Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mentoring and networking - all about relationships

I'm sure I must have gotten on this soapbox before?

Mentoring and networking are relationship-based and value-driven.

Seems obvious in theory but harder in practice. Relationships take time to establish trust and common goals and identifiers. Value is hard to define and very tied to an individual's goals. Usually, folks ask for mentors or start to network during a crisis when time is short and that's why the exercise gets the 'insincere' or 'grabby' labels.

I also read a lot about the process of mentoring and networking (sometimes I even write about it). But, like any process, when it hits a snag or a unique situation, it doesn't always leave you with any other tools at hand.

Basically, one falls back on relationships - the overlapping circles of your community that support you and are supported by you. The community you've been building for months/years. Everyone wants to help. Everyone wants to do the 'right thing'.... but when we're inundated with requests, we'll help those with whom we have a relationship of value first.

So practice your introductions. Know your goals. Make a long-term development plan. But understand none of this happens in isolation and all of it requires a community around you for success. So, first and foremost, build relationships - with genuine interest and caring all around.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Whether an activity to kick off a large event or just as a simple line to start a conversation, people struggle to find fun and sincere ice breakers.

Because I feel artificial and struggle, sometimes I forget that this is also how most folks feel. Sometimes, it isn't important how terrific your opening as much as someone just needs to create one because then, with relief, everyone will start to participate.

My favourite ice breaker is to introduce an open ended question that either must be debated, considered or requires more than a one word answer.  "How are you?" does not work because "Fine" is the standard response :-)  "What do you do for a living?" does not work because either someone doesn't wish to be defined by their job or is now worried you're looking for one.

I have used - with success - "What brought you here today?" "Where did you get those shoes?" "This is a big crowd - do you know anyone?"

Of course we stay within our comfort zones when choosing a question - mine might not work for you!

For large events, I try to encourage folks to mingle and talk by giving them an excuse to do so. Like a glass of wine, an ice breaker at an event is a social lubricant. Some events, it's a group quiz; others I will pose a challenge.

Folks want to mingle; they just don't want to feel like it is forced when they approach someone. So make it easy for them by swallowing your own discomfort and finding a simple way to create an opening. Chances are, everyone will follow your lead.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Don't hesitate to ask someone to be a mentor

Hesitation is a great thing to have: you look twice before crossing a busy street; you double check lists; you ask an extra question before agreeing.

Hesitation doesn't work as well when seeking a mentor.

Too often, we find ourselves waiting for the 'perfect' mentor... or the right moment to approach someone... or just until we have an 'in' ... or the right introduction. Any number of things can have us talking about how great having a mentor would be and even more reasons why we haven't asked someone yet.

Yes, sometimes a great opportunity will present itself if you wait patiently. More often than not, you need to create that opportunity. What's the worst thing that can happen? They might say no. (gasp) But no one will think less of you for asking.

We only hold ourselves back when we don't ask for what we want or need. Hesitation helps us evaluate risk; don't use hesitation to avoid doing something that carries much more benefit than downside.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

When should we act like men?

It was a hot topic the other day on a few sites. It generated some great discussion.

I believe our behaviour is situational. I'm not a 'mom' all the time, nor am I lady (no snickering :-) - though I try not to swear like a sailor when I'm not at a pub with my IT peers.

However, I am consistent in my ethical framework at all times even if how I deliver my message takes differing forms.

My brain has no gender. The "right action" to solve a problem has no gender. Negotiation is less about gender and more about creating opportunity for dialogue.

Don't get me wrong - I don't think it's all a bed of roses to be a woman or that there are not some serious issues still to face even here in Canada. Sexual harassment, rape, abuse, misogyny are all still kicking.

But we were asked when women should act like men and I'm still struggling with what that really means. What are unique female or male behaviours? I have been known to be a girl on a date. It has helped to have a man's name sometimes. But I am the sum of my ideas and actions; I find it hard to identify any of those as uniquely female with the exception of birthing my child.

Oh! and as a woman I can hug a friend without anyone flinching.

Maybe the real question - that no one asked  - should have been: "When should men act like women?"

I would have been most interested in that answer!