Tag Archives: Networking
Expat Experience

Why Building Relationships is Harder for You

Turning into a Swiss Person

I sat on a panel, and I just got as far as saying “I think…” when the other panelist gave her opinion on the matter. She probably didn’t notice that I was trying to say something, but for a moment, I was annoyed and thought, “how rude…”. 

Funnily, many years ago in Germany, this would probably have been okay for me. However, I notice now how I have turned into a “Swiss person”. I also tend not to want to work with Germans who have just arrived in Switzerland because I notice in what they do too many of my own mishaps and small failures back when I was a newbie in Switzerland.

Having lived here in Zurich for over ten years now, I prefer to run my life Swiss-style. Despite considering myself open and tolerant, I still mess up intercultural communication. I’m not always understood, and sometimes I’m just wrong. I recently had a long discussion about left and right, and I know I have a weakness there. In the end, I found out that I muddled up left and right (again!).

Sometimes “Global English” also makes it worse: A bunch of non-native speakers trying to communicate in their second language can lead to misunderstandings and unnecessary emotions.

Here are eight reasons that might make it harder for you to build professional relationships right now. And I don’t think that the pandemic is the main reason.

Eight Reasons

  1. You are shy, introverted, or not convinced that you are good enough to deserve success. Many partners suffer from the “impostor syndrome,” a psychological state of mind where people doubt their own accomplishments or consider themselves frauds just about to be exposed, especially if their career-driving partner just got another promotion in another country.
  2. You are embarrassed and ashamed of being “unemployed”. This is especially hard in a society where most of your self-worth is driven by your career and how busy you are.
  3. You come from a home culture where achievement is overly emphasized. In this cultures ascription is considered an unfair privilege while at the same time you are blindsided by the fact that you had an ascribed status in your home turf.  Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner associated the achievement dimension with protestant work ethic and belief. 
  4. You underestimate the cultural and value diversity in Switzerland. Even if Switzerland is the home of Zwingli and Calvin, there are catholic cantons where status, just like in the protestant cantons, is often equated with a family name, wealth, and how many generations you have already been a member of this society. So, there is still a strong ascription component that is not so obvious to outsiders. You don’t recognize that you have been in the out-group until you join the “Circle of Trust.”
  5. You are unaware of how you come across in person and assume that your style and behavior are “normal.” For example, you have not yet learned to read the cultural cues that hint that you might be too pushy or rude. A typical example in Switzerland is that newbies tend to overstretch a time commitment. In a society that runs on the clock and is a role model of the sequential time approach according to E.T. Hall’s time dimensions, not respecting this often creates a lot of stress for the other person.
  6. You are sending messages to mark your status in your home turf, such as the “Dr.” title in Germany. Or hint at your seniority by name-dropping the influential VIPs you used to hang out with. Still, this is either not understood or considered boasting, narcissistic, and merely annoying in Switzerland. (You could even exaggerate your qualifications and background, for all we know!)
  7. You interrupt your counterpart because you feel that they are slow. The Swiss tend to speak slower than many other Europeans, but they don’t like to be interrupted in their thought process as they are used to having a voice and being asked for their opinion on everything.
  8. You come from a high-context culture and you feel like you don’t know how to address a “stranger”  adequately.  You don’t know how to phrase your requests (your “ask”) to them, and they don’t understand you at all.

Relationship Segmentation Can Be a Barrier

Over the years of running my own business and projects, I often noticed that all the tools I tested to maintain a strategic approach to networking failed miserably with the extensive network that I’ve built over my professional life. 

So, I decided to let go of “strategy” and follow my gut and memory. I realized that the best idea is not to worry too much about “contact segmentation.” We Germans love the word “Begriffsabgrenzung”, so we also do this to our social life (“Bekannter, Kollege, Freund, Verwandter, Familie, Partner, Ehepartner…”). It’s a step-by-step approach, showing how much you trust the other person.

The same segmentation exists in Switzerland, but there are “false friends”( e.g., the word “Kollege” means “Work Colleague” in High German and “Friend” in Swiss German). In Switzerland and Germany, the informal ways of addressing a person with “Du” have different meanings.

Without intercultural training, a German manager will behave like a bull in a china shop in Switzerland – completely unintentionally. Hence, working with German managers in the “honeymoon phase” is a lot of work for the trainer or coach. I prefer to work with you when you are beyond the honeymoon phase, and you understand that you might not function in Switzerland like you are used to.

A Fluid Approach

My colleagues have become friends over the years, and some of my best friends from my university days or early career are colleagues or clients now. Some of my team members have become family, and some of my family members work in the same field or closely related ones. And some friends will never pay you while others will insist on giving back. The world is colorful, and so are people.

While saying this, I don’t want to imply that you have to like everybody you work with or network with. However, it’s another atmosphere for collaboration and innovation when you can fully trust the other person, and know in your head and heart that this person would never talk badly about you behind your back and would not spill your secrets with your competitors. 

Safe and collaborative environments require “relationship work.” 

Let me know what you are doing today to work on your business relationships.

Is there anything I could help you with?

You probably despise networking. You think of networking as wasting time and you don’t like to go to events with no direct outcome. Are you appalled by “coffee meetings” with people who never plan to support you but happily take your free advice? Know that feeling?

You probably heard me say this before: For me, time has an immense value and since I started my business I’ve come to the conclusion that I have three major priorities: 1) My health, 2) My time and 3) My support group (including my family and partner). Without these you cannot run a successful company of one.

In order to use my time effectively and to the best possible outcome, I am constantly reviewing my “networking” strategy and have become very strategic about building connections in a way that suits me but also generates business. At the same time with recent health challenges, working from home and restrictions on events I had to think of other ways to “network the network”. The term “working the net” already indicates that there is work involved in building and maintaining mutually beneficial business relationships. AND while this comes natural to expats and other people from more relationship-based cultures, it requires energy for people from strictly task-based cultures.

The secret to making peace with “networking” as I often explain in my talks and workshops such as “#Networking4Nerds” is to treat your business relationships similar to other friendships and to be a giver.

Here are my five recipes for working your net:

1) Connect those who would not meet

A big benefit of being a networking queen or king is that you can organize connections. Think about who would need to know whom in your network in order to move ahead one step with one of their issues. Maybe a friend needs a new job or a business contact wants a new client or needs to solve an immediate problem at hand. Risk a little discomfort. Set them up for a “Professional Blind Date”. Trust your judgement and see what happens.

Over the last few years I have made several professional introductions. Mainly I helped my clients to find jobs that they would otherwise not even know. I also benefit from introductions so I try to keep the karma of connections spinning. 

2) Accept that Relationships require work

As in a good marriage you want to keep the relationship alive by making it beneficial for both parties. Once you know too many people you might just react once you are asked but even a small advice to a junior colleague might help them to move ahead in their career or move out of a job where they have stopped to learn.

A lot of professionals I know have lost the ability to trust their managers and colleagues. Being a mentor for a more junior professional in your industry can be really motivating for this person.

3) Share your knowledge and expertise graciously

There has never been a time where too much knowledge was hurtful. It’s also impossible to shock people with well-written report summaries or other insights you have about your industry. Start posting on LinkedIn. Tell people what you know and how you view the trends. In a worst-case scenario you get a negative comment. Be bold and bring in your unique perspective to the world.

4) Help others and increase your self-esteem

It sounds like a boy/girl-scout value but “a good deed a day keeps the shrink away”. When you help your contacts then you will feel more self-respect and wake up with a smile on your face. It always makes me so happy when a client tells me they found a job they love or that a connection was really helpful.

It’s even more fun to just support people in your network (for FREE). Give them likes, +1, endorsements, retweets and hearts when you are not paid for it. It’s a great way to give people appreciation and we all could get a bit more of that especially in the corporate world.

5) Challenge yourself and treat networking as a game

I often ask my clients to set a networking target. That includes that they must give before they take. It could be a small weekly challenge such as meeting a person you never met for a coffee. You could also offer to connect someone to someone else because you know they share a theme, hobby or interest.

These connections really seem to bring out most amazing collaborations. You obviously want to ask permission before sharing details. You could implement a score card on your whiteboard and whenever you helped a connection you add a smiley there. Imagine how that will make YOU feel.

 

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Track
 
I’m teaching others how to do a two-minute elevator pitch. But, I’m less than perfect when it comes to pitching myself. I sometimes have to rush to an event and am not well prepared.
 
Once, I saw the issue coming when more and more other coaches (competition!) entered the hall. It was like a movie scene. The potential clients came streaming towards us as if they had actually put some thought into it. I ended up chatting with one woman. Then the coordinator asked us to pitch. I wanted to use storytelling but it did not fit into her structure and (damn!) I had not even written down what to say. It was a matter of not being prepared because I had no clue what to expect there.
 
I focussed on being relaxed and present in the moment.
 
I said, “I’m Angie Weinberger. I work with international professionals in Zurich and Basel and help them find work or start a business. And I recently discovered that I like nerds.”
 
A few giggles. I managed to make them remember me.
 
Out of 16 potential clients, I spoke to seven. Many referred to themselves as introverts or nerds. I’m not sure if any of these introverts will work with me but I had a great time. I thought “I will need to walk my talk on networking”. I, first of all, asked every woman if she had a business card. Only the last one had one.
 
Then I asked a few questions. Often I found that they needed a piece of information that I could easily send to them. I asked them for their email IDs. In such situations my mobile batteries are flat, so I wrote the email IDs into a notebook. This is old school but it worked. I also took notes on the information they gave about themselves.
 
I managed to take home six email ID’s and promised different follow-ups. This might not lead to any business but it was good practice for me and for them. It showed me again how many professionals go to an event unprepared.
 
You can make an impression at such an event only if you are a helpful resource and if you put your own agenda on hold. You want the new contact to remember you until you follow up with them. I stayed until the end. My feet and back hurt but I smiled on.

Robots, Recruiters, and Rain

I also feel even more empathic with you after this experience. “Selling” yourself is hard work. Most of the times, we do not learn to become a salesperson of our own professional package. Not only do we have to develop a great and consistent branding. The message has to be clear to a large target audience too. We will need to go through several filters of robots and recruiters. When we finally managed to land an interview it most certainly is a day with rain (or snow), we spill salad sauce on our freshly ironed shirt and the train is late for once. When you are in such a position, there is only one thing you can do: breath out, have a glass of still water and speak slow. Most of all: Be present.

Become a “Superstar” in your Niche

In order to get out of the sales position, you want to become a superstar so you are top-of-mind of a potential manager and do not really have to rely on the cumbersome application process. You want to be in a position where you come up in the top ten of the manager’s mind at least. Sheryl Sandberg wrote in “Lean in” that you need to write down your career goal as being #1 in a profession (globally). I am not saying that you have to be #1 globally but you might want to be in a top ten position in your geographical area and your niche. What’s the point of being #1 in Digital Media when you don’t want to move to Abu Dhabi, London or Texas for your next role? Let’s be optimistic and ambitious but stay a bit humble.

Learn to Become a Resource

You have tools, templates, and knowledge to share. You have experiences, tips and contacts you can help others with. Learn to become a resource as if everyone you connect with was a colleague or a friend. If you train your attitude you will learn that helping others as a default gives you satisfaction. And if you feel you have nothing to share you can always encourage the other person. We all need a little appreciation once in a while.

Change your Elevator Pitch Approach from Taker to Giver

My clients practice changing their elevator pitches. One of the key skills you have to learn to become a giver is to ask sensitive questions instead of talking all the time. Another skill is to listen. Check out other blog posts on networking approaches here.

 

If you need help with your elevator pitch or networking please set up a meeting with me.

I recently came across this article “Learning to say no” and since a lot of my clients seem to struggle with saying no in a polite way I thought I would write a post about it. I think the issue is not that we all want to say yes all the time but to understand better why you say yes in the first place. Maybe networking is a good example.

When you network with purpose you give people a reason to contact you again. You provide advice and you invite people to get in touch with you. You promise them knowledge, education, and access to your professional network. You could help them save time on meaningless research and formatting tasks. You could even offer them your administrative support for free. Believe me, no one will believe that you are doing this without intention and an agenda. This is different. It will stick. You cannot make one key mistake though: You cannot expect reward or even gratitude from your counterpart. You need to believe in the “networking karma” as I like to call it.

You keep the relationship alive, even if the background of the other person doesn’t match yours or even if the person might be a competitor. You might also feel the tendency to continue giving to certain contacts without getting anything back and you might think this is a bad thing.

I don’t think so, but I think we all have to be careful that we are not abused by takers.

You never know when a contact will play a role later in life. I learned yesterday it takes between 5 and 7 years in Switzerland until a newbie is a fully accepted member of a “Zunfthaus”. You can learn more about this Swiss tradition when you speak to an expert. (I’m no Zunftexpert at all). I think this is a good time frame for your networking effort too. If you have not messed up the trust you are building in five to seven years you might be allowed to ask for a small favor.

What could happen if you invest in your professional network without an agenda and without immediate expectations is that you suddenly have too many balls in the air. You juggle your network of contacts and you are a sought-after expert in your field.

I get at least one request for a scientific research project a month. It usually means that I spend about an hour preparing for an interview and another hour with the interviewer. Sometimes I dig out literature or I promise to send a link or literature list afterward. Most students don’t see how much time it took me to prepare all that knowledge but I usually get their thesis as a gift, which is great because I have a very specific library now. So, I continue to say “yes” to students because it helps me to keep up to speed with the academic research in my field. I work with an intention but not based on immediate gratification. In my view that is a different mindset.

You need to know when you say yes and when you say no

My own coach and mentor recently explained that we all need to learn to say no in a polite way. We need to be professional “Nein, danke” sayers. And for a giver that’s not so easy. What I recommend to do is to set yourself some principles and guidelines. This is how I came up with the ten professional networking principles initially. I used them to help me in my efforts to be less strategic but still network according to my purpose and values.

You could collage a thank you-wall or have a box of thank you cards

We forget sometimes how grateful people are when you help them achieve what they would like to achieve. One idea I have is that you could put together a wall with all the emails, notes and postcards you receive from people who just say “thank you”. Or you could keep them in a box or nice folder.

Learn to say “NEIN, DANKE!”

Instead of saying plain “No.”, you could consider a “yes, if…” or “no, thank you.”. You could say yes if certain conditions are met and if you are declining you have a few good arguments to decline. For example, you could say: I’m happy to meet you if we meet during lunchtime in a restaurant close to where I work.” or “I’m happy to give you advice if you prepare five questions and send them to me 24 hours before the meeting.” or “I’m happy to support your refugee program if you show my logo on your website.”

What will you decline politely this week?

Angie

Read more

Give and Take by Adam M. Grant

On Perfectionism
http://www.vanschneider.com/perfectionism-is-killing-your-creativity

 

How do you look for a new role? Do you rely on what is posted out there or are you getting ahead of the competition by sourcing a role that potentially does not even exist yet? And when you identify a “dream role” do you get all disappointed if you cannot have it or once you have it, the role turns out to be less of a paradise than expected?

Have you considered that there is a lot of work for you in the Swiss market but that you will never be matched to the perfect role profile?

Stop waiting for the perfect dream role and start to source work for yourself.

1) Use a new source for job alerts
Forget jobs.ch and indeed.ch. Start looking on XING and LinkedIn. Check out Facebook groups and Twitter. Recruiters are getting increasingly creative and pitch jobs on LinkedIn and Twitter. Maybe there is even a youtube channel where you can look for jobs. Please let me know if you find one. We mention a Facebook group that could be interesting for you.

2) Support your network
You want to find out if your skill set would be useful to your contacts by meeting for coffee but your contacts never take up the offer? In Switzerland, “coffees” are considered break time and in break time you want to discuss fun stuff. Try to meet your contacts when they need to unwind or take a break but not during their “productive” time. Offer to take them for a walk or run during lunch. Ask your buddies if you can organize a hiking or wellness trip for them. Buy them a ticket to the Schauspielhaus or Opera. Help them enjoy life and you will win their hearts.

3) Improve your Elevator Pitch
Practice your offering to the world so you can share it in your sleep and learn to rephrase your pitch into good questions. Ask the question that will catapult you right into the front of mind of your contacts the next time an opening comes up.

4) Brand yourself in a recognizable way
We use a lot of visual clues today to recognize faces. You can make it easier for people if you dare to be a little weird so that people will remember you. Wear a hat, show your curls, feature a man bun or a special color that you will be recognized with. Wear the same look on public occasions. (The same look does not mean the same clothes…). Have a business card that is recognizable.

5) Volunteer
A lot of work in Switzerland comes out of your network, association, and your local soccer club. Volunteer for a cause, support others on a pro-bono basis and paid work might come along in the process.

I hope these tips are helpful and please let me know what you will do next.

Have an inspired week ahead!

Angie