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Micro-aggression

Thinking about names again (it seems to be a theme at the moment), last week Laurie Taylor interviewed @NasarMeer (Professor of Race, Identity and Citizenship at #EdinburghUni) on #ThinkingAllowed on #Radio 4 about what he calls ‘micro-aggression’. How should one respond to that seemingly innocuous (but actually somewhat offensive) question: ‘Where are you really from?’ And what do you do when you, a black (British) person are congratulated on your English, or when someone seems to have trouble pronouncing your unfamiliar but fairly straightforward name?

This was highlighted quite starkly at a conference I recently attended. An acquaintance of mine, not born in this country, was interviewing an author. After several preliminary meetings, interviewer and interviewee had put together a more or less mutually acceptable set of questions. And then, during the live interview in front of an audience, the author asked his interviewer, just as they were about to begin: “Oh, sorry, just put me straight please. How should I pronounce your name?” Thus instantly making it quite clear that while he was British born and bred, his interviewer was most definitely a foreigner, an outsider. This despite several preliminary meetings at which he could easily have clarified the issue.

On the other hand, as I said in my previous post about ‘unusual names’ and my previous workshop participant Harshine Wikramanayake, having an unusual name can make you memorable. And that’s no bad thing in our overcrowded lives. It’s by no means simple. You can hear the Radio 4 programme at http://bbc.in/2pnaLQs

Who gets the top jobs?

I’ve just read an academic paper entitled ‘Who gets the top jobs? The role of family background and networks in recent graduates’ access to high status professions’ – written by academics from the Universities of London and Cambridge, under the auspices of the Institute of Education

The researchers investigate aspects of the thorny question of social mobility, in the hope that understanding it better will generate more effective public policies.

Looking at graduates, they find (I think surprisingly, but you may not agree) that the single most influential factor affecting whether or not they secure jobs in ‘high status occupations’ is whether they were privately educated or went to a state school. Interestingly, this is even more important than their personal educational achievements, which university they went to, their parents’ occupations, or where they lived.

The researchers then wondered whether the graduates social networks might be responsible for this – and in a slightly perverse way, I’m glad to report that they didn’t find this to be the case. I say glad because although you could call me an evangelist for the power of professional (and other) networks, I am naturally uncomfortable with even a hint of nepotism or unfair advantage derived from the use of ‘ready-made’ (family and/or professional) networks. I firmly believe that all of us, even newcomers to this (or any other) country, or first-time graduates or career changers can, with a little skill and a lot of imagination and diligence, build an active and supportive network in a new area. And so gain an advantage derived from their own skills and expertise. And luckily, professional networking is a skill which can be taught effectively.

If you are interested, you can read the full article here: https://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?cluster=3060124704150884181&hl=en&as_sdt=1,5&as_vis=1

What’s in a name?

I’ve recently taken up yoga, and have been to an excellent beginner’s course. While changing in the dressing room, I idly read the notices advertising future sessions. To my surprise, last week I recognised one of the teachers’ names – a woman who came to a workshop I ran over a decade ago! So what, you may ask? What’s this got to do with a blog on professional networking? Let me explain.

When we discuss how (rather than why) to network, one of the topics we cover is the fine art of remembering people’s names. Some international students feel uncomfortable with the fact that people sometimes have difficulty pronouncing, let alone remembering, their name.

I try to persuade them otherwise. Firstly, I remind them that an ‘unusual’ name (that is, unusual for the UK, though often fairly commonplace elsewhere in the world) is, at the very least, memorable. Years ago, when I was asked to revitalise the Dorling Kindersley brand, I remember a long drawn out struggle with the ‘simplifiers’, who wanted to shorten the brand to ‘DK’. Easy to pronounce….but totally unmemorable. In contrast, although many people got the Dorling Kindersley name wrong (the funniest I remember was Darling Kindergarten!), few forgot it completely. And in bookstores, every assistant immediately knew who custgomers were referring to. I won the argument at the time, but I see (sadly) that they have now reverted to DK. I wonder…..

The same goes for people. Being memorable (for the right reasons, of course) can be a huge advantage. Back to the yoga studio – the name of the student was Harshini Wikramanayake – a long name, but most certainly memorable (and actually not at all difficult to pronounce if you break the syllables down).

So – there’s the connection between networking and yoga.

PS. If you want more information about Harshini’s teaching, go www.saneepa.com/

Choosing the right words

The language we use matters. Not just in terms of getting things grammatically correct (though that is important too) but in terms of the image we create in the listener’s or reader’s mind. Selin Kesebir of London Business School has done some really interesting research about the way that even the order in which we habitually use gendered words (e.g. businessman and businesswoman vs. businesswoman and businessman) strongly affects how we think about situations. To read more, go to http://bit.ly/2E8M0kv

When I run workshops in telephone skills (yes, not everyone knows how to use the phone effectively!), I often give the women in my class advice I was given at the start of my career: Don’t ever say ‘It’s Judith calling’. Always say: It’s Judith Perle calling’. Judith is a secretary; Judith Perle is someone to be reckoned with. Creating the right impression can sometimes be as simple as using your full name, not just your first name.

Presentation skills in a nutshell

A gem I picked up recently – almost short enough to be a tweet!

When making a presentation, bear three things in mind:

1. Simplify complicated ideas
2. Emphasize the benefits
3. Try to influence your audience to take action

The power of gestures

Attitude is all-important. If you approach things with a positive frame of mind, there’s nearly always a useful ‘takeaway’ to be found.

An example: Yesterday I went to a ‘free’ seminar on presentation skills which was, as I suspected, mainly a selling exercise. Since I run workshops and masterclasses for a living, I’m always curious to see what others offer. And there was one gem – a short exercise to demonstrate the power of body language.

Try it and see. First, find a partner. Stand facing each other, and clasp your hands behind your back. Now think of a subject that you are really enthusiastic about – and tell your partner about it, but without using any gestures, and keeping your voice as monotonous as you can. Try to convey your passion purely through the words you use.

Not easy, is it? A succinct example of how important body language is in communication. While I don’t believe the often quoted mantra that 97% of your impact is the result of body language (what you have to say matters at least as much as how you say it) – I do believe that body language is much under-rated by almost all of us.

Do you agree?

Randomised coffee trials (aka, “having a coffee and a chat with a relative stranger”)

When it comes to innovation, most of us under-estimate the power of serendipity and the importance of meeting new people.

In workshops, I always stress the many and varied benefits that building a network brings. So I often talk about the importance of serendipity, and of meeting new people – and it is heartening to find that the news is spreading. At a recent workshop which I ran for the Wellcome Trust, I mentioned the (strangely named, I think) Random Coffee Trials that are becoming increasingly popular in organisations as diverse as the Scottish government, the Red Cross – even the UK Treasury.

The idea is simple. People sign up to the programme, and are then randomly partnered with another participant, with whom they arrange to meet informally over a cup of coffee. There is no set agenda – some people talk shop, others have more personal conversations. But the end result is that silos are broken down, ideas exchanged, help and advice given, and relationships forged. Organisations such as Ashridge Executive Education claim that over 90% of those taking part have met someone they would not otherwise have met in the course of their work at Ashridge.

One of the participants in my workshop pointed me in the direction of an interesting piece in Network, the magazine of the Medical Research Council. By creating a pleasant environment where staff are encouraged to relax and chat over a drink (rather than drinking inferior coffee from a dispenser in splendid isolation), many at the MRC’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge claim that this has made an important contribution to the 13 Nobel prizes won by scientists working at the institution.

A nice example was provided by Professor Alessi who described how informal discussions led him and a colleague to realise they were, quite literally, working on two sides of the same coin – and that each of them had the answers to the other’s questions. The outcome is a potential new cancer drug.

If you’d like more information, or advice on how to organise RCTs in your organisation, do get in touch.

Gathering: Lessons in professional networking from Finland

Just back from a stimulating weekend in Finland, presenting at the Hanken School of Economics Summer Summit (www.hanken.fi/en). I am always especially pleased to work in Finland. I have personal connections with the country (my mum was Finnish) and have been spending my summer holidays there since I was a small child. But it was more recently, when my ideas on approaches to professional networking were developing, that my Finnish connection came to the fore professionally.

Much (most) of Finland is wild forest. Roaming in that forest is an enormously peaceful occupation…..and it was while gathering bilberries (or it may have been mushrooms) that I realised that there is something liberating and very productive about having no goal or aim. Gathering frees one from the pressure which any ‘hunting’ activity inevitably brings with it… and that, in turn, led me to realise that most people equate networking with hunting. They need something (a job, an introduction, a piece of information) and they go looking for it. The emphasis is entirely on me and my needs.

In contrast, the gatherer (in networking terms) goes out into the world to meet people, and is relaxed enough to wait and see where the conversation leads. The emphasis is on both ‘me’ and ‘you’. Sometimes the encounter is boring, sometimes it is interesting (but still ends up in a dead end) and just occasionally it is interesting and it leads somewhere. By taking the ‘gathering approach’, the pressure button is turned off – and networking is seen as a pleasant activity in itself, which is not necessarily self-seeking or manipulative.

Try it and see for yourself. I have many stores about the benefits of chance conversations, but I’m always happy to hear new ones.

And finally, please don’t think that I’m against ‘hunting’ Without doubt, it has its uses. It just isn’t the be-all and end-all of professional networking.

Musical Chairs

Another one of those chance conversations that lead somewhere unexpected… I’ve been a volunteer reader on our local Talking Newspaper for a couple of years. Never got involved in the committee, governance or management side of things, just did the read, put the USB sticks in envelopes and went home. A few weeks back, during our ‘cake break’ in recording, I happened to be chatting to our engineer and regaling him with the latest instalment about dealing with what are euphemistically called ‘strong characters’ in my role as Chair of another voluntary organisation. I didn’t think any more about it until a couple of weeks later when that same engineer (who I hadn’t realised also happened to be Chair of the Talking Newspaper) called to say “I’m stepping down as Chair to spend more time travelling- would you be prepared to take over?”

Having agreed with my wife that I wasn’t going to take on any additional voluntary work, I defended my ‘volte face’ on the basis that this wasn’t an additional commitment, just an extension of an existing one with a commitment of ‘only’ four board meetings a year. So this week, after being nominated at the AGM, the Hexham Courant reports that ‘Talking Newspaper Has New Chief’.

But the point is this. I didn’t actively pursue the role, and I only took it on because the charity was hard-pushed to find someone else to take on that responsibility. I was approached to do it because of an entirely chance conversation in which I had given enough information about myself and my experience to allow a third party to decide that I had the skills required to do the job.I hadn’t been ‘selling’ or promoting myself, just having a chat and swapping stories over a piece of home made cake.

The Network Effect reaches #7 in the Economists’ Bookshop weekly chart

I’m used to running workshops for relatively small groups, and I’ve also delivered masterclasses to all sorts of audiences, both large and small. But there’s something distinctive about a book event – and when that book is your own, the event becomes even more special.

It may have something to do with having spent the early part of my career in the world of publishing, or the fact that I’ve taken part in the same literature class for more years that I care to admit…

Whatever the reason, I was strangely moved when speaking to an audience at The Economists’ Bookshop (at the London School of Economics and, I believe, the only branch of Waterstone’s to retain its original name). The audience wasn’t huge, but they were all book lovers, and many of them were students. The venue wasn’t specially impressive but it was a bookshop. And to see our book (with my name on it, as co-author together with my colleague Tony Newton) ranked 7 in that week’s sales charts represented a validation of all that we have been striving to achieve – changing attitudes to networking and helping people connect with each other in these difficult times.

Now all we have to do is persuade the 300-odd other branches of Waterstone’s to (a) stock the book so that browsers have a chance of coming across it and (b) run a signing event! Any suggestions will be gratefully received!

FIND OUT MORE

READ OUR BOOK

A guide to making – and keeping – the connections that make your, our and everyone else’s world go round.

The book walks you through everything you need to know about connecting with other people.

Judith and Tony’s goal in the book is to get away from the manipulative ‘working a room’ concept of networking. Instead, they use the results of research into human interactions coupled with real case studies to justify the hints, tips and suggestions they propose.

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