Networking is for Lovers

Think networking is a strange invention of our modern world? Think again! 

New research indicates that humans have been networking for over 34,000. Hunter-gatherers in the Stone Age made social connections with groups outside of their immediate family in order to avoid inbreeding. 

Stock Photo

Stock Photo

It makes sense that humans developed this social behavior in order to facilitate mate selection. At a primal level, what is more important to us than furthering our species? 

As a communication consultant, I talk to many people who dislike networking or find that it feels fake. And I definitely sympathize with these feelings. But personally, love networking because, when it works best, it is a way for people to connect and help each other. Help each other learn. Help each other meet new people. Help each other grow. 

The idea that networking may have started as a way to build our species is inspiring to me. (That's the kind of dork that I am!) Maybe it will help you love networking, too! 

 

Give yourself permission to end a bad conversation

What is a bad conversation?

In the world of networking, it can be one with the person who tells long, self-interested stories, or with someone who is collecting business cards and doesn’t seem to genuinely care about anything you are saying. You don’t have to stay in long conversation with these people.

In fact, you shouldn’t talk to these people any longer than is necessary to be polite.

These conversations are draining. Depleting your energy on these conversations hurts your ability to network with more thoughtful, engaging, and interesting people.

This advice is especially true for introverts who can have less social endurance than extroverts.

Many introverts describe themselves as having a battery for social activity. Once that battery is drained, they have a difficult time socializing. The only thing that recharges the battery is quiet alone time. If someone is particularly draining your battery for whatever reason, you owe it to yourself to end that conversation.

Don't let your social battery drain faster than it has to.

Don't let your social battery drain faster than it has to.

So how do you politely end these conversations?

Needing to refill your drink or run to the restroom are always easy reasons to walk away. Or you can say, “It has been lovely to meet you. I want to make sure I connect with some other people I know before I leave.” It’s that simple.

Can a Post-It Note make you more persuasive?

Researcher Randy Garner wanted to know whether simply affixing Post-It Notes with handwritten instructions could increase the percentage of people who returned surveys.

In his study, Garner used three conditions: 1) a group who received surveys with additional instructions typed in a cover letter; 2) a group who received additional instructions on a handwritten cover letter; and 3) a group who received additional instructions handwritten on a post-it note. 36% of typed-letter group returned the surveys; 48% of the handwritten-letter group returned the surveys; and 75% of the Post-It Note group returned the surveys, making the Post-It Notes much more effective than even the handwritten cover letter. 

post-it notes

To make sure it was not just the jazzy neon color of the post-its encouraging survey takers, Garner did a follow-up study and sent out surveys with handwritten notes on post-its, post-its that were blank, surveys with no note at all. The post-its with handwritten notes again proved most effective. 

The benefit is likely from a combination of the catchy color and the handwritten note. 

But why would survey takers care if someone spent 30 seconds scrawling a note on a post-it? It's something persuasion researchers call reciprocity. 

When someone does something nice for us, we like to repay that kindness. The handwritten notes are evidence of the researchers having taken time to personally explain the process to each survey taker. It would seem rude not to acknowledge their efforts by completing the survey. 

So next time you have a document or report that requires attention, write a personal note on a sticky note. Bonus points if you say "thank you" and sign your name. 

How can introvert leaders lean in?

Sheryl Sandberg and Susan Cain discuss how introverts can lean in and how introverts can be powerful leaders. 

You often find effective leaders who are introverts who didn’t get there by the desire to be a leader, they just had this passion for something. In the service of that passion, they end up acquiring expertise and building networks and so on, and that is a really authentic path to leadership.
— Susan Cain

If you watch this video, I hope you get a sense for why I respect and admire both of these women for their intelligence and entrepreneurial and collegial spirit. 

Test yourself: can you detect microexpressions?

Even though the majority of our nonverbal emotional communication is done through the face, our face does not always clearly display what we are feeling. 

Universal Facial Expressions. David Matsumoto.

We learn to display emotions in socially appropriate ways. 

If you get a birthday present that you do not like, you will probably make an expression of happiness, even though you feel disappointed. If you are angry that your boss has asked you to work this coming Saturday, instead of scowling and gritting your teeth, you are more likely to keep your face in a neutral expression, masking the anger you feel. If you're watching a playoff sports game with friends who are all rooting for the opposing team, but your team wins, you might downplay your level of excitement to be polite. 

Our true emotions have a tendency to leak through in what are called microexpressions. These microexpressions are brief flashes in which our face will display a certain emotion for just 1/25th to 1/15th of a second. They can be very difficult to see with the naked eye, and are generally studied using recordings that have been slowed down. 

In these studies, researchers will see people displaying one emotion but briefly flashing a microexpression that betrays their true feelings. In the example of the employee being asked to work on Saturday, he might hold a neutral face but flash a look of anger for 1/25th of a second. The boss would not see this look. At most, the boss might get a vague sense that the employee is upset about working over the weekend ... a sense she can't quite explain. But even that might not happen. Microexpressions often go completely unnoticed. 

So what do these microexpressions look like in action? How good are you at detecting microexpressions? Care to find out? 

One of the leading researchers in the field (Paul Ekman) has put together an online test so you can do just that.  

If you're interested in seeing more about microexpressions in action, here is a fascinating video of Paul Ekman analyzing Kato Kaelin's testimony at the OJ Simpson trial

 

Network for the Future

Network when you don't need it

It’s 6:45 p.m. on a Wednesday. After an already long workday, you’re standing at an industry social mixer with a glass of cheap wine. This is the last place you want to be, but you’re hoping to transition to a new area of your field, and you need to establish strong contacts to do that successfully. 

We often network in moments of need. We are on the job market. Our dream employer is hosting a mixer. We hit a dead end at work and need a new opportunity. In all of these situations, having good networking skills is crucial … and networking is the right step.

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But the most rewarding networking is done when we have no pressing needs. When we simply reach out to someone because both of us might benefit from knowing each other, and we simply grab coffee or lunch to talk.

If you’re a fan of Dale Carnegie (of How to Win Friends and Influence People fame), you’ll recall that one of his pieces of advice is to arouse in the other person an eager want. Carnegie recommends we think about a situation from another person’s perspective and imagine how they might benefit from our interaction. This advice is helpful to keep in mind when networking.

How can you benefit your networking contact? In what ways are you someone they would want to know? Do you have skills and knowledge they would be interested in? Are you connected to people they might be interested in meeting, even if it is other potential employees?

When you are pitching yourself as someone who currently needs a job, the tradeoff of what you need from the contact versus how they can benefit from you is a much harder argument to make.

When you are simply reaching out to get to know an ally in your field, the stakes of the pitch, and hence your argument, become much less dramatic.

Once you have established the contact, it will be easier to ask them for help in a moment of need.

So, if you want to be a networking All-Star, your homework is to reach out to one potential networking contact each month, purely for the sake of expanding your network. 

Happy networking!  

Three Universally Positive Nonverbal Communication Skills

I often get asked how people can improve their nonverbal communication skills. Or what nonverbal behaviors show a person is definitely interested in a conversation. Or how you can tell if an interviewer likes your answers. 

My answer is almost always that it depends. It depends on a person's specific goals. It depends on the industry in which they work. It depends on what their unique communication challenges are. 

Because nonverbal behaviors and what they mean depend on their context. 

For example, someone giving a presentation might blink a lot because they are nervous. They might also blink a lot because they are struggling with their contacts. It's important to remember, we only see the behavior, not the motivation behind it. 

Having said that, there are a few nonverbal skills that are regarded as almost universally positive. I explore three of these skills in the video below. 

How to write a bullet-list cover letter

Formatting your cover letter as a bulleted list can be a good strategy to highlight your strengths and experiences.

Writing a bullet-list cover letter can be a great way to highlight your strengths. Stock image. 

Writing a bullet-list cover letter can be a great way to highlight your strengths. Stock image. 

Hiring managers receive dozens, if not hundreds, of applications for each job posting. Displaying your best points in a style that is easy to read only increases your chances of making it to the interview. 

Here are some tips on how to best translate a traditional cover letter into a bullet-list format:  

  • Bullets must be different than the bullets on your resume; if you are simply rehashing the same information that is on your resume, you lose the advantage of writing a cover letter.
  • Bullets should include information that shows off the qualifications that make you the best fit for the job; I like to tailor points to the specific job posting if I have time.
  • Include 3 to 6 bullet points; I always think an odd number of points is visually pleasing, but really, the determining factor should be fitting in the information that best sells you as an applicant.
  • Write bullets that tell what is unique about you as an applicant. These statements should not just inform the hiring manager about your previous roles and responsibilities, they should show what you did that no one else did. For example, do not write, "At Company X, I developed spreadsheets and oversaw the operating budget;" do write, "At Company X, I oversaw a $10m operating budget and reprioritized expenses, keeping the department under spending targets for the first time in 20 years." 
  • Your cover letter will have a traditional introductory paragraph that introduces you and which job your are applying to.
  • It should also include a full paragraph detailing why you are interested in this specific company (I would put mine after the bulleted list).
  • The cover letter should also have a traditional closing paragraph thanking the hiring manager for their time.

Below is a very rough version of a sample bullet-list cover letter. I am providing this sample so you can get a sense of how to format a bullet-list letter. Please do not style your letter after the content in this example. My writing here is much too generic and casual to be effective, but the formatting is correct. 

Sample bullet-list cover letter. Copy is very rough. Sample for stylistic purposes only. 

Sample bullet-list cover letter. Copy is very rough. Sample for stylistic purposes only. 

The bullet-list cover letter is generally acceptable but could be risky if you work in a more stylistically conservative field like banking. Before you use this method, you should check with a career adviser or communication coach. 

Online appointment booking

You can now book coaching appointments with me using my online calendar. I'm always available to schedule via email (jessica.knapp@gmail.com), but if you prefer to look through my general availability and schedule a time yourself, go to knappcommunication.acuityscheduling.com/schedule.

The scheduling tool is also available through the Consulting page on my website. 

 

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6 Effective Listening Tips

They work for me in the classroom, and they will work for you too ... 

I have taught listening skills to my students more times than I can count, and to be honest, I have never liked teaching the subject. Not because listening skills aren’t important. Good listeners are engaging and make us feel important.

But every book or chapter that I have read on listening skills has been filled with generic advice like “be attentive,” or “paraphrase what the speaker says in your own words.” These tips are helpful, to a point, but they are also so vague that I don’t feel like I’m actually giving my students useful information. My students can likely sense that I don’t have faith in what I’m saying, and the credibility of my lesson is gone as soon as the words leave my mouth.

So you can imagine my relief and excitement when, this week, I finally found a book with listening tips that are concrete, teachable, and actually helpful.

I am teaching John Gottman and Joan DeClaire’s book The Relationship Cure to my Interpersonal Communication class. Combining tips from other great relationship writers, such as Dale Carnegie, and Gottman’s own original research, the authors develop a list of listening advice that is both actionable and effective.

Here are my favorites from the list of skills that they provide:

  1.  Focus on being interested, not interesting:  People have a basic human need to feel important. Help people fulfill that need by hearing out what they have to say and showing genuine interested. Focus more on the other person in the conversation and less on presenting yourself as successful or fascinating.
  2.  Start by asking questions:  Ask questions that allow people to elaborate. Ask open-ended questions, i.e., not questions that can be answered with a “yes,” or a “no.” For example, “How is your latest work project going?” Also, I personally find that many people will ask one question, get their answer, and then wait for their conversation partner to ask them a question in return. The conversation does not need to flow back-and-forth in this way. To get a good rapport going, ask a few questions in a row until your conversation partner is talking about something that interests them. Work to find that topic that excites them.
  3. Look for commonalities:  We are drawn to people who remind us of ourselves. It’s why alumni networks help people find jobs. If you grew up in the same city as a person you have just met, mention it. Sharing points that you have in common will help others open up to sharing more. Be mindful of sharing too much with someone you have just met though. We tend to like to hear details about biographical background, hobbies, and other general interests from new acquaintances—nothing more intense or personal.
  4. Respond with an occasional brief sound or nod:  When we are listening, we find ways to let the speaker know we are listening to them, even though we don’t want to interrupt to say, “Yes. I hear what you are saying, and I am listening to you.” We use what are called backchannel cues. As the speaker talks, we’ll simply nod our head or murmur “mmm hmmm,” “ok,” “yes.” These small utterances are important to let the speaker know that we are still with them, still paying attention.
  5.  Let go of your own agenda:  Don’t try to control how the speaker is reacting to what they tell you. Don’t try to fix their problem or emotional state. This advice can be especially hard to follow if someone is upset. But in true listening, your job is to be open and let the speaker unburden themselves to you. At least at this point, it’s not your job to help them fix the situation.
  6. Turn off the television and phone:  Gottman and DeClaire write to turn off the television in order to be a good listener … but their book was published in 2001. A bigger issue in 2016 is cellphones. When someone needs to be heard, put your phone away. Do not be distracted by a shiny screen of any kind. 

Listening is crucially important to good communication, and it is deceptively difficult. Maybe that is why I have found it so frustrating that it has taken me more than 8 years of teaching to find a good resource on the subject. But also, it makes sense that, as a deceptively difficult subject, it would be hard to find a resource that understands the nuances of the process and explains it well to others. 

Tips for more open communication

The best nonverbal technique for communicating that you are open to communication is something called "immediacy." Immediacy is how we indicate that we are physically or psychologically interested in connecting with other people. There are verbal and nonverbal ways to show immediacy, but in the below video, I share some of the best nonverbal ways to communicate immediacy. 

Visualization to prepare for presentations

Visualization can be a great technique to help prepare for a presentation. It is one of my favorite ways to alleviate anxiety and feel ready for an important talk. Extra steps like these are especially important for introverts, who sometimes need a little extra practice before their presentation in order to feel comfortable with their delivery. 

The below video offers tips on how to use visualization to your advantage. One important detail:  as you visualize, be sure to see yourself succeeding! 

Lonely is normal

This great article from The Washington Post addresses something I see on college campuses all the time. Many students, especially freshmen, feel lonely, homesick, isolated, but also think there is something wrong with them for having these feelings. 

Most college students have moved out on their own for the first time in their lives. Many are far away from their families and all of their close friends. There is a natural, initial rush of excitement when the school year starts. Classes are new. Orientation activities keep everyone engaged and busy. But a few weeks into the first semester, homesickness and isolation can set in. Students can become so preoccupied with putting forward a brave face, that they struggle to admit their loneliness to others, or even themselves. 

It takes time to build strong friendships. And it takes time to feel truly comfortable in a new environment. College freshmen are not necessarily going to immediately adapt to their new campus life. Admitting a sense of isolation is not a sign of weakness; it is the first step toward finding strategies to connect with others. Most universities offer counseling services for students who need them. And all schools have social outlets that can help students reach out to their peers. 

This piece has some great tips for both students and parents on how to address this struggle. I hope people continue to talk and write about this issue to further combat the stigma associated with it. 

Proofreading tips from a professional proofreader

Proofreading tips from a professional proofreader

 Whether you’re a professional, or just someone who likes to have your work look polished, we all have to proofread our work. Below are some best practices that I learned in the field.

 Edit and proofread separately

If your job requires massaging of text, do not expect yourself to be accurate in your ability to correct grammar and punctuation while you are rewriting the copy. You will need to read through a separate time for your official proofreading marks.

Read line-by-line with a ruler or other straight-edged object

When there is an error in the text—for example, a missing word, or two letters are transposed—our brains will many times automatically fill in the correct information. When you proofread, you have to fight this tendency and consciously work to find the errors. Isolating one line at a time increases the chances that you will find those mistakes in the copy.

Use a ruler or straight-edge to help you focus on one line at a time.

Use a ruler or straight-edge to help you focus on one line at a time.

 Use technology to search for common errors

Use the “find” feature of whatever program you are in to search for common errors. This idea applies to common grammatical and style problems but also terms that are important to your client. Search for the company president’s name to make sure that it is spelled correctly. Search for key terms in your industry to ensure correct punctuation and capitalization. As long as you have the technology, use it to your benefit.  

Consistency matters most

This trait is largely what separates professional proofreaders from non-professionals who are good with grammar. Your style should be consistent throughout your document. Make sure that you use the same rules for capitalization, bolding of headlines, and grammar throughout the piece. Do you apply the same style for periods in bullet points? Are you using em and en dashes correctly? Have you made a decision about whether to use the Oxford comma and applied it consistently throughout the document? You should do one read of the document just for consistency … maybe more, depending on how complicated the document is and how many consistency decisions are required.

 Tips for professional proofreaders ... 

Limit your hours

If you are proofreading, you have to be careful about mental fatigue. At a certain point, you will become your own worst enemy. A proofreader is their own best resource. You may find yourself in a job in which supervisors or freelance clients encourage you to work more than eight or nine hours a day, but longer hours can be dangerous for a proofreader. Working longer hours may only hurt your accuracy, but client/employer expectations will not decrease.

 Add fact checking

Clients will not expect you to fact check, but anytime you can correct a fact or notice a misspelled term or name, you are adding value to your service. There will not always be time for this service, but as your budget allows, simply use the internet to verify facts that do not meet your common-sense test. If the client does not have a style guide, create one as you work. Any additional service you can offer adds value to your role.  

The attractive voice ...

Since Hillary Clinton’s voice has received so much media attention lately—whether it’s annoying, and whether it’s sexist to find her voice annoying—I wanted to add some insights on what makes a for a good speaking voice.

To some extent, this is all subjective. For example, one person might think the character Janice on Friends has the most annoying voice in the world, and another might not mind her voice much at all. But in general terms, research has identified trends.

 We do find some voices more attractive than others … just like we find some people more attractive than others. Fair or not, it’s a fact of life.

 People tend to like voices that convey authority, competence, industriousness, sensitivity, and warmth (Zuckerman & Driver, 1989). Conveying all of these traits at once can become complicated. Although many people, women included, manage to successfully convey these traits concurrently.

Just to name a few women who beautifully portray themselves with their speaking voices, in my humble opinion—Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Ivanka Trump, Madeline Albright, and Sheryl Sandberg.

To convey authority and competence, speak at an appropriate volume—loud enough to be heard, but not so loud that you shout at you audience. Avoid filler words—pauses in which you fill the space with vocal utterances like “um,” “uh,” “like,” etc. Also, make sure that you are breathing from your diaphragm. (Here is a great exercise for developing your diaphragm.) 

To sound industrious, you should speak at a reasonably fast rate. Do not speak so slow that the audience is bored trying to listen to you. Also, make sure that your vocal tone varies. If you sound monotone, the audience will find you low energy and be bored listening to you.

 Sensitivity and warmth can be more nuanced and difficult to convey. They come from vocal variety, but also a hint of breathiness at the right moment, a slight uptick in energy that indicates true emotion. Try focusing on the emotion behind your message as you deliver your presentation. Also, make sure that you are developing a presentation style that is authentic to who you are as a person. You can borrow techniques from Oprah or Ivanka Trump, but if you steal one person’s entire style, you will seem inauthentic, and the audience will feel that inauthenticity.

Citation:

Zuckerman, M., & Driver, R.E. (1989). What sounds beautiful is good: The vocal attractiveness stereotype. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior., 13, 67-82. 

Smiling: The simplest way to improve your communication

A little smile can go a long way.

Smiling is an almost universally positive communication behavior. People who smile are viewed as more persuasive, more likable, and more credible. They have better affinity with their audiences as presenters. And almost all of us could stand to smile more than we do. 

Genuine smiles are called Duchenne smiles, named for the researcher who first identified the difference between real and fake smiles. When real, happy emotions are behind our smiles, we crinkle the muscles at the sides of our eyes. Sometimes we call these muscles the "crow's feet." (See the video below for more details.) 

 

The benefits of smiling.

4 ways gestures can work for you in a presentation

1. Gestures can make you look more natural as a speaker. In everyday conversation, most people talk with their hands to some extent. Using gestures in a presentation helps your audience see you as someone who is simply having a conversation with them. 
2. Research shows that adding gestures helps your audience understand the information you are sharing—even if you are using general, non-specific hand movements. This connection becomes especially important if the information that you are presentation is complicated. 
3. To optimize the efficacy of your gestures, adjust their size to the size of your audience (see video for details). For example, if you are talking to a few people, move your hands/arms from your wrists. If your audience is a few dozen people, move your arms from your elbows. If your audience is a hundred people or larger, move your arms from your shoulders. This ensures that your gestures feel appropriate to the people watching your presentation. 

How to size gestures to your audience. 

4. One of the primary concerns I hear from students and clients who are anxious about presenting is what to do with their hands when they are presenting. If you become comfortable using gestures as you present, you have alleviated any concern over what to do with your hands. You do not need to count off points with your fingers or anything nearly that complicated. Simply moving your hands in a general manner is enough to help engage your audience and make you appear more comfortable and confident as a presenter. I bet it will make you feel more confident, too!