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May 2009

Finding commonalities and common ground--Fast!

Thanks for the great response to my last couple of posts. Appreciate the tweets, links to other sites, and the curious level of interest from Australia! G'Day mates!

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All of us have stories about discovering amazing things we have in common with people we just met or have known for a long time. You find out that you both went to the same high school, share a hobby, your parents know each other, you have a close friend in common.... A moment that reinforces how increasingly small the world is. What if we could figure out those connections sooner? Knowing how our worlds overlap and intersect will only expedite the relationship and ultimately the trust between the parties. 

Do you believe in the theory of 6 degrees of separation ?The idea that you and I are separated by no more than 6 people or 6 connections? As an aside there have been and continue to be experiments that go back many years to prove and attempt to quantify this interconnectedness. Stanley Milgram's experiment and many others have shown that we are all separated by 5 to 6 connections and that's where the number 6 came from. 250px-Six_degrees_of_separation Much of this work has been criticized and disputed. Nevertheless, Milgram's experiment was well before e-mail, the web, and social networking. So I would argue that we are measurably closer and more interconnected. My experience has shown me over and over that the theory of 6 degrees or less is true. I have learned that we are all connected and that we have so much in common. I don't mean only in the Buddhist, atomic material, we are the world ways. Regardless what we look like are our backgrounds, we have so many common bonds and connections that are often undiscovered. Sometimes, they seem to appear magically and serendipitously and we marvel at their existence. I am going to advocate here that if we are more intentional about discovering our commonalities, we will appreciate their existence and certainty of finding them. 

While this is a process you can use in meeting new people, it is also very valuable in interacting with people you think you know well. As I have said over and over, "It is amazing who you know who you don't know." 

A conscious goal you should have in every conversation (not the sole goal nor the dominant one) is finding commonalities, including common human connections. In other words, the 6 degrees concept applies to people but also to interests and experiences.

J0437254

A few tips on discovering commonalities

  1. Preparation and research: Google every person you know you are going to meet or think you might meet, especially senior executives. Learn what might be common areas of interest in advance.
  2. Listen and pay attention: If you listen and look for common grounds, they will seem omnipresent. When you hear someone, even a perfect stranger, talking about your alma mater, your favorite restaurant, your hobby, your employer--you have the chance to explore than common ground. If you see someone who has the book you are reading, a product you want or just bought, a luggage tag of your favorite sports team--then you have a means to discuss commonalities.  
  3. Lead with your interests and passions: How you introduce yourself and talk about yourself matters. If you integrate facts and interests into your spiel about yourself your BIT , then you create opportunities to connect. After the "What do you do?" or "Tell me about yourself." query, you tell your story. I might say, "I was raised up north and then came down here to go to UCLA. I work for the California Community Foundation and have three kids." Four points of interest and potential commonalities.
  4. The context is a common ground: Where you are meeting, your surroundings, the purpose of your connection are all reference points. Your curiosity drives you. Why did you attend this conference? How did you get into this business? There is a reason why both of you find yourself at this unique place and time. 
  5. Commonality questions: As part of a larger conversation, you can ask, "Do you have kids?" (because you do). "Where did you go to school?" (alma maters, college sports, majors)"Where do you live?" (local restaurants, neighbors) "What were you doing before this?" (colleagues at employers, current events)"What do you do when you are not working?" (hobbies, kids activities) Typical questions that are now slightly influenced by your commonalities. The answers trigger additional questions and potential connections.

Kevin bacon

With the intention of finding how we are connected and what we share, you will discover commonalities much faster. While using this strategy, please do not turn into Dan Rather and pummel your conversation partner with a series of set questions. Let the conversation happen, but keep an eye on the hints of commonalities. Once you do, you too will be convinced that the world and your anxiety over networking are shrinking. Kevin Bacon and your confidence in connecting faster are not very far away. 


Thanks for reading. John


Shaking the hand that needs you

I went to a fundraising dinner for Coro in Los Angeles where a a couple of my friends were being honored. Rick Tuttle one of my long time mentors who helped me see my potential and think out-of-the-box regarding my career. And Steve Soboroff a colleague of mine from Big Brothers Big Sisters and now in the philanthropic world. Steve has inspired me with his dedication and commitment to helping others and to showing up. 

Steve turned his acceptance speech into a micro workshop on how to shake hands and hand out your business card. He aimed his remarks at the graduating Coro Fellows who are now traversing the job market for employment. However, his animated how-to session was entertaining and instructive for all of the 400 attendees. 

Have you ever had a lesson on handshaking and handing out your business card? We all know how important these things are in forming or giving a first impression. We all have experienced when it has gone badly. Yet, most of us have never received a primer on these basic social skills.

Steve told a great story about when he was the Chairman of the LA Parks and Rec dept and arranged for then President Clinton to play golf at one of LA's nicest public golf courses, Rancho Park. Steve was invited to play with William Jefferson! And during that round of golf, Steve was treated to-"the most engaging person I have ever met." Steve asked the President how he coped with shaking so many hands. At the time Steve had just started a hotly contested campaign for mayor of LA. The President stopped in the middle of the fairway and gave Steve a lesson on handshaking.

Bill and john 001

 Here's what he told Steve:

  1. Slow down and take your time
  2. Direct eye contact and smile
  3. Firm grip and little or no shaking 
  4. Take the other hand and grab the forearm or elbow of the other person 

This last one is the key. The other hand adds an extra dimension of enthusiasm and trust to the shake. And Preident Clinton added that this also prevents the other person from pulling your arm out of the socket, especially if you have to shake a lot of hands. :)

Lastly, everyone wants to be remembered including you. So say your name slowly and listen and repeat the name of the person you are meeting. How you introduce yourself really matters--know your BIT (brief introductory talk) and then the experience will be memorable.

I got to meet President Clinton a couple of times and shake his hand.

 He is a master at focusing on you and making you feel special. 

By the way, I guess Bill Richardson, the former Governor of New Mexico, owns the Guinness record of number of handshakes in a day at 13,392! Ouch. 

This is a nice video on the dos and dont's on handshaking:

Now for the business cards: J0424431

Steve went on and showed everyone at the dinner how to give out your card. Actually this was the first time I ever heard anyone talk about this. These are great tips!

  1. Hand your card face up so the person can see it. Say what you do.
  2. When you receive a card, look at it. Be respectful and read it, make comments, or ask questions.  


This is also part of your first impression. Don't be a Vegas dealer and just hand your cards to everyone. Unless it really does not matter who you meet or who meets you. I guess stapling your business card to bulletin boards has a place in a mass sales effort. However, in networking, business cards are valuable and should be treated that way. 

  1. Keep your business card to yourself until someone asks for it.
  2. Only ask for cards or contact information for people with whom you intend to follow up.
  3. When someone offers you their card; the courteous thing to do is to thank them. Take it and read it. Reading what is printed on it, enables you to make a connection with the person giving it to you. It also says  that you care and respect the card that has been given to you.  
  "You can't shake hands with a clenched fist." - Indira Gandhi

Lots of debate about the origin of the handshake. Generally agreed that it started in midieval times when knights greeted each other with open hands to show they were unarmed. Even in this hyperbolic swine flu world, shaking hands is an essential form of communication and first impressions. 

Thank Steve Soboroff for helping all of us remember that the little things that make a difference. Now get moving and shaking. Thanks for reading. John

  


How Do I Help Others Network? The Conveyor Belt of Life

In the final analysis, I think we all will be judged on how we help one another. Have we unconditionally and effectively assisted our friends, colleagues, and family members, especially in times like these? Everyday I receive a request of some sort--regarding a job, a reference, looking for a new career, trying to connect to a new network of opportunities, review a resume etc etc. I am sure you are getting your share too. Usually the person in need (PIN) connects to me through someone else. And that person knows me somehow. I make a quick determination whether I can help the person and take next steps in my process--more about that later. People are eager to hand off the PIN in a quick transactional way. Like a hot potato, the PIN is quickly tossed to someone in the network, sometimes with care and sometime recklessly. Hot potato Sometimes with a nice intro and warm request. Often with a pretty inelegant hand off, leaving the PIN to say, "So and so said I should contact you." Hopefully I know or like so and so.:)

In sports, life,  and work---the art of of the hand-off is a valuable and necessary skill. On a relay team, how well the baton is exchanged determines how well they do at the finish line. Passing baton When a huge corporate sale is made, how well it is turned over to operations will create results for the customer and generate great word-of-mouth and more sales. On the assemblyline of life we must depend on the work that precedes us and hand off to the "workers" after us a better product otherwise the end product suffers. What we do builds on what others do. Otherwise life is like a giant Lucy Ricardo conveyor belt of chaos and lost productivity. 

 

If there is an evil conveyor belt operator, all bets are off. :) Seriously the only way the system of life works is when we each do our part and do it well. The probability of the quality of the end product goes up with the diligence and competency of each step. This goes for parenting, the education system, or project management or architecture. But it definately applies to networking.

I am the victim of bad hand-offs at least once every week. They go something like this: 

  • The voicemail message squawks:"Hi John, so and so said I should talk to you about my career/job search/resume." I think to myself I wonder who so and so is.
  • A friend calls me and says, "My wife's sister was just laid off and is going to connect with you. Can you help her find something in LA?"  I think what a very unfocused request.

Bad, bad, bad, hand offs! A disservice to me and especially the PIN. Here's how to prevent bad hand-offs and actually help the PIN. 

  1. Prep the PIN--When we agree to help someone who is connected to someone we care about, we have to help them. Meaning--Help the PIN think about their strategy, their resume, their approach and goals. Hold up the mirror to them and tell them what you see. Do their goals match their experience and resume? If not tell them. Do you know how much time the PIN has to find a new job or career? Makes a huge difference in what kind of assistance they need. What are the requirements for the next gig? Salary? Location? Don't put them on the assemblyline without your honest advice and assessment.
  2. Give them my SWIVEL Download SWIVEL new 2009. I provide this to almost every PIN who is referred to me. It causes them to stop and slow down
  3. Prep the Network--At least make a call or send an e-mail alerting the network that this PIN is coming down the conveyor belt. A brief note on how you know them, their resume , and what you think they need (as opposed to what the PIN thinks)
  4. Follow-up with both--Touch base with both via e-mail. Did you connect? If so, how was it? Thank the network!
Yes, I know this takes more time, but we are dealing with human beings not widgets on this assemblyline! This is a full service networking site not the cheap imitations. :) Seriously, that's why it is a lifestyle and not a hobby. How we help PINs in all walks of life shape who we are and our sense of fulfillment. Nothing like an assemblyline that cares about the quality of its production.

Thanks for reading. John 
  

Reconnecting with your "old" network

"We strive, all of us for excellence. We want to be the very best we can be. It’s axiomatic— if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you most often get it. If you are willing to accept less than the best, you’ll get that too. And that’s the point. If you work to your highest potential, do all you are capable of doing, you will literally astound yourself.

General George Patton, no shrinking violet, said it well: “The most vital qualities a successful person can possess is self-confidence— utter and complete heart, spirit, and audacity. You can have doubts about your good looks, your intelligence, about your self-control— but to win, you must have no doubts about your abilities.”
Moby dick

You need to be the kind of person who would go after Moby Dick with a row boat, a harpoon, and a jar of tartar sauce."    Jerold Panas

Not sure why you would use tartar sauce, but love this quote.

There was a tie in the poll and therefore I choose. :) There are two reasons why this topic is relevant to you:
  1. You NEED to connect with old colleagues, bosses, acquaintances etc, because you are pounding the pavement or need a reference.     
  2. You were just reminiscing about an "old friend" but you have neglected keeping in touch (no holiday cards have been exchanged) and you wanted to catch up.  
In either case you feel a bit awkward and a tad guilty. 
This is why adopting the mentoring and networking lifestyle is so important. Staying connected is hard work but less uncomfortable later. No worries. There are a host of strategies to ease your pain.

Before you go off and reconnect with all previously known humans--get your act together, do a little homework. Be prepared to articulate what you are looking for and what help you can provide. Remind yourself that reconnecting with "old" friends will be fun--even if you have an agenda. It will fill a small whole you have in your heart and in you mind and that will fill good. The more this feels like a chore the more tedious and anxiety ridden the process will be. 

Once you are ready and you have a list of "old friends, take the following easy steps:
  1. Google them. Find out what you can through available resources. You may snag their contact info. It will also give you the background on them so you do not sound so out of touch when you connect. BTW, you should Google everyone you meet with!
  2. Talk to mutual friends. Do some investigation through mutual contacts to understand how your lost contact is doing. He/she may be worse off than you!  
  3. Contact them.  Pick up the phone, bang out an e-mail, just re-establish a connection as directly as you can. Meet face to face if possible. The closer you were to this person, the easier it will be to start over. 95% of the time the other person feels guilty too and they will be thrilled to hear from you. Just apologize for the time that has elapsed and reconnect. The point here is make the connection! 
WARNING: If you come off too desperate or too pushy then you poison the reconnect. On the other hand, take the time to get through the "catching up" phase before you blurt out your need. On the other hand, if this person is a senior exec, then come straight out with it. They expect your call and are ready to support you as a reference or possibly to refer you. 

The more specific you can be with your request the better. 
  • I am getting close to a couple of offers, will you be one of my references?
  • Just wanted to let you what I have been up to and to see if I can count on you as a reference.  
  • I am in the running for a few positions, I was wondering if you know anyone at ABC, XYZ or 123 companies?   
  • I am trying to make a career shift and I'd like to meet someone in the XXXXX field. Do you still know so and so or someone at XYZ company?  
Make sure you update them on your qualifications and your recent professional experience. Don't assume they still know you and know what to say. 250px-Social-network.svg
One easy strategy is to establish or invest time in the social networking sites. Facebook, Linkedin 
and many others are fantastic ways for you to reconnect effortlessly. Some of you think you are too old to have a facebook, think again. Linkedin is a bit more serious and less fluffy site. Nevertheless, sign-up, register and input some basic info and you are off to the races. Once you have a facebook and or Linkedin pages, you can connect to groups and look up people. Then you will have people trying to connect with you! You are always in control to confirm these requests. Investing time on these sites to nurture your network is time well spent. Once you find a few folks you can read their bios and what they are posting. And you can see the connections they have! This gives you a head start on the reconnecting process. 

The big question is : Why do we let some people slip into obscurity? I am not talking about people you had to work with or people you need for references. I am talking about those great friends and confidantes with whom you shared your personal stories and dreams. Make the time and effort to re-establish these relationships and I guarantee you they will bring you joy, new perspectives, and new opportunities. 

A key premise of mentoring and networking lifestyle is start with your EXISTING network! reconnecting is so much easier than establishing new relationships. 

The question is not how to reconnect as much as when. And the time is now! 

Thanks for reading. John

How good is my network?

I know I am getting old when people ask me to help their parents network! This economy is brutalizing families and their futures. Yet, there are opportunities and jobs. The question is trying to help people connect with others who can help them with these opportunities. It is virtually impossible to go online and find a job. We need to help each other by connecting our networks to one another. You visually can see it on Linked-in. There is untapped power and influence when we plug our networks together. 

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“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.”
Epictetus, Greek philosopher

Like looking in the mirror, we don't see ourselves any more. When is the last time we reflected on the quality of our networks? Have you ever spent a few hours doing a full SWOT analysis?--thinking about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your networks. No wonder our networks seem a bit limited. Without such an evaluation, there is little chance your network will adapt to your needs and your future goals. You may take comfort in the stability of your network or feel burdened by how stagnant it is. In so many ways we end up in habits and routines that make us very comfortable. This is reflected in the circle of friends, our cliques, and certainly our confidantes with whom we surround ourselves. Just how our personal kitchen cabinets are formed is a unique process to each of us. 

Most of us have developed or find ourselves in a constellation of connections. At the core is our trusted friends and family--the ones we turn to for unconditional support and advice. Then we are connected to groups of others from work, church, hobbies, fraternities, alma mater etc. These networks rarely connect, despite overlaps, and serve other professional and personal needs. This conjures up our multiple networking personalities and the different ways we interact with others. ZodiacYour network can look like a zodiac constellation of stars and planets Complex molecular structure
 or a molecular structure. Your network starts with you and the closer points represent your inner network and then there are nodes and hubs representing your connections. The point is we are part of unique networks that often happen and we rarely re-engineer them. We think we are stuck with these structures and there is little we can do about it. 

As Epictetus queries, Is your network uplifting? Our networks can be formed through obligations, duty, responsibility, and sheer luck. We may not notice how bound we are to history. We can't tell if our network is a hindrance or a help. Our well-meaning parents, even best friends may be holding us back. I recently had someone ask me if they could remove themselves from their own network because it was "toxic" to her new goals. Just this act of stopping and considering who is in your network and how it is doing are huge steps. But let's go further and take 2 more steps:

  1. Map your network. Use concentric circles, or a constellation of circles. You are at the center and use proximity to determine the strength or the trust of the relationships. Just list your most trusted network members to start. Feel free to map as much as you want!How does it look? Are you happy with it? 
  2. Rate your network. Give 1 pt for each question you answer yes.
  • Do you trust your network to give you the truth about the real you? (not stuck on an earlier version of you)
  • Does your network challenge you as much as it supports you? (diverse points of view, not a bunch of cheerleaders)  
  • Does your network feel vibrant and dynamic? (Are you adding new and different members on a regular basis?)
  • Does your network represent your future goals as much as your past? (Can your network help you with your future goals?)  
  • Are the networks connected to your network strong? (Your network has strong hubs that are connected to other strong networks)
  5 pts You can stop reading.  Your network is in great shape!
3-4 pts You need to enhance your network
0-2 pts You need a makeover!

If you feel your network is out of date, then its time to upgrade! The consequences for a stagnant network are considerable. Dr. Lisa Berkman of Harvard University, mapped the social networks of almost 7000 people over a nine year time frame. She found that "isolated" people were 3x more likely than the "well-connected" to die---Die!. There have been a dozen studies that have shown that greater health, happiness, and success come from better, slightly bigger, more diverse and active networks. 

Additional research reveals we have "strong" ties and "weak" ties. Simply put, strong ties occupy that inner circle and weak ties are less established. Adding people to our networks is time consuming, especially strong ties. It requires an investment of time and energy to have multiple "best friends". Trying to stay in touch with new acquaintances is just as challenging. But adding new weak tie members to our network gives our networks vitality, new connections, new opportunities, and even more cognitive flexibility--the ability to consider new ideas and options. Put another way, if you are not adding new members to your network you will deprive yourself of information, trends, viral impact, and greater possibilities. 

New relationships invigorate the network by providing a connection to new networks, ideas, and opportunities. Mark Granovetter's ground breaking work The Strength of Weak Ties and many other social scientists have shown conclusively that adding new ties enables new "communities of interest" to be formed. This is the premise of facebook or linkedin. Connect to people you know and then the people they know and so on. You start with strong ties that logically and trustingly lead to new weak ties that build a stronger network. So you do not need to hand out your business cards at street corners, use your existing network to add members and reconnect with people.

What do you want? Your networks have to reflect where you have been as much as where you are going. I am always surprised that new graduates or career changers have not joined the professional associations that represent their future career paths. Hanging around with, attending conferences, reading the journals, keeping up with the lingo of your future self is so easy-- yet often overlooked. I just advised my daughter Jenna to join the Occupational Therapy Association, her presumed career path. She will experience what her profession does and try on for size her future world. Adding people to your network who reflect issues, jobs, industries, areas of interest is essential. Again, by probing your strong ties you find new ties (or old ties you have lost touch with) that relate to your future destinations. This will help you hone down your job search, clarify career aspirations, or help others. 

Taking inventory of your network and where it is lacking is time well spent. Engaging your trusted inner circle in filling these gaps is a good place to start. Your mere awareness of your needs will connect you with new and more relevant networks pretty quickly.  Your network will become more more powerful through the strength of weak ties. Here's to a network that give you a more uplifting and longer life!

Thanks for reading. John