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018: Building deeper network connections while being 100% virtual

Are you feeling stuck with how to handle those difficult people at work? You know, the people who seem to always put roadblocks in your way. And after 10 roadblocks you are wondering, surely this cannot be accidental. The people who are resistant to your ideas and make life problematic for everyone in the team.

Are you wanting to build real personal resilience, so that you feel confident with those difficult conversations, instead of feeling anxious, exhausted, overwhelmed, and on the verge of burnout? 

Perhaps you are an ambitious change-agent, motivated to inspire others into a better way of doing things. But finding the time and energy to get the buy-in you know you need is, well, exhausting. 

Are you left feeling overwhelmed, drained and depleted? 

Perhaps you know the theory of leading, but it doesn’t seem to play out that way for you, and management seems to take up all your time, so you deciding to stick with the tech role you started with, despite your desire to influence and create positive change.

If you are ready to be full of confidence and be that influencer you crave, then I have one thing you need to know. The one thing that is not talked about enough when we are taught about leadership or leadership is ‘shown’ to us by those above. This one thing: it is the glue that makes great leadership happen.

Curious? Let’s go to the show.

Show Notes

Sign-up to get access to my new free 5-part mini-course and develop your understanding of impostor syndrome, why it impacts you, and the impact on others in your team: https://tonicollis.com/dtsd

If you are ready to uplevel your career and get a boost (and a salary bump) by shortcutting your way to success, find out more about Toni’s Coaching at:

https://tonicollis.com/workwithtoni 

Alternatively, go straight ahead and book a free Discovery Call, to find out more and discuss the type of support you would most benefit from:
https://bit.ly/DiscoverToni

Join us in the Leading Women in Tech Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/leadingwomenintech/

Join us in the Leading Women in Tech LinkedIn group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12391391/

Thank you for listening to the

Leading Women in Tech podcast

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Want to read instead of listen? Here’s the transcript:

Hey, hey, hey. Welcome back to Leading Women in Tech. We’re back. We’re on episode 18. Where have the last few months gone? I can’t believe we’re on episode 18 already. It’s amazing. I hope you’re having a fabulous week, leading women in tech, wherever you are in the world, whatever you’re doing, I hope you’re here to change the world. I am every single day, and I hope you’re joining me in that mission.

So what’s going on around here? Well, just a very brief update this week, which is I’m super excited, I’m trying to hold it all together and be very serious. That might be a little bit beyond me today, but the Ditch Your Self-Doubt mini course has officially landed. Oh yes. If you want to let go of imposter syndrome or perhaps you are leading a team and you need to know how as a leader to help them with their imposter syndrome, remember 80% of people have it at some point in their career, probably more than that. And for many of us, it’s here all the time. It certainly is in me. It’s here pretty much every single day. The key difference now is that I have the tools and techniques and tactics to deal with it. And that is what I’m sharing with you, my love.

If you want to know how to either manage it for yourself or help your team manage their own or possibly both, head to tonycollis.com/dtsd. That’s ditch the self-doubt as an acronym, and you will get instant access to part one. Yes, you will. So I hope that you’re ready to let go of your imposter syndrome and some where it impacts you, and learn how to spot it in those around you and how you can use that to actually help your understanding of your own imposter syndrome. If that sounds good, sign up and get access at tonycollis.com/dtsd. I’ll pop the link in the show notes as well, which you can get in your podcast player.

Okay. Let’s dig into today’s topic, which is all about networking again. Now, you know that I love a really great conversation. That’s actually one of the reasons why I have this podcast, the downside is I’m talking to myself, hey, we’re going to have a few guests coming up soon, by the way, but really great conversations. And when you give more than you take, that’s when great things happen. When you get lit up, you genuinely light up, you don’t just feel that you personally are lighting up, but your presence actually becomes something that lights up the room. At some point, you will experience that experience. Experience that experience? That might be a very strange way of saying that, but you will experience the feeling of knowing you’re lighting up a room.

You may well experience it first by somebody telling you that, that certainly happened to me. Now I am a complete introvert. I said it once, I will say many times, but I have been told that I light up a room because when I’m really comfortable, which by the way takes quite a lot, especially in a room full of strangers, but when I am really comfortable, I am just so damn excited by what I’m talking about. I’m not good at really doing the kind of like, non-serious talk, right? If you work with me, you know I’m kind of, I get down to business now. I will talk a lot about all the different things and I will talk about all the different ways of showing up, but I’m not one for small talk. I do do it with my hairdresser, but I struggle with small talk.

So if you get me in a room, back in the good old days, pre-COVID and had a conversation with me, we’d have been pretty much down to business. But what happens when I’m doing that, and one of the reasons why I’m not good at small talk, is that I don’t get excited about it. When I get excited about something, which is quite often the way I am genuinely here to change the world, I will say that so many times. But when I’m excited about something, when I’m passionate about something, it comes across. It comes across in the way I talk. It comes across in the things I’m saying and in the conversations I hold. When you build those kinds of conversations and when you are able to light up the room, when you start offering real value, because you were just so damn excited about what you’re talking about, you become a highly successful person.

There are often three components that I talked about when people are highly successful. Opportunity, motivation, and ability. Now, Adam Grant, a psychologist actually says there’s a fourth one, which I completely agree with, which is actually the ability to give. And let me just break down how opportunity, motivation, ability, and giving actually combine into this whole networking need that we have. Because here’s the thing, when you have a great network, you increase your opportunities. Now opportunities are often limited for many of us because, hey, first of all, we’re women in tech, we immediately have a big whole barrier there. If you then, on top of that, have anything else that makes you well, “different”. I hate that word, but that’s the way society is currently phrasing it, you have even more barriers. And frankly, that’s unfair and unacceptable and something we’re all working here to change.

But what we can do is increase our opportunities from wherever you are starting right now, right? And you might be starting a whole load further back than other people, my heart goes out to you if that’s the case. I am here to fix that injustice. But wherever you are starting, what your network can do for you, when you operate it well, is increase the number of opportunities you have. Secondly, a great network improves our motivation. As I said, when you get me talking to somebody and I’m excited and passionate about what we’re talking about, because they’re giving back, I’m engaged, we’re both excited in the conversation, guess what. My motivation increases. I want to change the world. That is why I’m doing what I’m doing. But that came from conversations, even though I’m an introvert. So your network improves your motivation.

Ability was the third one. Here’s the thing, when you have a great network, because they offer you opportunities and because they care about you, they become great mentors. They open doors for you and suddenly your learning ability, your ability to do stuff, your natural ability because you’ve got mentors, you’ve got advocates increases. And then the fourth one, that giving, the more you give to your network, the more you get from it. I cannot say that enough, you should always be giving from your network, you shouldn’t just be taking. Because when you give, you receive, when you only take, there is a point when nobody wants to engage with you anymore. You want to give, give, give. Every single major step in my career has come from giving ad somebody seeing something in what I’m giving and saying, “Oh, I have an opportunity you might be interested in.”

And this is a principal I work with all of my clients on. If you give, great things will happen. And that’s why networking is so important. Now, you’ve probably heard me say much of that before in different ways. Fabulous. If you’re on that page, great. But then when we come to the problem, which is COVID. The fact that we’re all virtual right now, how do we take these principles and turn them into something that works while we’re networking virtually? Well, so here’s the good news, networking virtually, I think, is actually easier than networking in-person. Stick with me there.

Now I’m going to be talking more about networking in November, I think November is going to be networking month. I think I’ve decided that, but I want to kick start it by how to build a meaningful, deep conversations with your network or in reinvigorating your network while we’re all virtual. It’s actually a principle I’ve been using for many years. I’ve worked remote for three years now and building virtual connections has been essential throughout that period. My entire business operates on virtual connections.

It was easier, I’ll admit, when conferences gave me an opportunity to build new connections and I would then follow up when I got home and then maintain and strengthen the connection virtually. As an introvert, I am way happier to stand in a corner in an event. I’ve said that before as well. And so you probably already knew that about me, but I’m that person who is happiest with a plate of canapes as an excuse not to engage. Yes, that’s me. I’m one of them. But what I learned to do, because I had to, was how to utilize those events so that I actually did build those conversations.

Now, the good news is, you can use those same principles to build virtual connections. And then the same things I’ve always been using for the last three years to strengthen and nurture those connections. So networking virtually is actually relatively easy if you approach it with the mindset of, I just need to reframe what I was doing in person to work with this new virtual first environment. I’ve also been having quite a few conversations lately with friends, with family, and with clients about how many of us have hit a wall with COVID. For most of the world, we’re now six months or more into social distancing, various varieties of lockdown, but one thing that’s common in pretty much every country, of people that I’m talking to anyway, is that we’re now lacking actually meeting people. We’re lacking connecting. We’re lacking hugs. I haven’t seen my extended family since Christmas and I have to admit, it’s now starting to bother me.

There are quite a few people, including my little niece and nephew who I just desperately want to give a hug to. Here’s an interesting thing about connecting virtually though, the human voice is a huge source of stress relief, it might not seem that way, but it is. When we hear the human voice, we actually, unless it’s somebody who stresses you out, if it’s your boss or somebody that you’ve had a bad experience with, then this isn’t going to work. But for the majority of people, a human voice, even if it’s somebody you don’t know, actually encourages the body’s to release cortisol, that’s stress-relieving hormone. The one that makes us feel good, the feel good hormone is how it’s often referred to. And so actually, by networking, this is a great way to push through that six month wall that many of us are now hitting.

So if you’re feeling really down, you’re done with COVID, I actually posted something on Facebook a couple of weeks ago about this, because I had three conversations in one day with people who were just done with COVID. I then actually had another one with family later in the evening. It’s just like, we’re all just done right now. And I totally get that. And one of the best things you can do is actually get on a call with somebody, not somebody you live with because, hey, I’m hoping you can talk to them, but somebody new and hear a different voice and it can do amazing things. So I know that you’re probably going to push back on this networking, because it feels uncomfortable. But I want you to know, just to start with, that this may well be one of the things that helps boost your mood, even though you’re going to have to push through some uncomfortableness to get started.

So what I’m talking to you today about, isn’t just good for your career, it’s actually good for you. We all need connection. Human beings are designed to have connection. So that you can be positive in short doses, in small doses, in short amount of time, but excessive isolation is actually torture. That’s why it’s used as a way to punish people, whether it’s time out for a child or in the extreme case, isolation for people who are in prison, right? So isolation is unhealthy even for the introverts. It is not a good thing. So I want you to lean into the fact that this is going to be a mood boost when you’re resisting taking action, which you may well resist taking action because, for most of us, this is uncomfortable reaching out to people.

Now, as I said at the start, this is about reframing what you would have done pre-COVID, pre-social distancing, pre-virtual first, and just changing it to work for the modern life. That’s it right? We’re not reinventing the wheel, this is not rocket science, now you need to remind yourself of that whenever you resist. Number one, start with who you know. Sounds simple, but really do lean into your current network. Make a list of people that you would like to speak to, set yourself a target, five people, 10 people, know that not everybody’s going to respond with a yes. Make a list of a few people that you’re going to reach out to, but set yourself a goal of how many people you want on that list. Make it specific and then fulfill it like you would any work task. Okay? But you’ve got to hold yourself to account on this.

Alternatively, you could start with what you know. If you are a fan of virtual networking events, personally I’m not, I find them very awkward, but you could start there. Again, set yourself a clear goal. I’m going to attend one networking event next week. Sign up for it and do it, which brings us to step two. Once you have your list or your goal, make the time for this task. Yes, you’re probably going to feel like this task doesn’t come easily to you, that’s why we made a decision in step one about how many people or about the event you are going to go to, because you now need to make the time to fulfill that goal. Make time on your calendar to take action. I genuinely have to put this in my to do list.

I do two things with building my network and maintaining my network. I have it as a regular action on my to do list and I put time in my calendar for it. I have 30 minutes a week to build my network. And sometimes it’s for friends. I actually had a check in with a friend this month because I am terrible at checking in with friends. And so what I do is when I finish a conversation with a friend, I put in my calendar when I should next reach out to them. Yes, I know that’s incredibly sad, but I know that I am terrible at reaching out to people. So I put a task in my calendar in a month’s time or however long it is, depending on the friend, of when I’m next going to reach out to them. If I don’t do that, I know it won’t happen, despite the best of intentions.

I don’t do that with my family, but they probably should get that level of attention because the poor people, basically I’m reactive to my family. I am very lucky that my family keep in steady contact with me. Because I think if they didn’t, I think they would never hear from me and I would have to use this same tactic with family. So if this is you, don’t judge yourself, just accept that it’s who you are, that’s what I’ve had to do, and put it in your calendar. Find a methodology that works for you. But this step two of making time and making it a priority and calendarizing it, setting a meeting, book your spot at the event, whatever it is. Make the time for this task is really important because you then have to hold yourself to account.

One of the things I like to suggest to clients who have moved from commuting to working virtually is that time you’re saving with commuting, I want you to do two things with that time. Half of it, I want you to use for exercise because many of us struggle to do exercise during lockdown. The other half, so if you spend an hour a day commuting or two hours a day commuting, split it in two. And the second half is for networking. Yes, really. Think how much you could do if you used half the time you used to spend commuting working on your network. That’s a truckload you could get done.

Step three, practice patience. So I’ve talked about making time, but the other is giving it time. Building genuine, deep connections doesn’t happen overnight, it will take effort. Most people you meet won’t immediately create a deep bond with you. Remember the old fashioned in-person events, every now and then you’d meet somebody you just clicked with and you immediately were able to build that deep connection. And you’re like, “Oh my goodness me, why isn’t the rest of the world like this?” But it was rare, right? Well, maybe it wasn’t for you. But I think for the majority of us, that was rare. Remember that. Building deep bonds with the majority of your network is going to take time. So be patient, practice patience.

Be prepared that deep, genuine conversations take effort and time to obtain. Set that expectation with yourself, then be pleasantly surprised when it happens faster. It’s easier to build these deep connections if you don’t force it. If you walk in there with a, “I’m going to be a rockstar and suddenly we’re going to be best friends and they’re going to offer me a job tomorrow,” it’s going to be 10 times harder and that great outcome probably won’t happen.

Step four, step outside your comfort zone and make the call. If you’ve set a time in your calendar, stick to it, reach out, send the email, pick up the phone, whatever it is that you decided you would do, and it’s now in your calendar to do it, do it. If you already have an agreed time, it’s much easier to keep, that’s one of the reasons I agree times with people and put it in my calendar, even for friends. But do what you need to do. Step outside your comfort zone, push yourself. That’s one of the reasons you set goals, and then you calendarize it, is because then all you have to do is take that baby step outside of your comfort zone, the rest of it was mechanical.

Remember that hearing voices is really good for our stress levels. Yes, it releases cortisol, but also video really helps. Seeing someone else’s face can really build connection, not to mention actually seeing people’s surroundings, whether it’s their home, office, or even a coffee shop can usually help build connection further. You’ve got context for the conversation and that helps embed some connection in us. It’s actually why I’m not a fan of the virtual backgrounds that are very popular right now. They look really cool, some of them are seriously cool, but they’re really distracting and they actually tell our brains that something’s wrong with the picture.

So it distracts you, it stops you listening, it means you pay less attention to the person. I’ve noticed that just from my coaching calls, the clients who have a virtual background, which always are super exciting, make it harder for me as a coach to really pay 100% of attention to them. Now, I’ve learned how to handle that and I’m not telling them to turn it off. If it was an issue, I’d tell them to turn it off. But it’s actually interesting that even with my training, as somebody who’s learned how to actively listen, I’m finding it hard. So the majority of people will genuinely find it really hard to build really deep connections swiftly, if you have a virtual background. Our brains know it’s not true. So turn that one off.

Step five, focus on listening. Yes. Active listening, deep listening takes effort, takes time. Starting with a simple, hello, if you don’t know how else to get going is great, but do not worry and do not overthink that first opening sentence. That isn’t what builds connection. What you say in that opening moment is going to be irrelevant in five minutes’ time. It’s what you do afterwards that has a big impact. What really matters is how you respond. Ask them how they are, ask them about their job, ask them about their life, ask them about anything you know about them. I like to start my coaching conversations with, “Give me an update.” Partly, that really helps me understand where we need to focus for the rest of the session, but also, it immediately gives me the opportunity to properly understand what’s going on and to pick out the small differences, the changes, the matters arising, which are the obvious things they tell me. But even beyond there, there’s nuances.

If you can respond in a really positive way, in a way that acknowledges where they are and gives something back, that’s what really matters. So you need to focus on listening. Have you ever noticed your concentration wavering, that you aren’t focused on the screen in front of you, especially with all these virtual conversations? I know a lot of people are talking about Zoom fatigue. That is a real thing, but it’s partly there because we’re not actually used to focusing in that way. Those of us who’ve been working at home for multiple years have figured this out, it’s just that suddenly the rest of the world is having to figure it out as well. It’s not actually any different from focusing in person, it’s just a shift of mindset. It’s not actually harder, it’s just subtly different.

If you’ve ever noticed that you haven’t focused on the screen for a moment or your eyes have drifted or that you can’t fully remember the sentence they just said, or if you are actually multitasking, then you’re not actively listening. It’s really common, but you can train yourself in active listing. And when you do that, you can have shorter but deeper conversations. And that’s where you build really great relationships. I had to train myself in how to do this because it’s necessary for my job. And I started with really struggling to focus for a whole hour. But now I can do four hours. I generally have a break after an hour, but just a one minute stretch and I can do four hours back to back. I don’t like to do that very often, I generally try and do max, maybe three hours back to back in a day, but it is possible. And so I want you to know that you can learn this technique. It does require practice.

Step six is, learn how to unstick conversations. If you get stuck in a conversation, it’s just not going anywhere, it feels uncomfortable, what do you do? So here are some things to try, have to hand, to try and move things forward. First of all, tell them something about you. Tell them about something you’ve done, just find something genuine about you that’s exciting, that you are passionate about. If in doubt, prepare this ahead of time, especially if it’s a new connection. Have some things to hand that you can use to reinvigorate conversations.

Tell them something that you know about them that’s exciting you. So if they’ve posted something recently on social media and maybe that’s the reason you’ve reached out to them, tell them why you found that inspiring. Tell them about a project that you know they’re on that inspires you, or just ask them questions. If they’re a friend, somebody who’s a casual acquaintance, share a memory or a shared experience that you had in the past and get them to share their memory of that same experience. And the other great one is to always follow up with questions. Questions are great for getting conversations unstuck.

Step seven in a building these deep relationships is, make an ask. If you’re actively building your network and once you have a genuine deep connection, this might take one or two calls, sometimes more, it’s now time to make your ask. Did they say something that excited you? An opportunity idea came up or anything else? Ask them how you can move that forward. Alternatively, ask them if they have any suggestions for someone you could reach out to and would they make an introduction? This is a really powerful way to build your network. I am a big believer in doing this, instead of just emailing random people on the internet.

Ask your network to help expand your network. And it will snowball if you take this approach, because the people that introduce you, you’ll have deep connections with them, so they’re going to be passionate about introducing you and that transmits to the person that they’re introducing you to. Suddenly you hardly have to work to build a connection with that other person, where if you start with a cold email, first of all, they might not even respond, but second, you’re starting from ground zero to actually build that genuine connection.

And then the final step, step eight, give, give, and give some more. We should always be giving more to our network than we take, which is why I wanted to finish with this. If in doubt, give, instead of making that ask. I want you to do both, but I always want you to give more back than you’re asking for. At the bare minimum, make it an even deal. This will always work in your favor. Make suggestions, solve problems, offer a new connection suggestion for them. Say, “I know somebody that I think would really be good for you to know. I’d love to introduce you. Let me just check with them and see if they’re okay with that.”

By the way, I’m a big believer in getting permission from both parties before you make an introduction, but offer to make that new connection suggestion. Always aim to give more than you ask for. Here’s the thing about giving, I feel like I should do a whole episode on why we need to give more. Every single big change in my career has come from giving first, not from asking. I offer solutions to problems that I see somebody has. I introduce someone to someone else and then something happens, sparks happen that mean that I get offered something. Most of the big things that have happened in my career have genuinely come from me giving first and then an opportunity landing on my plate, rather than me asking.

Now I have asked, and I do think one of the things that we as women all need to get better at is asking for what we genuinely deserve. So many of us think that asking makes us arrogant. I promise you, I’m almost certain that you’re not. I am yet to meet an arrogant woman, I guess there are arrogant women out there, but genuinely I haven’t met one yet. I really, really want you to get better at asking for what you deserve, but I also know that you’ll get opportunities by giving. You’ll get great opportunities by giving. The trick then is to make the ask on that opportunity, is to recognize it for the opportunity it is and ask you to take it forward.

So those are the eight steps you need to take. Just to recap, step one, start with who or what you know, make a list, make a goal, book yourself in an event. Step two is make the time for that task. Step three, practice patience. Step four, step outside your comfort zone and make the call, take the action. Step five, focus on listening, build your active listening skills and turn up with that attitude. Step six, learn to unstick the conversation, have some go to phrases to turn to. Step seven, make an ask when it’s appropriate. And step eight, give, give, give, always give more than you take.

Was that good for you? That was good for me. I hope this has been a powerful episode, but let’s finish out with a leadership mindset moment. Just in case you’re new around here, a leadership mindset moment is an actionable tip to help adjust your actions and how you think, so you can make it easier to take action on the topic of today’s podcast. And here’s the big one, I know you’re going to struggle with this if you’re like me and it’s uncomfortable to take this action. So your mindset moment is really about getting into the space of, I’m just going to take action.

So part of this is learning to expect the best, hope for the best, but be okay with a flat conversation and don’t let it mean more than it does. I want you to turn up genuinely excited for a passionate, excited, inspiring conversation, but if it falls flat, that’s cool. Sometimes these things just happen. Do not make it mean something it doesn’t. This isn’t about you. Sometimes we just don’t spark with someone. If there is no sparkle in a relationship, well, that’s cool. There are a lot of people on this planet for you to connect with. Do not make one conversation mean that you’re a terrible person.

The other thing is, turn up with an attitude of learning. You will get better and more at ease with this the more you do it. So don’t let this stop you taking action next time. Sometimes you will just need to move on to the next person and that’s okay. And then the next thing I want you to do is make this a habit. I want you to remove decision-making from working with your network from your life. I want this to just be something you do on a particular day of the week at a particular time, it is not open for discussion. It is simply, “Oh, it’s two o’clock on a Tuesday, it’s time to work on my network.” Put it in your calendar, make it so that it’s not something you ever give up on. You’re not allowed to go, “Oh, I’ll just squeeze that out for the day and let somebody book a meeting in that slot.” No, this is non-negotiable time. You need to make it so that you will always do this.

And then, when you’ve turned up with that attitude, when you’ve cultivated that attitude, you’ve really dealt with your mindset because you’ll have a list of actions. Yes, some of them will be uncomfortable, but if you make it more about, “I just have to take action,” instead of, “I need to decide to take action and then take action,” you make this whole thing simpler. That’s the real trick with mindset is just making it as simple as possible to take action. That’s all mindset is. But when I say, that’s all mindset is, it makes it sound trivial. It’s the hardest thing we do. And yet, it’s the thing that makes the biggest change in our lives.

I’ll be the first to admit that building my network is not natural for me, even after all of this time. If it isn’t in my calendar, it doesn’t happen. So yep, I have to calendarize, not only my work networking, but friends and family too as I mentioned before. Know that about yourself, get into the mindset of finding a solution that works for you. Check in reminders, auto emails, whatever it is, just find a way that works for you and stick at it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the topic of today’s podcast. I certainly have. This is a topic I’m so passionate about. And as I mentioned, in November, I’m going to be focusing more on networking and networking your way to a job. This is the way to get yourself a job, especially right now with the hidden job market becoming even more important than ever before. But also, it’s the way to get yourself ahead, even if you’re looking for a promotion. There is nothing like being able to tell your boss, “Hey, I just received a job offer,” or, “I just received a interview request,” to make the case for you to get that seat at the table.

So if you have found this helpful, then I encourage you to sign in to the podcast during the month of November and check out the episodes I’m going to be focusing on. If in doubt, I fully encourage you to subscribe in your favorite podcast player so you do not miss any episodes. If you want any more of the links and topics I’ve discussed in today’s show, head over to tonycollis.com/episode18, or check out the show notes in your favorite podcast player. And of course, do not forget to sign up for free access to the Ditch Your Self-Doubt mini course over at tonicollis.com/dtsd.

Until next time, remember, stay on your tech leadership game, follow your dreams because the world really does need that uniqueness that you bring as an extraordinary leading woman in tech.

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