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Most of us have pet peeves when it comes to other people, especially other drivers. One of mine is when people don’t use their signal lights properly. Grrrr!!  You know exactly what I’m talking about.  A few examples:

  • The driver who passes you, then darts back into your lane with no signal, cutting you off.
  • The would-be race car driver who goes 15 mph faster than everyone else and then swoops jauntily across several lanes with no signal.
  • The person who slows suddenly to make a left or right turn – again, no signal – causing you to slam on your brakes to avoid a collision.
  • The spaced-out dude cruising along, oblivious that his signal light is on.  And has been on for miles. Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink. Blinkety. Blink. Blink…

Sheesh!  These folks make driving not only more difficult and frustrating, but also more hazardous.  Sort of like people who don’t “signal” intentionally or thoughtfully while networking.

Okay, this is a lot less life-threatening than the driving scenario, but the metaphor has a message.

Ever been in a conversation with someone and realize that you’re getting few, if any, signals, indicators, or clues as to who they really are, what they actually do, and what they’re interested in?  You might ask a few ice-breaker questions to show interest, but you get very little in return.  And if you do get a response, it’s not what you asked for; it may be just talky-talk noise or a canned elevator pitch. It’s meaningless, trite, awkward, and certainly not memorable.  A meaningful connection just isn’t happening.

I often ask people in my sessions what their biggest frustrations are with networking.  Many say they become exhausted trying to find connection points – things in common that they can talk about  – to get the conversation going.

In some cases you may even notice some dissonance between who someone says  who they are and how they’re actually showing up.  Here’s an example:

I met a woman at a business luncheon who looked and acted as if she was suffering from extreme stress, grief, or illness.  Her energy and “presence” had the same gravity as Jupiter.  Since I was seated next to her, I thought I’d do the right thing and start a conversation. Perhaps I could find out what was up; see if I could be of comfort or support. We exchanged names and such. Then, I asked her what she did for a living. She told me she coached women on how to be more empowered and fearless.

Whaaatt?  Mixed signal alert!  I’ve never forgotten that experience.

Hey, this woman may be really good at what she does. Or perhaps she was having an extraordinarily bad day. (We’ve all been there – in which case, staying home may have been a better option.)  However, the signals I received were radically different from the person she claimed to be; how she showed up.

It was almost disorienting.

Ever had that experience? Our brains have a hard time with this.  Just as they do when we expect drivers to behave one way – to follow the rules and offer accurate signals on the road –  and then they don’t.

It’s frustrating to try to converse and connect – to navigate the highways of networking, if you will − with people who give mixed signals, dissonant signals, or no signals at all.  Vagueness and duplicity are not popular or desirable traits.  Yet I see them regularly. And we often wonder why our networking efforts don’t bring us any return or results – or even relationships!   We’re too confusing – and confused!

As the popular adage goes, “We do business with people we know, like and trust.”  These require communication and consistency.

It’s worth exploring:

  • How can we do a better job of letting others know who we really are, what we really want, and how we truly hope to serve and give value others?
  • How can we “show up” more accurately?
  • How can we take down the walls, disconnects, and fears that prevent us from really connecting?

There are LOTS of ideas in my book, The Intentional Networker, but I have a few thoughts for now.

First, let’s realize, understand, and accept that our social presence, attitudes, words, and behaviors (conscious or subconscious) send out signals. Others pick up on and “read” these signals, whether we like it or not.

Second, what are the signals we’re sending? How are they being received?  Perhaps we can become more aware of how others perceive us by being more self-aware and (if we are brave) by asking others how they experience us.

I just watched a video where the presenter asked the audience to turn to their neighbor and say “When I see you, I see _________.”  That sounds fun – and enlightening!  I bet some people are surprised at what they hear about themselves.

I do a similar exercise in my programs to get people to understand that how they want to be seen and experienced versus how they really are seen and experienced can be different.  For better or worse.

Here’s another thought: We can maintain a spirit of constant wonder and learning as we observe our own social triumphs – the conversations that seem effortless and create true connection and relationships. And even when we experience goof-ups, mis-steps, and mistakes.  I’m thinking right now about a conversation I had at a recent conference that seemed to go haywire – and I’m still not sure why. Part of me is hurt and angry at the other person.  Part of me feels too embarrassed to reach out and ask what happened. Another part (obviously the bravest part of me) wants to know what I did wrong and how I can make it better.

What would you do?

Finally, we can also observe and take clues from others − pay attention and learn what to do and not to do, what’s working and what doesn’t for others − and keep trying to grow and improve socially.

The important thing is to remember a Big Rule of the Networking Road:  remember to use your “signals” – and do so mindfully, accurately, consistently, and courteously.  Others depend on it.
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