I have failed many times during my 36 years in the business world. I have lost jobs, upset people, said the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. I have asked questions at big meetings that people didn’t want to be asked. I have submitted articles and a book with errors and typos in them. I have been rejected in business over a thousand times.
I have gotten upset with people and lashed out at them in front of several others. I have been petty and insecure and self-centered.
I tell you all this because I’ve learned about the importance of being honest and vulnerable with people in business and every other walk of life. I learned this from a book my special friend, Rick Diana, sent me by Keith Ferrazzi titled Never Eat Alone And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time.
The book emphasizes that we all need to be willing to tell the truth about ourselves and who we are because then people will be more inclined to listen and develop a business relationship.
“Be brave enough to put it all out there – the stuff that worked and the stuff that didn’t, with your insights on how to fix it next time – and watch as people snap to attention,” writes the author, a supreme networker his entire business life. “There’s one guaranteed way to stand out in the professional world: Be yourself. I believe that vulnerability – yes vulnerability – is one of the most underappreciated assets in business today…It’s your humanity that makes people listen. And it’s your admission that you, too, are human that makes them trust you about everything else.”
This advice is so refreshing because in business we’re taught to position ourselves to look good and competent and have everything figured out. It’s not true for any of us, of course, but we try to give that impression. People don’t believe the posturing. They don’t buy what we’re selling. They sense we’re being insincere and hiding who we really are and what we honestly think.
A false and insincere vibe prevents us from getting to know and understand each other better so we aren’t able to develop more fulfilling relationships and more success together in business.
I have found in business very few times that people are willing to take a chance and be different and audacious because so often this behavior is not rewarded. Businesses are too often super risk-averse. This stifles the natural desire for people to stand up and dance on the table, figuratively speaking, to show how they really feel and who they really are. But this book says they should.
“When it comes to making an impression, differentiation is the name of the game. Confound expectation. Shake it up…The last thing you want to be in a competitive marketplace is replaceable. You want to be uniquely you, by definition, irreplaceable, and the only way to do that is to risk putting yourself out there.”
The question is: will you? Or will you be too afraid it’ll make others think less of you? Could it be career-limiting? I think life is too short to worry about those things. Sure we have to be concerned about making enough money to save for retirement but in fifty years we may not be here anymore. Would you rather stifle your creativity and be bored and feel suppressed at work, or be yourself and express what is in your heart?
The answer to me is obvious: Let people know how you feel. They’ll respect you more and like you more for taking the risk of looking flawed and just a human being trying to deal with life’s challenges.
Appreciation: Everybody wants it
The book also nails one of the most obvious, but not talked about enough, truisms in life. We all want to be appreciated for what we do.
“The only way to get people to do anything is to recognize their importance and thereby make them feel important. Every person’s deepest lifelong desire is to be significant and to be recognized.”
And yet how often during your professional career have you gone days, weeks, months, and years without anyone at work recognizing you and saying what you contribute to the business is significant?
Sure it happens sometimes but in my view not nearly often enough. And this is one of the biggest reasons many people don’t like their jobs. They don’t feel appreciated and it makes them sad and frustrated. They wonder what the point is of coming to work day after day not feeling that it matters.
Tips for Success in Life
Focus on health, wealth, and children
The book offers several tips for how to make your business life more successful. I like this one: Focus on the health, wealth, and children of people you meet in business because there just aren’t many things people care about more.
“When you help someone through a health issue, positively impact someone’s personal wealth, or take a sincere interest in their children, you engender life-bonding loyalty,” the author writes.
I like this insight because it distills what people care about into three things. It’s possible to focus on these three – rather than being bewildered by all the other possibilities — to build better business relationships.
Focus on others, be generous
This tip relates to another one in the book that is true but often not internalized. We think by working hard and developing new skills and getting more education we will elevate our careers. That’s true, but ultimately the focus shouldn’t be on ourselves as much as others. Developing skills for getting along better with people – and focusing on their needs – makes the lives of others you give to better.
“Real networking is about finding ways to make other people more successful,” the author writes. “It’s about working hard to give more than you get…The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.”
I can’t think of a piece of advice more valuable to businesspeople who want to achieve success and create a meaningful life. It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about others. Ask yourself: What do I do to help others? Constantly. This should be your mission in life.
Host dinner parties
The author regularly hosts dinner parties at his house to help others get to know other people, build their networks, and then generate more opportunities to be generous to others.
He writes: “I view dinner parties at home as sacred. I like to make these events as intimate as possible…Six to ten guests are the optimal number to invite to dinner.”
This is smart and fun advice. Have more dinner parties. Invite people you want to get to know better, and others you know well. And make eating with others a habit because while eating you get to know them while enjoying a nice meal. The book’s title captures this advice: never eat alone.
Sign up for speaking engagements. I’ve done some speeches to business audiences and every time I have I’ve learned something about myself while sharing what I know. Don’t be bashful or secretive. Share what you know. Don’t hold back. You’ve learned a lot during your career that is valuable for others to learn from. The author touts the benefits of speaking:
“The opportunity to speak exists everywhere, paid or unpaid. It’s fun, it can be profitable, and there’s no better way to get yourself known – and to get to know others – at an event. Study after study shows that the more speeches one gives, the higher one’s income bracket tends to be.”
Organize dinners at conferences
Don’t go to conferences expecting to learn more about the industry. Go there to start new relationships and build on existing ones. How? Organize a private dinner with ten people.
“Real, actionable insight mostly comes from experience, books, and other people,” the author writes. “Roundtable discussions and keynote speeches can be fun, even inspirational, but rarely is there the time to impart true knowledge. But there may be no better place to extend your professional network and, on occasion, get deals done.”
Develop a circle of people who trust you
Develop a circle of people you trust who can count on you to help them and vice versa. “The very successful people I know are, as a group, not especially talented, educated, or charming. But they all have a circle of trustworthy, talented, and inspirational people whom they can call upon.”
I have a few final thoughts about this book.
There are many “how to be successful in business” books that emphasize the need to build relationships with other people. We all know that. But this book’s real value is the new and different ways to become successful and develop the right mindset.
You can know hundreds of thousands of people. But if you’re not willing to give of your time, expertise, and emotions to help them, you’re not approaching networking in the most effective and fulfilling way.
Business success comes down to this: Be vulnerable, be generous, and never eat alone.
Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here:
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