Start With Hello
Most of the interviews I’ve conducted in the past two weeks for different sections of Certification Magazine have some how circled back to one issue: an increasing need for soft skills. You may be tired of hearing about it, but for those of you who eschew the value of soft skills or simply don’t know how to make your way into the chattier areas of your workplace, if you hear nothing else on the issue, internalize one thing: You can develop soft skills without throwing your system into chaos. The premise of this blog assumes that some of you are in a word, antisocial. Not horridly so, perhaps just less well known and thus less understood and appreciated by the majority of your organization. I’ve come up with a short list in the vein of those refrigerated Cathy comic strips to help you prod your soft skill development in the easiest manner that also will create the quickest returns. Remember, you’ve got to crawl before you walk!
Say hello. Greet as many of your coworkers as you can as you walk from the entrance of the building to your work space. This includes the security guard, the receptionist, that new marketing associate and that C-level person who always gives you the nod in the elevator (or the one who doesn’t give you the nod in the elevator). This is the first step and the hardest. Repeat each day until you are more comfortable and your coworkers get used to hearing your voice. A simple hello can open the door to more conversation.
After you say hello, inquire about others’ current projects. After you’ve said hello and introduced yourself to those who don’t know you by name, and after a decent interval has passed, go back to someone and ask, “What are you working on, Bob (or Sally, or whoever)?” Don’t be unnerved by strange looks. These people are unused to you being interested, but they’ll come around if you are sincere and you listen and then respond to what they are saying. This does not have to be a lengthy ordeal. Folks are busy. So are you. You may get a smile, a brief explanation and then a nod. Acknowledge the person’s response and close by saying something like, “That sounds like a pretty big project, (insert name here). If you need any help with the (insert some technical aspect that you are able to assist with), let me know. Later.” Raise a hand in farewell, smile and walk away. But caution: When you offer your assistance, be prepared for someone to take you up on your offer. Never offer anything huge that’s going to suck up vast amounts of your time and ultimately drive you nuts. The goal here is to express an interest and begin building a relationship. Offering to help a coworker is a great way to do both.
Celebrate. If you are not a naturally gregarious person, it can be very difficult to speak to someone for no reason. But you did it, so congratulate yourself with a pat on the back, a jig behind your closed office door, or share your triumph with an understanding and perhaps equally antisocial coworker. You have taken your first steps into the world of the connected, known and valued employee. Of course, your value is mostly centered in the quality and perhaps the quantity of the work that you provide, but some of that value is also caught up in how you are perceived and how approachable you are to those in positions of influence. Being approachable means you’ll remain in mind when opportunities come up that suit or could enhance your skills and propel you to the next level in project management or some other area of advancement. If your forays into the social realm did not go well, you may have picked a bad candidate to receive your first tentative overtures. Don’t give up! Assess what happened. Determine if you perhaps weren’t as friendly as could be or if that person was simply under the deadline gun or having a bad day. Keep trying. Baby steps now lead to whole conversations later. Before you know it, you might be loitering at the water cooler discussing the Sox’s bid for the World Series.