Advice from the Top: 3 easy steps for building relationships

Advice from the Top, Broader role, Managing people

I attended a meeting of my company’s PhD club the other day. That is not nearly as pretentious or high-brow as it sounds. Actually it is not even a club – after all, there are only two of us in the whole company. My fellow PhD, I’ll call him Sam, and I are friends and just go out to lunch every few months. We share the common bond of being PhDs in a business that does not really value PhDs or scientific thinking.

Sam and I don’t work directly together. I’m a psychologist in HR, and Sam is a technical expert who works in another area of the business. Sam is very specialized. His PhD is highly unique – only a handful of people in the country do what he does.

Sam and I both manage groups of people in addition to our technical, geek work. Like many geeks, Sam is naturally introverted and had to learn new skills to manage people. The Geek 5 risks include resistance to a broader role (often due to discomfort of being a leader) and also trouble managing people.

I asked Sam how he managed to be successful at being both a geek and a leader. He talked about how critical it is to overcome introverted tendencies and focus on building relationships in order to be perceived as a leader. He simplified that even further into three steps he does every day to build relationships:

1. Be intentional about your presence at work

2. Smile

3. Say hello to everyone

First, he clicks into an intentional, extrovert mindset every morning as he walks into the building. He is conscious of the fact that he needs to be “on” when he is at work and that everything he does is being watched. He’s careful about how he looks, what he does and general demeanor.

Second and third, he makes a point to smile and acknowledge everyone he meets in the building. He uses every opportunity outside his office to build relationships. People love being acknowledged and being greeted by the sweet sound of their own name. He even makes a point to greet people he does not know.

This seems like good advice and some actions that I need to start practicing. I’m a strong introvert. When I walk down the hall, I am often caught up in my own thoughts – making plans and solving problems. As a result, I’m more likely to be looking at the floor than the people.

Sam acknowledges that this is not easy to do. He psyches himself up for it every morning and it often has him exhausted by evening. But it is an effective way to build relationships and increase his visibility and credibility as a leader.

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