The keys to networking successfully when it’s outside your comfort zone

What is your gut response when you find out that there is a client event, staff party, or team boat cruise?

Some folks love to go out and mingle and seem to manage conversations effortlessly, but for others it can be something they do because they know they have to (but they don’t enjoy it or they spend the time worrying about everyone else in the room) – or they hate it!

As a leadership coach, this comes up with many of my clients for sure. We work with many professionals who find networking and schmoozing to be a stress. I hear things like:


“I know it could help my career, but I suck at it.”

“I never know what to say.”

“Isn’t it enough that I’ve been around people all day? I have to go to events on my own time, too?!”

“I like these events but I don’t know if I’m approaching them as strategically as I could or should.”

 DiSC Personality Styles

Being able to work a room is a skill – and it’s one that can make a huge difference in your career.

So why does it come so easily to some folks while others aren’t so keen or really struggle with it? It all comes down to different motivators, different stressors. At Padraig, one of the tools we use is the Everything DiSC Assessments and Guides to help our clients understand themselves and others better.

Guess what? Each behaviour style has different strengths and weaknesses – and these include how comfortable they are with social situations.

The DiSC personality styles all approach networking and social situations differently:

  • The “D” can often manage it, but sometimes find it tedious
  • The “i” thrives on it
  • The “S” can handle it if it isn’t unexpected, but worries a lot about whether others are enjoying it
  • The “C” often detests it

When you understand your own personality style and the other personality styles, it helps you realize what you can contribute to a group situation and how to make the most of what comes naturally to you. It also helps you know where you can improve or try to do things differently.

In addition to understanding your personal motivations, it also helps you learn what motivates other personality types and what to do when you approach them (which helps to break the ice and get conversation flowing in all kinds of social situations!).

To give you some idea of the kind of effective communication insights you gain from taking a DiSC assessment or participating in a DiSC workshop, here are some highlights for each of the four DiSC personality styles:

The Dominant “D”
Is usually very self-confident and likes to lead people but isn’t fond of routine and repetition. They are motivated by new challenges and thrive when they see tangible results. A “D” is not afraid to be opinionated and show authority.

The “D” leader has to be careful not to come across as argumentative or intimidating in social settings. They appreciate direct and to-the-point discussions, so do better with meaningful conversations and big-picture ideas. Rambling conversations are a challenge for a “D” to listen to attentively, but they like to focus on business and goals.

The Influential “i”
Is comfortable in situations where they might be the centre of attention and they love to be around other people. They are talkative, emotional and often full of enthusiasm. They tend to dislike conflict, especially if they will look unpopular for it and they like to motivate those around them. An “i” isn’t afraid to express an opinion and can put a positive spin on almost anything.

The “i” profile has to be careful to really listen to others (not talk over them!) and not to go overboard with excitement for new ideas. They don’t do well if they feel rejected and tend to do better with flexible situations and hate to feel restrained or controlled.

The Steady “S”
Is a good listener who is even-tempered, friendly and patient. An “S” is usually a peacemaker and nurturer in a group, watching out for everyone’s well-being. They like harmony and consensus within groups and feel best in predictable and stable situations. They like being around people but do best when they are with people they trust and in predictable environments in which they feel comfortable.

The “S” often has to work on being flexible with change and new situations. Because they value personal relationships and being agreeable so much, the “S” has to work at being comfortable expressing their own wants and needs (not always putting other people’s needs before their own!). They do best when interacting with kind and patient people who seem trustworthy and genuinely interested in them. Confrontation will make them very uncomfortable.

The Compliant “C”
Is very detail-oriented, an adept analytical thinker and a great problem solver. A “C” is thoughtful and even-tempered but can get bogged down in details. They are very motivated by information and logic and love to be in environments that are logical. They feel little need to be social and enjoy working independently. A “C” responds well to facts and detailed plans.

The “C” personality has to work on not being too critical of others and being able to let go of their need for detail when in situations that aren’t running with precise scheduling or predictable outcomes. They don’t like being criticized but need to remember that their own attention to detail often has them pointing out faults and seeming overly critical to others. The “C” does best in non-confrontational situations and takes pride in their work.

Now, let’s take theory and put it into practice.

Knowing the motivators and stressors for different types can help us to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and reach out to others in a way that is bound to connect with their personality style.

For example, making conversation is a skill – but it’s easier when you have a hunch at what motivates different personality types and how to play to their strengths.

Conversations flow when:

  • Others feel comfortable
  • You feel comfortable
  • Everyone feels included and heard
  • There is common ground
  • Topics are interesting to everyone

It starts from being able to establish connections between people who may not know each other well or at all. If you’re introducing people, you want to establish a connection quickly. For example, if you are introducing two people, you could say something like:

“This is Jane. She’s an account manager for this Hollywood producer and

the biggest soccer fan I’ve ever met!”

“Have you met Phil? He’s our finance manager and

a huge supporter of local theatre.”

In addition to introducing names and positions, you give some detail that gives some common ground (Jane and Phil are both managers with connections to the arts) and ideas for conversation (soccer or theatre).

The more familiar you become with characteristics of the four DiSC personality styles, the easier it is to figure out what might make someone feel more comfortable in conversation and more motivated to participate in conversation. Networking and schmoozing is essentially being able to figure out what will get different people talking and feeling at ease – with you and with each other.

If we look at the brief overviews of the four personality styles, we can already see:

  • The “D” likes to be an authority and hates rambling conversations (keep stories brief and focused and ask the “D” for opinions or ideas rather than sharing your own unprompted)
  • The “i” loves to chat and enjoys being the centre of attention (ask the “i” general questions and be an active listener or share a funny story and build rapport through humour)
  • The “S” needs to feel comfortable and worries about others (be personable and remember the “S” values sincere appreciation of their kindness – thank an “S” for something they have done for your team – or genuinely take an interest in something the “S” shares in conversation)
  • The “C” isn’t fond of socializing, likes facts and detailed plans (if you hear the “C” has a favourite hobby or passion, ask the “C” to tell you what they like best about it or their advice about it – talking about something important to them is easier than making small talk)

Miss Manners would tell us all to leave politics, religion and other controversial topics out of polite conversation – and with the DiSC profiles you can see how some personalities don’t mind sharing strong opinions or creating conflict, but other personalities loathe conflict or upset. In a social/professional setting, conversation is best steered away from polarizing topics (anything too personal is not appropriate unless you are intimately acquainted!).

If you encounter a situation where the topic of conversation gets derailed and tempers are flaring, try:

  • Redirecting – “Well, as interesting as this is, we should really be talking about [anything funny or of general interest in the community or the next big event] so we can enjoy the rest of our evening.”
  • Distraction – “Oh! Is that Larry and Olivia?! I have to introduce you!” [call someone over and introduce to the group with an invitation to the tell the group about something fabulous]
  • Diplomacy – “Clearly we have some very strong opinions here. Can we agree to disagree and go check out what’s for dessert?”

The more you practice making conversation with other personality types, understand your listening style and brush up on your active listening skills, the easier it gets to network, schmooze and mingle. You will find yourself quickly guessing which personality style someone is and adapting your conversation to suit that style.

So Now What?

Now you may be wondering, “what DiSC type am I? Or what DiSC type is… my boss, my staff, Sally in accounting, etc.. We can help you with that with everything from a quick online DiSC assessment, to a short talk with one of our coaches about your results, to a full day workshop for your team.  There are many options, all of which can help you out. Give us a call (855-818-0600 x101) or coach@padraig.ca or if you want results right away, click here to take the online assessment.

Coach’s Questions

Which elements of the DiSC personality styles do you recognize in yourself? Which do you recognize in others? What can you do to help make conversations easier for yourself and others? What do you want to try at the next social event you attend?

How to take a vacation from work (and really unplug!)

Hands up if you’ve been on holiday and, despite swearing that you weren’t going to check email or answer your cell phone, you ended up working some (or, true confessions, MUCH!) of your vacation.

I get it. I’ve been there at times in my career. Now, as a leadership coach, I meet clients who don’t like that they’re always on the clock but need help preventing leadership burnout.

The thing is that very few of us are in positions where things really, truly cannot continue if we’re away for a holiday. The pressure is often from a work culture where “face-time” and working 24/7 is valued as some sort of loyalty orit might be self-induced by some folks who need to feel super important or essential and have problems delegating effectively. Perhaps some others just worry and feel guilty if they’re away on vacation.  We live in a world where, for many, responding to “how are things?” with “oh, I’m super busy” has become a badge of honor.

If you obsess over checking and replying to emails and texts while you’re supposed to be enjoying hard-earned time off, you likely rationalize it in one or more ways:

  • I just need to check that my team is okay
  • They can’t do this without me
  • I can’t really rest and relax if I’m worrying about what’s happening at work
  • This won’t get done if I don’t check on the progress of things
  • I don’t want everyone stressed because I’m on holiday
  • It’ll look bad if I’m not in touch while I’m away
  • If I don’t do a bit now it’ll take forever to catch up when I get back

Unplug from the office

While countless companies profess they support achieving work-life balance and everyone seems to say they want more balance, recent workplace studies indicate over and over that North Americans, in particular, have a hard time taking a break from the office. More than half of us will check in with work at least a couple of times a week from vacation and many others at least daily or even twice a day.

Whether it’s an external or an internal pressure, not being able to get away from work on vacation is not healthy. So why is it so hard to unplug from the corporate world?

After all, from psychologists to neurologists to mental health experts, we hear one message: Our brains need rest to perform better. Taking a break from work (and technology!), getting adequate sleep and enjoying downtime with friends and family isn’t just nice or wishful thinking for busy professionals, it’s critical to our mental and physical health.

Taking a vacation is actually good for your career because, when you really unplug, your time away will be restorative. Science is clear: Giving your brain a break from all the constant demands is not wasteful or selfish! It improves your energy, concentration, and creativity.

As you’re planning this summer’s time off, I challenge you to completely unplug from the office this vacation and every subsequent vacation. As a leader, you can demonstrate this healthy behaviour (perhaps even shifting the corporate culture!) and you can help your staff do the same.

Vacation instead of workation

Here’s how to take a vacation from work instead of a workation:

Plan ahead. Decide when you’re going to take holidays and encourage everyone on your team to submit their vacation planning if they haven’t already done so. Tone is important and if you’re making vacation a priority, your team members shouldn’t feel taking time off is going to have a negative impact on their own careers. Remind everyone that in disconnecting and looking after themselves, they’ll come back to the office renewed and ready to tackle things. Ideally, you and your team members will want to book vacation time for quieter periods at work (not when you’re needed for a grand opening, the launch of a new product or the closing of a big deal) or stagger holidays so that everyone can cover off for everyone else.

Manage expectations. Vacation time is your time, but some people feel pressured to stay connected to the office by a boss who insists on having contact information. You don’t have to give many details about your plans, but you can say that you’ll have limited access to wifi or cell service either because of the hectic pace of your itinerary or because of geography  and that you’re going to be focusing your time on holiday adventures or family and friends. This sets the expectation that you can’t reliably stay in touch (rather than won’t).

Get in the mindset that time away is restorative. Even if you’re in the middle of a massive project, managing a difficult account or swamped with work, you and your team members need vacation time. Perhaps try taking shorter breaks; a few long weekends can be amazingly rejuvenating and easier to cover off (and definitely easier to deal with than burnout!). If you’re the kind of person who has trouble disconnecting from work (rather than someone who has pressure from bosses to be available), shorter stints away might be a way to wean yourself from being available 24/7. Or, when you do have a longer time booked, remind yourself, constantly, of the value of that time to you and the company. Keep reminding yourself you will be even more amazing, if you take a break before diving back in.

Line up your ducks. By that I mean prepare your most reliable coworkers to cover for you and ensure that your team members are ready to cover off for each other, too. Connect with your team in person, with enough time before your holiday that people can talk about priorities, problems, and expectations and those covering for you or others can ask questions. Ask them what they’re concerned about for the time you’ll be away and help them figure out mitigation strategies — you’ll feel better and they’ll feel better. Then follow up with brief, written summaries so people don’t feel they’re left guessing or scrambling.

Delegate authority when you are away. If you are in a leadership or management role, figure out who can make certain decisions while you are away on holiday. Putting a chain of command into place for all but the most critical of emergencies will let you leave things with others to handle. Realistically, other managers or leaders should be able to look after things in your absence and delegating effectively will save you time and your sanity year round. Your second in command should be the only one to text you if there is an absolute, end-of-the-world crisis – and you can describe what would qualify as this kind of crisis. This ensures that you can leave work behind because you can trust that you’ll be contacted in a real emergency and that when you return, these folks will catch you up on everything you need to know.

A week before your vacation time, communicate with key contacts. Remind everyone you regularly work with that you’re going to be on vacation and unreachable from this date to that date. Ask again (last chance!) if they have any questions for you before you leave because you won’t be checking email while you’re away. This sets up the expectation that you are truly going to disconnect for the duration of your vacation. And, it might limit the number of emails you have to sift through upon your return.

Make a list for yourself, ready for your return. Instead of going away and obsessing over what might be waiting for you when you return, make a list. Go over things that are coming up and jot them down. This way, you’ll feel prepared and can leave for your vacation without feeling compelled to check email to stay on top of things. One of the things I’ve taken to doing is completely clearing my desk the day I leave, leaving ONLY that list on it. That’s a reminder for others — they’re less likely to dump a pile of work on your desk if your desk is spotless, and it’s nice to know you’re coming back to a clear desk and a succinct list of things that need your attention.

Email key people your last day before vacation. Remind them that you’re going to be away, but don’t be too specific (don’t tell them which hotel you’re staying in and where to call you!). Set the expectation that you’re going away and you won’t be reachable but then tell them who to contact in your absence:

 

“Hey, team, just a reminder that I’m leaving tomorrow for my 10-day vacation. I’m NOT going to be checking my work email or voicemail while I’m away, but you can get in touch with Susan for account management issues, Bryan for accounting, or Cheyanne for marketing.”

 

Remember to let reception and administrative staff know your vacation plans and who is covering for you, too, so that they can handle any calls effectively and aren’t left guessing.

Use technology to your benefit. Put an out-of-office reply on your email so that anyone who emails while you’re gone knows that you are away AND NOT CHECKING EMAILS and who they can contact in your absence. Then record a new voicemail message with the same information on your office phone and work cell phone. Some leaders will build in a day to catch up and settle back into work (their colleagues will know when they return, but other contacts won’t) by saying they will reply to emails and voicemails a day later than their official return-to-work day instead of detailing the dates they are away:

 

I will be unavailable until August 11. I’m NOT going to be checking my work email or voicemail while I’m away, but you can get in touch with:

Susan at [PHONE] or [EMAIL] for account management issues

Bryan at [PHONE] or [EMAIL] for accounting queries

Cheyanne at [PHONE] or [EMAIL] for marketing assistance”

 

You can also turn off notifications so that you don’t jump to check or reply to texts or emails while you’re away. You’ll be amazed at how well trained we all are to jump and reply when we hear that device notification! With notifications off and your ringer set to silent, your work phone will not be intruding into your vacation time. You can check your notifications for any emergency issues on YOUR time if you must. Some people even put work-related apps into a special folder so they don’t check them out of habit.

Walk the talk. If you’ve set everything up and told everyone that you’re going to be unavailable during your vacation, don’t contradict yourself. Stay off your email and leave that work phone alone. If you start replying to emails and checking in with everyone then your team members will assume that you’re actually working remotely and available.

Protect your vacation time. Worst case scenario, if you have to check work emails or voicemails while on vacation, do this once a day for a set amount of time so that you don’t lose your time to rest and enjoy downtime. If you check at the end of the day after work hours. This keeps your limited replies to a time that shows you are intentionally responding to urgent issues while you are off work.

Coach’s Questions

When was the last time you were away from work and didn’t have to deal with a single call or email? What’s stopping you from really disconnecting from work? What steps can you take to change this?