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What to do when your company asks you to take on duties outside your comfort zone?
BY Dave Durand
been chosen to represent my company in a new professional association. I can’t
believe they chose me — me, the hopeless
introvert. I am not good at networking or making new friends. How do I break
the ice and become Mr. Friendly?
From the way you worded your
question, I’d say your self-awareness and sense of humor are a good start. Just
because you’re not an extrovert does not mean you’re not the right guy for this
role. Obviously, your company is comfortable sending you out as the face and
voice of the organization. From this fact, I will assume that you are likeable
I would not worry so much about
breaking the ice as building solid relationships. You might wish you could
emulate people who gracefully “work the room,” befriending many people at
meetings and functions. But don’t confuse their easygoing style with actual
effectiveness. Often, these people have a dynamic presence but their
conversations lack substance. It’s much better to get to know a few people and
gain their trust than to make the acquaintance of many people and not have the
conversation move beyond the food and the weather.
Once you have trusting relationships
with a few people, you will find that your new friends will introduce you to
other members of the association. Their introductions will often come with
endorsements, which will accelerate the trust in your new relationships.
In order to build mutual trust, you
need to focus on the right content in the relationship. Getting past small talk
is essential. It is my experience that great relationships in this type of
professional social setting evolve by going through a three-phase
The first phase is learning about
what others do in their work and in their free time. Knowing what a person does
can reveal a lot, but, in some cases, it can be misleading. That’s why it’s
important to take it to the second phase by learning how a person feels
about his or her working life. Simply asking “Do you like what you do?” can
open up a world of information and facilitate a stream of productive relating.
third phase in building a trusting relationship in this type of setting is to
explore beliefs. In a way, this is
taking step two to the next level, because what people believe determines what
they hold close in their heart. When people are willing to share their beliefs
and, especially, their reasons for believing something, then you can begin to
get a strong understanding of who they are at their core.
course, this has to be a two-way street. If you expect others to share what
they do, how they feel about it, and what they believe, you’ll need to
reciprocate. Otherwise, you can come off as a snoop, a busybody or an amateur
Be prudent in your conversations,
and let the depth of the conversation flow naturally. If you try to push
through the phases too fast, people may think you’re following a contrived
formula. Remember the golden rule in this setting. Many other participants are
nervous or unsure of themselves. Seek to make someone else comfortable, and you
will find comfort.
business consultant Dave Durand is online at DaveDurand.com.