I can get into "The Zone" quicker and stay there longer when I've had some time off to recuperate and recharge my batteries.

... All of which leads to greater productivity, happier customers and increased personal and business success.

The four step plan (How to improve your work-life balance)
  1. Put down-time in the diary - It may seem a bit over controlling, but if you're used to working with a diary, then having an "appointment" to go out for a nice long walk with your family, or to mow the lawn (not at this time of year, I know!), then you're more likely to stick with it. We have a long standing joke at home that we plan to do something spontaneous every Saturday. Funny, but it works! It also means you can begin to find time for the things that you'd like to do but never have time for. Like create a time slot to go for that early morning run you've been saying you'll do this year, but haven't so far and it's over half way through January.
  2. Evaluate and re-prioritise what you do with your time - If you take a look at how you spend your waking hours, you'll probably find that you spend quite a bit of time on people and activities that aren't valuable or life-enhancing. I don't mean finding chores that you hate, but looking for things that you're in the habit of doing that really don't give you many benefits. This could be spending excessive time searching the Internet for new ideas, or being a perfectionist and spending too long on getting unimportant tasks absolutely right. If you can stop yourself from wasting valuable time, you can replace it with more creative, joyful or relaxing activities that bring you the balance you're looking for,
  3. Don't do, delegate - A great example of a book that can inspire change without getting further than the title! Take a look at tasks that you currently do, both in and out of work, that you might be able to pass on (maybe just in part) to a willing helper. Looking to share tasks with other people will give them an opportunity to work with you and to learn from you. Don't keep your (washing-up) skills to yourself!
  4. Invigorate and rejuvenate - If you think "Exercise" is an 8 letter word, then find an activity that gets you up off your desk chair, or off of your sofa, and gets your blood pumping. Better still, an activity that gets fresh air into your lungs and daylight onto your skin. Research has shown that this will work wonders to clear your head and keep you more alert. It could be a brisk walk, a game of football, or a spot of digging in the garden. Failing that, try a cool (not cold) shower, get someone to give you a regular back and shoulder massage, or take up some form of yoga or meditation.
So there it is, hardly rocket science, but making a few small changes will make all the difference. So next time the work phone rings on a Sunday, will I answer it? The answer is "maybe"... depends how I'm feeling!

Do let me know your ideas for achieving work-life balance. Have you made any new year's resolutions that are already proving beneficial?

Thursday 30 August 2012

How to conquer procrastination (before it conquers you!)

A couple of days ago, the BBC published an article in their online News Magazine to accompany a Radio 4 broadcast about one of my pet topics: "Procrastination".

Ask anyone you know if they are "guilty of procrastination" and they're likely to own up to putting things off from time to time... So it wasn't a particular surprise to learn that Professor Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation, has found in his extensive research that 95% of us procrastinate at some point!

Procrastination is an umbrella term to describe all the behaviours which avoid or delay doing things that we don't want to do, or don't like doing. There's a myriad of behaviours that we have at our disposal, from minimising the importance of tasks, to ignoring them completely, to justifying our approach as somehow more beneficial than just doing something.

We are all very different in what we like doing, how we like to do things and why we want to do things... So for me, the issue of procrastination is a complex one that will never be solved with a one-size-fits-all solution. Some people really don't see any problem for themselves in leaving tasks until they become critical, or life-threatening. (Their colleagues, friends and family may feel differently, but that's another matter.) In fact, they may well 'defend' their approach to work/life by saying that they're a perfectionist, or that they work better under pressure. Others will say that they know they procrastinate, but they have no idea how to stop doing it - they have a yearning that 'someday' (when they're less busy, stressed, distracted...) they'll sort themselves out and learn to take control. But you know where 'someday' gets us: not very far at all!

Everyone sits somewhere along the continuum of "happy to procrastinate" through to "desperate to stop procrastinating". Where we sit on that continuum will depend on the day of the week/month, the season of the year, the tasks in question and the people by whom we are surrounded. I imagine it as a set of scales, with the desire to act on one side and the perceived dread or dislike of doing whatever it is, on the other side. Whichever is stronger will always win. So unless you really, really want to stop procrastinating more than you want to avoid doing whatever the task is, then you'll never break the vicious cycle.

So what's the solution? I believe the first step involves becoming more conscious of the choices we make on a day-to-day, minute-by-minute basis. Rather than just 'going with the flow', seeing where our mood and un-checked inclination takes us, we can choose to consciously consider what we do with our time and why we're doing it. If we sit at our desk in the morning, open up our emails and just click through until something interesting grabs our attention, the likelihood is that we won't be putting our time to particularly good use. If there's a task that never seems to get ticked on our to-do-list, or something that we always seem to do in a panic at the last possible minute, then the first step is to understand why.

This first step will need a fair amount of courage and honesty. Is it that it seems too much like hard work? or perhaps it's because we're afraid of failure (so we don't want to even try in case we get it wrong). It could just be that we don't know where to start, or that it seems like an overwhelming mountain to climb. On the other hand, it could be that we're just not into doing things that we don't enjoy - particularly if there's no obvious immediate personal gain. The list is endless.

Once you have your most likely answer (or combination of answers) then, and only then can you begin to create a plan of action to address the issues. If you find this step difficult, and you're genuinely determined to get to the bottom of it, you may need to enlist the help of a trustworthy and supportive friend or colleague to explore the issues with you. It's not helpful to see it as a personality assassination, or a blame game - simply a detached analysis of what's getting in the way of you tackling particular tasks before you get to the "oh no, now I'm in real trouble" stage.

Here are a few suggestions for counteracting some of the most common reasons for procrastinating:

Unconvinced that procrastination is a problem?
  • Identify the price of procrastination in terms of your reputation and relationships. Ask your immediate colleagues, friends and family how your procrastinating affects them. Then ask yourself, is it really worth it?
  • Admit that procrastination is a lack of self-discipline and not a skill or technique - but it is within your power to overcome it.
  • Recognise the impact your procrastination has on others and show more consideration to people by planning properly and involving them at the appropriate time.
  • Remind yourself that tasks rarely get easier, or go away because they have been postponed.
  • Convince yourself of the benefits to you, your colleagues, friends, family or anyone else that matters to you - if you do it sooner rather than later.

Overwhelmed by how much there is to do, or don't know where to start?

  • Make a plan that breaks down the task into achievable chunks with estimated time allowances and time scales.  Small deadlines are so much easier to deal with than one large overwhelming task.
  • Aim to get the task completed a while before any deadline - so that you allow for any unexpected interruptions and obtain a second opinion if required.
  • Before you get going, identify any areas of the task that you may need help with, so that you can enlist the appropriate help in good time.  
  • If you can, involve others early on in the task and approach it as a team effort. This could help you all avoid procrastinating, as you won’t want to let each other down.
  • If the task involves a particular frame of mind, such as being creative, or feeling positive, or having clarity of thought - plan to do it when you know you are most likely to be feeling that way. (Leaving a complex or creative task until after lunch is not usually very productive!)
  • Don’t allow the task to get out of control because you are being too fussy about certain elements – stay focused on the overall objective of the task, and what you are trying to achieve from it. ("Good enough is good enough")

The task is dull and boring, or something you don't like doing?
  • Plan to do it when you are at your least energetic - you'll be pleased to plod your way through something un-challenging.
  • Visualise yourself getting on with the task and realise how good you will feel if you complete it on time. Compare that with how bad you will feel if you don’t.
  • Promise yourself a reward for completing it – and make sure you follow-through!

You're easily distracted, or you just keep forgetting to do things?

  • Find and implement a reminder system that suits you - it could be Outlook task manager, an alarm on your phone, a simple diary/to do list on the wall, or a reminder by text or email from a friend. Use it to prompt yourself when it's time to start on a particular task that you've scheduled.
  • When the time comes, try cutting yourself off from distractions (turn your phone off, go to a private room, or tell others that you don't want to be disturbed for an hour or so. Then just get on with it until your allotted time is up, or until you have completed the first stage.
  • You may get distracted because you have a short attention span, or because you're attempting to do too much at once. If this is the case, make yourself stop, focus on something else and return to it at an allotted time.
  • Tell others what you're getting on with, and let them know when you've finished, so they can congratulate you. (In a totally non-patronising way, of course!)
  • Promise yourself a reward for staying focused and not being distracted – and make sure you follow-through!

You don't see the task as a major priority?

  • Consider the consequences of continuing to leave the task uncompleted. If it genuinely won't make a jot of difference to you, or to others - cross it off your to do list and don't give it another thought.
  • If you have other more important priorities right now, but you can envisage a future problem if you keep putting it off, schedule a specific date and time when you'll make a start.
  • If you have lost sight of how important the task is in the grand scheme of things (you're getting too bogged down with small, less significant things) take time to write down your personal goals and priorities. Work out how this task fits in, and remind yourself of the value of completing it sooner rather than later.
I hope you'll find these few ideas useful. The key is not to try them all, but to understand what's behind your particular procrastination, and to tackle it with a strategy that is most likely to work.

To me, the most worrying part of the research findings shared by the BBC is that serious procrastinators are apparently less wealthy, less healthy and less happy than those who don't delay. So if you do happen to catch yourself justifying your procrastination to yourself or to others, it may be a good idea to stop and think about what's really going on, just in case you're inadvertently covering up a ticking time bomb...

Wednesday 8 August 2012

What is "Slow Learning"?

This week, I've been thinking about "Accelerated Learning". For anyone who hasn't come across AL, it's a very broad term which encompasses a wide range of diverse techniques, methodologies and approaches to teaching and to learning. AL basically uses the latest brain research to help you learn faster and remember more.

My initial reaction when I first heard about AL many years ago was "great!" - After all, who wouldn't want to learn faster, and to remember more?

If you read my blog post in March this year, entitled: "Would you like fries with that?" you'll be forgiven for thinking that I'm a food obsessed trainer! Actually, I am partial to good wholesome cooking, but I also happen to see a lot of analogies between food and learning... particularly between Fast Food and Accelerated Learning, and "Slow Food" and "Slow Learning".

You may have heard of "Slow Food" (The international movement founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986.) Slow Food UK explains:

"In the fast modern junk food environment, Slow Food is the voice of calm reason and quality. We work to promote the greater enjoyment of food through a better understanding of its taste, quality and production."

So what is "Slow Learning"? It's actually a term I've started using to describe the type of learning that is not intended or designed to be a quick fix, nor a speedy short cut to developing skills. It's a concept that embraces the value and benefits of taking time to develop and hone skills, to learn through experience, and to build an expertise which only time, reflection and guided learning can bring...

I should perhaps point out here, (as I did in my previous "...fries with that?" blog post) that I don't feel there's anything wrong with Accelerated Learning - in fact there are a lot of very useful AL techniques that I regularly use in my training - to help make the experience memorable and the learning easier to digest. My interest in the concept of "Slow Learning" is not about discrediting an approach which so clearly has it's place, but it is about suggesting that there's another way, which perhaps we have lost sight of.

There can't be a person in the UK who hasn't been watching (or at least keeping up with) the Olympics.... If you were to ask any of the medal winners what's the secret of their success, they're unlikely to say that they simply attended an intensive 1 or 2 day training session and rocked up at the Olympic Park! The Olympians, whether medal winners or competitors are a fantastic example of dedication, hard work, positive mental attitude and tenacity: all qualities which I believe are central to the concept of "Slow Learning".

I do worry that if we continue to promote the idea of speeding up learning by shortening the process, we will end up with the same kind of legacy that we are experiencing from the "Fast Food" movement. On the surface, not wasting your day with picking, plucking, preparing and cooking your food sounds brilliant. And even better, being able to grab what you need whilst on the go, and extremely cheaply seems too good an opportunity to miss! However, we've now discovered that for all the advantages, there are just as many disadvantages. Most significantly, the addictive nature of food that lacks nutritional value, and the generations of people who have become de-skilled, and disinterested in real food and nutrition.

In a similar way, it seems to me that we have developed a "how hard can it be?" culture, with people becoming so called "experts" in a couple of days, because they are intelligent enough to be able to absorb the key concepts from a book or from a day's training... More often these days, I meet groups of corporate trainees who come along to training with an expectation of simply being given quick answers. They have little appetite for understanding the underpinning concepts, or mastering the skills which will help them to solve a myriad of similar problems. They have short attention spans, and seem unwilling to accept that tried and tested techniques may take time to learn and to perfect.

So are we playing into the perceived need for speeding everything up, learning more for less, and in less time? Or are we simply adapting to the culture of our time?

Personally, I still see the intrinsic value of taking time to complete the "prepare, act, review and forward-plan" cycle. Which is why I promote the idea of "Slow Learning" as a healthy, beneficial alternative to quick fix training.

I'd love to hear your views!

Thursday 2 August 2012

Can trust and rapport be faked?

Do you remember Kaa the snake in Disney's Jungle Book? Although he was just an animated character, he had a profound effect on me as a child. It was probably the first time that it had occurred to me that seemingly 'nice' people could actually be disingenuous. Even today, I still hear that memorable song: "Trussssssssst in meeeeee" whenever my manipulation radar goes off!

The question of whether trust and rapport can be faked may seem obvious: I'm sure you can easily bring to mind several unscrupulous people that you've come across who have managed to use their charm to get what they want. Whether their own interests are money, power, status or simply self-preservation, there are many individuals (and corporations) who are able to influence others by creating a feeling of trust and building a form of rapport.

I'm particularly interested in the every-day interactions between colleagues, suppliers, business partners and managers - the ones where every day, ordinary people create every day, ordinary relationships with each other. As a trainer and coach, one of the questions I often get asked is how to develop trust and rapport. In fact my post on Building Trust and Rapport is by far the most viewed article since I started blogging back in 2007. Whilst it is great news to see that so many people are interested in my musings, it has got me thinking about WHY so many people are looking for tips on this subject.

Why is there an increased need to find quick answers, or magic formulas for creating trust and rapport? We are being regularly told by many different 'experts' that the traditional ways of selling, influencing and doing business are becoming unfashionable and ineffective. Apparently the key to success now lies in our ability to develop relationships with the people we do business with. There's plenty of evidence on LinkedIn: it's positively buzzing with people connecting, exchanging views, messages and information in an attempt to get to know each other. Seeing your number of online connections growing daily, and having interesting dialogues with people you'd be unlikely to find or meet off-line, may give you a buzz, but it's obviously not all just for fun - it's because there's a growing understanding that these sorts of interactions can create very valuable foundations for a relationship with possibilities. 

From a psychological point of view, those who are trusted, and those who trust others, tend to experience less stress and feel generally higher levels of wellbeing. They are also in a far better position to be able to create collaborative, win-win relationships and gain the support of others. We know that people buy from those they trust. They are more influenced by those they trust, and they share information with people who they consider trustworthy...

So anyone who is unscrupulous, desperate or just very outcome focussed who wants to sell, influence or to collect valuable information may well be tempted to seek the "Trussssssssst in meeeeee" approach. But does it work? The answer has to be "sometimes" - as there are those who are naturally quite trusting (some might say naive). However, when I'm asked about tricks for developing trust and rapport in my training or coaching sessions, I always share a small but important caveat with my list of tips... And that is, that if you are not totally genuine, then trying to build a trusting relationship for your own motives is a very high risk strategy. Human beings are highly sensitive to the almost imperceptible clues that give a disingenuous person away. If you're spotted, then the relationship is pretty much ruined. And if you're caught out a little way down the line, because they trusted you initially - you risk losing your reputation and credibility not only with that person, but with many others in their network.

My advice is therefore not to be tempted to learn a whole battery of tricks and techniques, but to examine your own motives and to give some real consideration for the needs and interests of the other party. Only when your heart is genuinely aligned with the needs and interests of the other person instead of just your own, will you be able to communicate authentically, and in a way which will create genuine and valuable trust and rapport.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Is Social Media a new platform for passive-aggression?

So someone has annoyed you, upset you, angered you or insulted you. You've been on the receiving end of poor service, or you have been deeply disappointed by something you've experienced...

Do you:
a) Calmly explain the problem to the person and seek to find a swift resolution?
b) Tell them directly, in no uncertain terms how they've 'made you feel'?
c) Go onto Facebook and Twitter and share your experience/vent your feelings with everyone you know?

I recently stayed at a hotel the night before running a training course, and I could honestly say that I experienced all of the above emotions. It was a truly terrible night at a grossly over-priced and mis-marketed hotel. (and breathe...) As a trainer of "Assertive Communication" I am always alert to the possibility that my own behaviour might not always be as assertive as I'd like it to be. After all, we're all human! However, I do make a conscious effort to use my well-honed communication skills when in a difficult situation. They've often helped me to turn around a dynamic that seems to be spiralling downwards, or when I've had to deal with someone who's behaving aggressively towards me.

On this particular occasion, I began with option a). I gave the manager the benefit of the doubt, suggested there had been a mistake and hoped they could put it right. Rather than accept the opportunity to save face (they could easily have pretended there was a mistake!) he instead responded defensively. Being honest, I was probably so shocked that he didn't see any reason to resolve the situation, that I didn't stay entirely neutral. I certainly avoided insulting the manager despite his dismissive and sarcastic attitude, but I was still very direct with my criticism of the hotel. So when he continued to stonewall me, what did I do? I stomped off, ran a fantastic training course (yes, it really was fantastic!) and when I got home I reached straight for my keyboard and wrote a no holds barred Trip Advisor review, and posted a link to it on Facebook just for good measure!

Did it resolve anything? I don't think so. Actually I know so. Said manager replied on Trip Advisor by insulting my judgment and accusing me of being a liar and a spreader of negativity. But did I feel better when I wrote it? Erm yes.

So what's the point I'm making here? I guess that what this experience has made me think about is the way in which Social Media has given individuals more of a voice, but also a new platform for passive aggression. We can share our views and tip each other off about businesses and situations to avoid, and if enough people say the same thing, we can even effect change. But the downside, apart from the legal aspect of potentially committing libel, is that ranting on the internet rarely achieves much - apart from a short term satisfaction of getting our own back.

In my assertive communicaiton training courses, we examine the nature and consequences of passive-aggressive behaviour. This experience, I'm sad to say is probably going to be used as an example to illustrate passive-aggression.

There's something about the relative anonymity of the Internet, where people feel safe to insult or criticise others (fairly and unfairly) without having to look them in the eye. I'll admit to resorting to it, but only having tried the more direct, assertive approach which didn't work. A good excuse? Not really. My own professional training tells me that feedback (particularly criticism) should be given in private - and only praise should be given in public.

Maybe one of the benefits of communicating in this indirect way, is that it avoids physical bust-ups, but the emotional impact can be just as, if not more damaging. My heart goes out to children and young adults who find themselves bullied on the Internet, and to people in the public eye who have cyber stalkers and 'haters' who post disgustingly offensive messages on public forums.

So where do we draw the line? If I share my candid review of a terrible experience at a hotel, am I just as bad as the haters who enjoy spreading negativity? Or am I actually a conscientious traveller, who wants to share my honest views with others so they can avoid experiencing what I did? I know which one I'd like to think I am...

Let me know what you think!

Saturday 16 June 2012

What is "Method Learning"?

There are certain expressions and pieces of advice that stick in the mind. Here's one that I picked up at the start of a training course I attended a couple of years ago:

"Minds are like parachutes - they only function when open" Lord Thomas Robert Dewar

This is a very vivid analogy, which is why I like it.

Imagine how it would feel if you were careering towards the ground with a closed parachute! Now if you're a sky diver or a dare devil type, perhaps this is an exhilarating thought. Whatever your thoughts or experiences of parachuting, you're likely to conjur up either an enjoyable adrenalin rush, or the feelings of sheer terror.

Any kind of anecdote or quote which evokes an emotional response is far more likely to stick in the mind than an isolated fact or piece of information. That's because our emotional memories tend to be far deeper and longer lasting than our cognitive memories. The method in "Method Acting" refers to the practice pioneered by Constantin Stanislavski and advocated by Lee Strasberg, by which actors draw upon their own emotional memories in order to enhance their performance.

For a similar reason, emotional memories can enhance our ability to teach or to learn new skills. I've recently dubbed this approach: "Method Learning". In a similar way to Method Acting, Method Learning involves individuals connecting to their own emotional memories in order enhance their ability to imbibe, recall and implement their learning.

So for example, if you attend one of my Management & Supervision Skills courses, you will be asked early on in the session to recall various experiences of being managed yourself. As you remember the circumstances and the range of positive and negative experiences, you begin to ‘hook into’ your emotional memory. This then becomes the starting point for creating your own powerful strategy for moving forward. Rather than asking you to remember the 6 most important things that "managers" do, you will leave with, and will hopefully remember for a long time, the most poignant and valuable things you can do to be the best manager you can be – as these will be based on, and anchored by your own emotional memories.
You don’t need to attend a special training course to be able to use “Method Learning” – you simply need to be able to find the emotional connection with whatever it is you want to learn. It may be the anticipation of the benefits of learning whatever it is, or the determination to avoid the consequences of standing still. It may be the fear of replicating what others have done in the past, or the excitement of achieving something great.

Very few people simply collect information or advice for the sake of it. I’d suggest that even the greatest quiz brains have their own emotional motivation to cram all those seemingly random, and often useless facts into their brains...

So next time you'd like to learn something new, why not give "Method Learning" a go? After all, what have you got to lose?

Actually, really do ask yourself that question - "What have I got to lose if I don't learn this?"

If when you answer it, you can feel some kind of emotional reaction (such as excitement, fear, anticipation, determination), then you're definitely on the way to putting my "Method Learning" into practice!

Thursday 17 May 2012

How NOT to Network

network / n├ętwerk n. & v. a group of people who exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes. (The Oxford Dictionary)

Effective networking is a skill set that no serious professional of the 21st Century can be without. Whether you network in person or online, in any industry and at any career level, networking can help you to make connections in a personal way, and build relationships of support and respect that will help you to discover and create mutual benefits.

But ask ten different people what networking is, and you may get as many as ten different answers. A person's definition of networking probably depends upon their own use of this important personal and professional activity. You may wish to make new friends, to find a new job, to develop your current career, to explore new career options, to obtain referrals or sales leads, or simply to broaden your professional horizons. Whatever your personal motivation to get involved, one of the most valuable tips I have picked up is to focus on networking as process of exchanging information, contacts and/or experience - rather than a means to an end. Why? Because it's one of the unspoken 'rules' that overtly and directly going for what you want, or even hinting at using your network for your own ends, is just not the done thing...

There's certainly a huge minefield of unspoken 'rules' associated with face-to-face and online networking. You've probably discovered that people become very passionate about the 'right' way to behave, and often judgmental of anyone who gets it 'wrong'... I've certainly read many a blog comment about social networking etiquette - such as how insulting it is to ask people to connect on LinkedIn using the default message. It's fascinating how a seemingly insignificant action can stir up so much negative emotion!

Anyway, I'm definitely NOT of the belief that we should all subscribe to the same set of rules, nor do I feel that anyone who inadvertently breaks the rules should be shunned, or chastised. Instead, I feel it's more helpful if we become a little more aware of ourselves and others in our interactions, and through reflection of what works and what doesn't work, to develop our own set of guidelines. So the following list of "No-No's" and tips are not intended to be a set of commandments. They're simply from my own observations that I'd like to share in the interests of making our collective networking activities more pleasurable and productive:


Have no particular purpose in mind
- It does you no good to attend any networking function, or to join an online networking group unless you have thought about why you are getting involved.

Don't introduce yourself
- if you're not naturally gregarious, joining a physical or even a virtual room and introducing yourself can feel daunting. But it's a vital step to help get yourself known and part of the 'crowd'. Remember, if you’re feeling nervous, you’re probably thinking too much about yourself. Introductions are about making other people feel comfortable with you around... there's nothing more uncomfortable than a shadowy figure lurking in the background and listening in to your conversations!

Assume others are mind-readers
– It's a big mistake to assume that everyone knows what you do, and what matters to you. Remember that networking often involves meeting people who are not in our industry, or who do not share our expertise. So spell it out, share your knowledge and help others to understand where you're coming from.

Try to be someone you're not -
You may want to make a good impression, but trying to act out a persona that simply isn't you is a high risk strategy. Whether you're trying to seem more knowledgeable, more outgoing, more friendly, more successful... than you really are, you won't be able to keep it up for very long. Apart from being very stressful and energy consuming, trying to be who you think others will admire rarely works. Just be you, relax and converse in an uncontrived way. This will be far more impressive than any act you can put on.

Behave selfishly -
Not many people like to admit that they are selfish, but if you network only with  a view to what you can get from it - and forget about what you are going offer, then you're in grave danger of appearing self-interested. Brad Burton, CEO of 4Networking recently warned of the danger of looking at people in a networking meeting as if they have ££££'s over their heads. So remember, if you can see £ signs over your fellow networkers heads, then the people you're looking at are likely see them reflected in your eyes!

Compete with fellow networkers -
If you're determined to use networking to find new sales leads, you're in danger of becoming competitive with anyone who appears to be getting in your way, or getting a head start. But there's nothing quite as cringe-worthy as watching someone with 'desperation' written all over them, using a variety of tactics to stand out from the crowd. By all means, be yourself and let your personality shine through, but not to extent of pushing others to the sidelines.

Have all conversations in public - The conversations and discussions you begin in a public forum (whether in a huddle in the corner of a networking event, or in a discussion thread on a website) should not necessarily be continued in public. It's the Big Brother analogy... most participants in those reality shows will say that they get so used to being filmed 24/7, that they forget the cameras are recording every word! When you're networking, never forget that your comments and conversations are being overheard. Consider when would be a good point to take certain conversations to a private arena: whether it's to discuss a special project, broker a deal, or share your concerns about something or someone.

Assume that networking ends once an event is over, or when you log out of a site
- The most valuable part of networking actually happens outside of the public arena. So be sure to follow up with those you've met/chatted to, keep in direct contact, share information and offer to help in any way you can.

Fail to acknowledge any support or advice you receive from fellow networkers
- Don't take the valuable contributions of others for granted. It's not your right to receive it, but a generous gift from those giving it. So make sure to give a "Thank You" or a note of recognition to any of your networking contacts who share information or help you in any way.


In many face-to-face networking events, you will find yourself with time to "mingle" amongst the other attendees before the formal programme begins. It may be beneficial for you to spend some time planning and preparing how you will "work the room" to get the most from your efforts.

1. Start with small-talk
: prepare a few neutral questions in advance that you can ask, such as:

- Tell me how you know the host, company, etc.

- What made you decide to come to this event?
- What business you are in?
- Have you been to one of these events before?

2. Let preparation and practice be your guide: spend some time planning your conversation generators - Read that day’s newspapers or look at magazine covers (of business, and general interest publications) – each source replenishes your conversation starter repertoire. Focus on neutral topics:

- The latest news or events
- Be observant – what is around you? The location, the building, etc.
- Look for topics of common interest, and share interesting or amusing stories that will resonate with the other people

3. Don't stay too long in one place: after 5 or 6 minutes, excuse yourself with a pleasantry such as, "It was nice meeting you ... "

4. If the event features a meal, practice good table etiquette to make the best impression: 
make the introductions, and proceed as if you're the host of the table:
- Start conversations by asking questions: why people are there, what they hope to gain, how they found out about the event.
- Avoid monopolising the conversation.
- Keep your business cards handy but don't deal them out impersonally.


Networking can be a fun and easy way to enrich your life, broaden your horizons, and enhance your career. But, it can also be potentially devastating if you act rudely, insensitively, or ignore the needs and desires of others. Remember, crucial to your success is that you treat networking as an exchange of ideas, information and experience. You are not selling or simply telling or "sponging" off of others for your own benefit only. Be generous in sharing your talents, experiences, and ideas, and always be respectful of those around you. That way, you will gain far more than you could ever imagine.