The Corporate Bathroom Test

Imagine this: You enter the bathroom at work and you notice acleaning person wiping down the sink. Their back is turned to you.

What would you do next?

A) Quietly go about your business.

B) Say “hello.”

C) Thank them for cleaning the bathroom.

D) Any of the above, depending on your mood or the exact circumstances.

The Corporate Bathroom Test

The Corporate Bathroom Test

Examining your answer

As you put yourself in the situation, think about what you might feel and what you imagine the other person might feel. Although it’s a commonplace, even trivial, interaction, it can bring up some powerful emotions.

My own answer is “Any of the above,” and my feelings vary significantly depending upon what I do. If I ignore the person, I feel a twinge of shame that I’m not acknowledging someone who is cleaning a bathroom I use. If I greet them, that feeling goes away and turns into something positive, especially if they warmly return the greeting as is usually the case.

The best feelings are when I thank them for their work. The person usually responds with mild surprise at my comment, and smiles brightly as they say “you’re welcome” and we wish each other a good day. It’s a small thing, and yet the exchange of authentic good will sparks a bit of joy.

What does this have to do with working out loud?

Working out loud is a practice. It’s through small steps you take, practiced over time, with feedback and (ideally) peer support, that you gradually build a capability and a mindset of deepening relationships through generosity.

Some of the most powerful gifts you have to offer - contributions that are universally valued - are recognition and appreciation. The point of this post is that even mundane interactions are opportunities to practice offering these gifts. Not just with someone doing the cleaning, but with the person delivering the mail or making your coffee, the administrative assistant or the security guard. Not just via social media or email, but every day throughout the day. It's like the Generosity Test I posted a few weeks ago. Each time you do it you gain subtle insights into your motivations and reactions.

Today, as you meet someone you might normally pass by, say “hello” and “thank you.” Be mindful of how that makes you feel. Watch how it makes the other person feel.

The more you practice, the more comfortable you become offering small gifts in a variety of circumstances till, over time, it becomes a habit that makes you happier and more effective.

***

The Best System for Managing Your Network

I'll admit that the phrase “managing your network” makes me uncomfortable. It can seem inauthentic and impersonal. Yet there’s something that makes me feel much worse: losing touch with people I like.

After decades of missing opportunities and missing chances for deeper relationships, I’ve finally come upon a simple system that works for me and might help you too.

When “managing your network” is a good thing

Even the most thoughtful, social, generous people make the mistake of not keeping in touch with people in their network. Whether you’re trying to build a relationship with someone you just met or further develop relationships with family, friends and colleagues, the pattern is the same. Once the person is out of sight, they’re out of mind, and you don’t pay attention until someone or some thing prompts you to act, or until you need a favor.

If this pattern is familiar to you, there's no need to feel bad. You just don’t have the habit or system for regularly keeping in touch with people. It’s something I wrote about in chapter 14 of Working Out Loud:

“Even people who say they know networking is important will routinely tell me, “I know I should follow up, but I don’t.” Maintaining a relationship list will solve that problem. Start with a simple list...Then schedule a time once a week to look at it and update it. It might take ten minutes per week. The practice of reviewing that list will help you to be mindful of the relationships you want to invest in and will relieve you of the need to keep all your intended follow-ups in your head.

My own experiments

It took me several attempts before I came upon a system that works for me. At first I tried spreadsheets, but the information quickly grew stale and updating it felt like a data entry task. I tried notebooks but didn’t always have them handy. I tried individual pieces of paper but they were too much work to rewrite regularly. Friends suggested Evernote and other apps, but I using them never became a habit.

Now, I use index cards.

Yes, I know it’s the 21st century and the Rolodex is no longer in fashion. But this simple system works for me and here’s why.

Managing your relationship list

Managing your relationship list

Systematic and still authentic

In my Working Out Loud circle, my goal is to deepen relationships with people and organizations who want to spread the practice. So on each card I write the name of a person or organization in my network along with just two other bits of information:

  1. The last contribution I made and the date I made it.
  2. The date I’d like to make another contribution and what that might be.

Then I keep the cards sorted by the date for a next action. The stack is small enough that I can carry it with me in my backpack. If I interact with someone on my list, I’ll update the card. If a card gets full or messy, I’ll rewrite it with just the latest, most relevant information.

Each week, instead of going through everyone on my relationship list every time and thinking of a possible contribution, I only need to go through a few cards that already have helpful reminders. If I notice that someone hasn’t responded, I’ll think of other things I could do and record a date a bit farther out for a different kind of contribution.

Having a simple, convenient system and going through it regularly means I’ll rarely lose touch with someone in my network. And when I’m holding that one card for the one person or organization,it feels different than looking at a row in a crowded spreadsheet. For that moment, I’m focused just on them.

Finding your own best system

It turns out that managing contacts is as idiosyncratic as managing your todo list. While some ways are better than others, there is no single ideal way.

The best system is one that works for you. One that actually helps you to be mindful of people on it and to make progress deepening relationships, one that’s easy and perhaps even sparks joy.

Managing your network isn’t an administrative task. It’s a personal one. Every single time I go though those cards and take some action - every single time - I feel better about those relationships and about progress towards my goal. That's a powerful practice to carry around with you.

Do you manage your network? If you have a system that works for you, please share it in the comments.

When Someone Doesn’t Respond To You

We had what I thought was a nice call. She was engaged and positive throughout our conversation, and we talked about a possible collaboration. The next day I sent her an email with information addressing some of the follow-ups. And…no response.

When no one is answering
When no one is answering

Months went by and there was still no response. I figured I had irritated her somehow or maybe she just wasn’t interested, and I was going to leave it at that.

Then a friend reminded me of what I was supposed to do next.

Excellent advice

“Maybe she’s just busy,” my friend said. “Reach out to her again.” His encouragement reminded me that 9 months earlier I had written about what to do when someone ignores you or doesn’t appreciate your contributions.

Rather than invent a negative story, it’s better to just assume the best of people and try again. Don’t badger them – Did you get my last email? Instead, use what you learned from your reflection and offer another gift in the future.

I had neglected to take my own advice. Nudged by my friend, I  stopped making up a story about what she was thinking and I thought of something constructive I could do.

The contribution and the response

I sent her a simple email about a conversation I had with someone in her industry, how it made me think of her, and that I hoped she had a nice summer. The email was just two sentences long.

The very next day, I got an enthusiastic response:

“Hi, John! Great to hear from you!”

I was pleasantly shocked. Her note went on to describe an event she wanted us to work on together, along with specific next steps, and since then we confirmed our plans. That one email led to an exciting opportunity for me.

Two valuable lessons

This experience taught me a few things.

By assuming something about the person I was reaching out to and not following up, I had closed off access to an opportunity. I learned (again) how being open leads to possibilities.

The other lesson was that advice is only as useful as your willingness to put it into practice. And the more you practice, the more it becomes a habit.

The next time someone doesn’t respond to you, don’t take my advice. Use it instead.

When Connecting Via LinkedIn Is A Contribution, And When It Isn’t

It was bothering me. Every week, usually five to ten times a week, a person I didn’t know would ask to connect with me on LinkedIn, and they would send me the generic, computer-generated request.

I didn’t want to accept these blindly, but rejecting them seemed rude somehow and like closing off a potential opportunity. So I did nothing, and as a result I have hundreds of requests that I’ve never responded to at all.

Then I read a smart, useful post from Helen Blunden of Activate Learning Solutions in Australia. Helen took a common annoyance - invitations to connect with no context or personalization - and she converted that into a practice that made her feel better, helped others improve their requests, and yielded interesting connections.

Taking the time to personalize your LinkedIn request to provide context and motivation is what makes it a contribution. LinkedIn doesn't always make that easy but they do provide clear instructions for how to do it. And if you’re on the receiving end, try Helen’s practice. It's a different kind of contribution, one that will make you feel better and be open to more possibilities. Mindlessly sending generic requests or hitting the Reject button doesn't help anyone.

What do you think? What do you do?

I’ve excerpted Helen's post below. The full post, including 3 email templates she uses, is here. I've starting using this variation of her template:

Hello.

Thank you for the invitation to connect. I don’t believe we’ve met or connected elsewhere online. (Sorry if I'm wrong about that!). Would you tell me why you wanted to make a connection on LinkedIn?

Was it related to "Working Out Loud" (the book I wrote) or something else?

Thank you,Johnp.s. had hoped a profile photo would have jarred my memory. Maybe add one soon to your profile?

LinkedIn

LinkedIn

3 LinkedIn Email Responses For Invitations to Connect

Coming up in November this year will be my 10th year of being on LinkedIn.

Every week, on average, I receive 8 to 10 invitations to connect. Many of them are the generic one line template LinkedIn invitations without any context or personalisation. People don't realise that by not personalising their LinkedIn invitations, they are more likely to be declined. They might also miss out on an opportunity for a good business connection.

Approximately 20% of my LinkedIn invitations requests are from people who have no profile photos or have profiles that are worded poorly or simply don’t make sense.

These requests are immediately declined.

Another 10% of these requests are from vendors who are looking to connect for partnership opportunities or selling me their products or services.

Again, in all of these vendor requests, if I have not been the one to instigate the connection or seek out more information about their product or service, usually I accept the invitation to connect but I do not proceed further to meet especially if they have not built trust or a connection with me previously. If they persist with the emails trying to sell their product or service, I advise them to stop or they will be blocked.

Some years ago, receiving generic requests irritated me. I felt it impolite that strangers simply expected me to automatically accept their invitation without personalising their message, building the trust before hand through sharing of information or replying to my posts. However, over time, I noticed that when I clicked ‘Connect’ under the People You May Know section of LinkedIn, it AUTOMATICALLY sent them an invitation request WITHOUT first asking me to personalise the message!

Oops.

My heart skipped a beat because now, I was one of these people who sent generic automatic requests!

So now, I keep away from that function and instead send people personal invitations to connect. (Don't know how to do that? Read Personalising Invitations To Connect).

Ever since I started blogging, I now receive more and more requests to connect. Rather than automatically delete these requests, I prefer to send each one an email to ask for more information about them (in the hope that they realise not to send generic requests in future to others).

I hope that by role modeling the polite social networking behaviour that it's a case of paying it forward.

Surprisingly, I’ve had some wonderful conversations with people who explained how they found me, what they think of my blog or that they had seen me speak at a conference simply by this approach. It just goes to show that even though some people send generic requests, when asked, they do respond – and in all of the cases, they apologised for sending the generic request!

Once a week, I set aside some time to respond to LinkedIn requests. I have created a Word document where I have a generic response template. From this, I then edit the response so that it is customised to suit an alignment to both our profiles. I also make sure that I direct them to my blog and my monthly newsletter subscription.

I figure that it’s only polite and fair to respond to people and in so doing, build good will. You also never know who you may meet or learn from! I also know that many people simply aren't aware of the 'netiquette' when it comes to social networking and by demonstrating the behaviour, then this may rub off on them for future connections.

How To Introduce People Online

Suppose you think Sally and Bob would benefit from knowing each other. You might think that a nice thing to do would be to send an email to the two of them to make the connection.

That used to seem reasonable enough to me, until I read this:

“Single opt-in intros are lazy and disrespectful and make you a terrible person. Good people do double opt-in intros.”

He’s right, and I had been doing it wrong my whole life. Since making introductions can be a natural part of working out loud, here’s how to do it well.

A short lesson in empathy

The original blog post by Anand Sanwal is funny, useful, and well worth reading. (I’ll wait.) It’s the best advice I’ve ever seen on the topic.

It provides a quick lesson in empathy. When you send an email introducing people, even if it’s well-intentioned and only takes you a minute or two, you burden the recipients with an obligation they never asked for.

Instead, the “double opt-in intro” has you first ask each person individually if you can make the introduction. That allows them to opt out (“Thanks, John, but I’m too busy now”), possibly saving everyone some time and potential embarrassment.

In your email to each individual, be sure to provide three things:

  1. Context: what motivated you to want to introduce the other person?
  2. Value: how will they each benefit from the introduction?
  3. Opt-in: ask for explicit permission before making the introduction.

As you write your email, put yourself in the shoes of the recipient and think how you would feel if you were them.

Empathy

Empathy

Is it really necessary?

You might object that neglecting the opt-out is such a common practice that it’s okay to do it. Or perhaps the recipients shouldn’t be so precious about their time. But if you truly intend the introduction to be a contribution, then the right thing to do is to ask each recipient first and make it easy for them to decline your offer.

Even if they reject your introduction, they’ll appreciate your sensitivity and respect for their time. Practicing empathy is always a good thing to do.

Do you agree? How do you introduce people?

My thanks to Mark Gadsby for introducing this tip in the Working Out Loud Facebook community.

First guest post! "Index cards and New Years Resolutions"

I'm thrilled about this week's post for 3 reasons. First, I noticed it in the Working Out Loud community on Facebook. That's a convenient place for WOL practitioners to ask questions and share techniques, and I was happy to see people around the world talking about a contribution from one of the community members. Another reason is the author of this week's post, Helen Sanderson. I met Helen in the UK last year at a dinner with a team from the National Health Service. She heads a consulting practice (Helen Sanderson Associates) who "work with people and organisations to achieve person-centred change." She's also smart, generous, and lovely.

The third reason is that Helen's post gave me the idea to collect useful techniques like this into a convenient guide to make working out loud even easier. So you'll see more posts from more people in the future. Based on your feedback, I'll bundle the most useful ones into a guide. (If you have a technique or idea or just a question, join the Working Out Loud community on Facebook. It's a private group where anyone can post.)

Helen's simple technique can help you be mindful of a particular person each day - 30 people and 30 contributions in just one month. It's a beautiful way to help make working out loud a habit.

Index cards and New Years Resolutions

September is New Year for me. I pack my briefly worn summer clothes away, find my beloved winter boots, and make new resolutions about work.

One of my resolutions is to find better ways to make working out loud a habit.

So let me start by explaining what I have tried already.

When we started to introduce working out loud with my team at Helen Sanderson Associates in summer last year, we developed a table together, based on the draft of John’s book. I had a word based version, my colleague Jon tried an excel one, and a graphic one as well. This was an effective way to summarise the goal, where you are now and plan contributions. Job done I thought. But it never quite made it to the top of my to do list. Surely all I had to do was post it somewhere where I would look at it every day, and this would remind me? But the reality of my week is that I am usually only in the office one or two days at the most and this was not enough for this to prompt me.

Next, in another team meeting we looked at creating WOL twitter lists. There is a function on twitter where you can create a private (or public) list of people who share a particular interest. By clicking on that list, you can follow just what that group is tweeting, rather than everyone on your timeline. I created a private WOL list of the people on my table, so that I could follow their tweets. You can see here that Norbert Lind has done a list too, his is a public list of people who are tweeting about WOL.

WOL Twitter lists

WOL Twitter lists

I tend to tweet several times most days, and the list prompted me to see what my WOL list are tweeting about to and join in and contribute to conversations where I can. This was spontaneous rather than planned, and I needed something more structured as well.

The summer is a big reading time for me. My family’s idea of a good holiday (I have teenage girls) is ‘fly and flop’ around a pool and sunbath. I search for shade, carrying books.

One of the books that I read was Manage your day-to day: build your routine, find your focus and sharpen your creative mind edited by Jocelyn K Glei. One of the authors suggested that instead of a to do list you write your actions on 3 x 5 cards and carry them with you. I wondered if that could help me with making WOL contributions a habit.

Manage Your Day-To-Day

Manage Your Day-To-Day

I bought coloured cards and a plastic wallet to keep them in. On each card I record the person’s name. I am trying to think about another level of contribution and whether thinking about what success might mean to that person (although I don’t know everyone well enough to have a clear idea). I am framing my contributions in this context, still ‘wrapped in a mindset of generosity’ to use John’s phrase. I ask myself

‘How could I contribute to them being (more) successful?”

Is sounds ridiculously audacious as I write it, but it helps me lift my head up from appreciations and sharing resources, which is where I had got a bit stuck.

Each morning, after meditation and before breakfast, I turn over the next card to find out who I will be focusing on today. I think about a potential contribution, make a note of the date, and what I planned to do.

I am trying to make completing this the first thing that I do when I switch my computer on, before I do anything else. It feels great to have completed that before I turn to my to do list. Whatever else happens during the day, I have shipped by contribution.

Of course John has already covered this in his book. He writes

“When you schedule the times you’ll practice these activities, then you don’t have to think about when to fit them in or juggle your task lists. The less you have to think about it, the less attention you’ll have to spend and the easier it will be to do it consistently.”

It is just figuring out the best way for each of us to make that happen.

The Index Card technique

The Index Card technique