This next post comes from Eric. Last week we were having a conversation about professional relationships and his take was a little different than mine. I’ve been in this industry for a while now (longer than I’d like to admit) and have forgotten what it was like to be the new kid on the block. I asked him to write down his experience of starting his journey into the world of HR Tech and the working world in general. Here’s what he had to say:
Time flies when you’re having fun, right? It’s been a little over a year now and I thought I would share a story about my experiences in the world of HR Technology.
I started working at Lockton in January of 2013, fresh off the stage from graduation at the University of Missouri. Having no prior experience working in the industry, I knew there would be an enormous learning curve for me. After a couple of weeks, I knew I’d fit in with the Lockton team. My only lingering concern would be the “outside world.”
And by “outside world” I mean vendors and clients.
It’s hard to make a connection with someone you rarely, if ever, get to meet in person. As I got settled in to my new role on the team, I began having to make those connections. How do you start building a professional relationship with someone you’ve never met before?
I don’t know about you, but I like to ease into the business conversations with general small talk ─ anecdotes and stories about common interests. “Boy, the Royals have really tanked it the last couple of weeks.” “Hey! How was your trip to Mexico?” “It’s raining here again. I think I’ve forgotten what the sun looks like.”
We’ve all been a part of these conversations. A lot of times, it just fills the void while waiting for others to join a call. For me, it gives me a chance not only to relax, but to establish a deeper connection with that person instead of having the relationship solely based on “the reason for the call.” If everyone meeting is relaxed, both parties will likely have a better relationship, thus leading to more productive calls. I like to ask people about themselves, because after all, it is the topic that they know the best. And most people like talking about themselves. It is also a way to show people that you care and are interested in more than just business.
Did you know that there’s also a strategic use to this chit-chat? If I can start the call hearing how someone sounds when they’re relaxed or at ease, it can help me hear any tension in their voice if the call heads in a difficult direction. After all, if 55% of what we communicate is done through body language, calls with outside vendors or employer clients can be challenging. Chit-chat provides a baseline for me to understand vocal inflection, emotions and all the other communication inputs denied me by not being able to see body language.
I understand that not every meeting or every call can be this way, as I’ve been a part of plenty serious, to-the-point conversations. Some people are direct and don’t need the small talk for connecting.
I remember one particular set of meetings that involved a very direct individual. We were meeting to discuss options for a benefits administration system that needed to be up and running in 30 business days. Everyone was under pressure to get this moving, and we kept our meetings pretty brief (usually 30 minutes with exact expectations and action items that needed to be addressed). It was difficult for me at first to go about a project like this. I felt like I had no real time to truly connect with the whole team and I believe this led to some miscommunication. Not understanding their tone quite as well, it took me a bit longer to clearly communicate the mutual goals of the project.
Regardless, as I started to establish these professional connections as a new hire, it was easier to work with those who were real and open from the beginning. I cannot begin to tell you the difference it made for me when others were open to engaging in the conversational chit chat. It makes it easier for me to relate to them, and in turn communicate with them when I understand a little about how they feel and think outside of the office. As a result, I’ve established some great professional relationships, which have led to some great business opportunities for a lot of parties.
Having established these relationships the way I did, I noticed the general respect and appreciation reciprocated to me. As a new person in the industry, I crave that the most. I think most college grads desperately want the respect and appreciation for the work they do, and I’m getting that from both internally and externally. It sure makes my job a whole lot easier.
After a year on the job, I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from not only my peers, but also the vendors and clients we work with. What’s truly fascinating about this job is that it changes from day to day, constantly keeping me on my toes and encouraging me to learn. From healthcare reform and private exchanges, to benefits administration and payroll management, it’s truly an ever evolving industry.
Having set the foundation of how to engage with other professionals, it sure makes it easier to dive in.
So to any grads or newbies to an industry, my advice on building professional relationships is simple: be genuinely interested in the people you are connecting with. It makes the small talk flow easily into deeper conversations and lasting relationships. Likewise, don’t be afraid to open up a bit yourself. It goes a long way to show that you’re in it for the long haul when you’re open and inviting to those that you work with.