Generation Y and Millennial women have learned an important lesson from our female predecessors: we privilege collaborating with one another over competing (or at the very least we espouse that we do). But we have created a new problem that we must solve if we are to create and sustain long-term entrepreneurial success. We are unconsciously killing potential relationships with a series of interpersonal communication errors.
The good news? Correcting our misguided communication is as simple as shining a light on these three common blunders — and replacing our wonky habits with wonderful ones.
Blunder 1: “OMG, we do the same thing. We should be BFFs.”
Okay, while I’m exaggerating here, I can’t tell you how many times somebody has approached me after I speak to say she is a speaker or coach as well and that we must work together on a project. Then I go home, do a little bit of online due diligence, and discover the person has just started her business or, while she may fancy herself an entrepreneur, hasn’t even gotten around to launching her website.
In our desire to build affinity with women (and men), we should watch our tendency to oversell our experience, especially at the expense of acknowledging the expertise and hard work of others. While I always have a few mentees and enjoy demystifying how I have built a thriving consulting business, I’m attracted to those who are honest about where they are in their professional development and business life cycle. I want to support those who show they have a keen understanding of what I do — and how much training and self-development I’ve engaged in — to get here.
Blunder 2: “I totally love what you do, Alexia. Can you check out/endorse my __________?”
This messaging is a close cousin of the first. Ultimately, the same problem is its root. The overzealous communicator has made the communication exchange about herself at the expense of forging a connection first.
I know how easily this misstep in communication can happen, because I was guilty of it when soliciting advanced endorsements for my onboarding book, 90 Days 90 Ways. There were a lot of people whose books and thought leadership I had admired for years that I had intended to reach out to, never did, and then found myself connecting with for the first time to ask for a favor.
Whenever somebody’s business, work, etc. makes a positive impact on you, let them know. And keep letting them know. Then, because your relationship will have had time to unfold organically, when the time comes where you can benefit from an endorsement/testimonial you can ask with confidence and know that you are not overstepping.
Blunder 3: We start off strong, and then we let our communication fizzle.
This misstep is bound to happen unless you have a system for scheduling and maintaining personalized communication with the people in your developing network. It’s not enough to craft a follow-up email, send out a LinkedIn request, and follow someone on Twitter.
While making sure you appropriately “touch” your new contact within the first 24-hours is key, what matters more is how you sustain contact moving forward. Whether that means setting up calendar reminders, having dedicated Twitter lists, or — if you’re old school like me — keeping a small pile of cards on your desk to revisit every couple of weeks, stay engaged with the people who you want to forge relationships with. Send them articles or event announcements that relate to their interests. Retweet their articles. Schedule quarterly coffee dates. This will ensure the relationship stays robust and alleviate the need to push too hard when you first meet.
Fixing the Problem
To recap, each of these blunders has the same solution — shift from a me orientation to a how-can-I-be-of-service? orientation. Next time you want to forge a relationship with someone, especially if she or he is a few steps ahead in your professional space, invest the time and energy to get to know who they are and how they are specifically contributing to your industry. Spend some time reading their writing and social media messages. See how they interact with their community. Circulate that which you find beneficial and inspirational.
And then, and only then, ask if there’s a way you can support them. When you show your value without attachment to an immediate endorsement or collaboration, you lay the foundation for a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.