How to be the person everyone wants to work with

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Connecting with humans is getting hard and harder even though we live in this incredible age of technology. But a real face-to-face genuine connection is getting more and more difficult. Cue psychologist and executive coach Melanie Katzman Ph.D. an expert on how to better connect with coworkers as humans in a tech-focused world.  She is a  consultant to the world’s top public and private companies (including Viacom, Goldman Sachs and PwC., government agencies and nonprofits and the founder of Katzman Consulting. In her new book CONNECT FIRST: 52 Simple Ways to Ignite Success, Meaning, and Joy at Work (McGraw-Hill; October 22, 2019) she explores how people can become magnets in their careers, as in the person everyone wants to connect with and also work with. Ladders obtained an excerpt from CONNECT FIRST. 

Be a Magnet: Become the Person People Want to Be With

I coach my clients to become magnets—the colleagues’ everyone wants to work with, the people it feels good to be around. When you are a magnet, your comrades are walking toward you at corporate gatherings. When teams are assembled and new opportunities explored, your name is at the top of the list. Impromptu office outings? You get an invite. Being magnetic doesn’t mean you are always extroverted, constantly lauded, or never alone. But it does mean that in your presence, people relax, feel safe, and know that you are on their side. Magnets show up with something interesting to say, eagerly engage others in discussion, are professional, reliable, and dare to have some fun.

People in my practice complain that their bosses “make their brains shut down.” A spelling error gets a reaction, but working overtime covering for three team members out on holiday during the same week doesn’t generate one compliment. Self-absorbed or tragically goal-oriented colleagues darken the rooms they inhabit. “I’m not learning anything.” “They don’t respect my experience.” “I can do much more than this basic work.” “Why don’t they recognize my worth?” “My reputation on the street is diminishing.” You may have been promoted, but you still feel like a peon. You aspire to a seat at the table, but the door to the conference room appears firmly shut. You’re frustrated with those above and you are driving the people who report to you that much harder. We’ve all been there. Your pores ooze with negativity and it’s their fault. My office is frequented by people who arrive wanting to change how others behave, but, as the old joke goes, “How many consultants (therapists, coaches) does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer is, “None. The light bulb must want to change itself.” And that’s what we focus on: how to be the person you want to be, not the person you are being made to feel like by others.

Magnetism isn’t just a term of art. Our nervous systems transmit information through electromagnetic waves that are influenced by the people around us. We survive by mimicking others from the moment we’re born through a process called “limbic resonance”. It’s so important for a newborn baby to match its mother’s heartbeat and breathing rate that orphaned children are given teddy bears that mimic these cues. This unconscious process opens the door to communal connection. We are drawn to people who provide a safe, reliable rhythm. Whether you own the company or answer the phones for the executives on the fourth floor, make biology work for you.

Astrologist Rob Brezsny coined the term “pronoia” to capture the importance of continually surveying your environment for opportunity, rather than attending to problems. Magnetic employees are curious about others, attentive to the impact their presence generates, and ready to step into a conflict—not necessarily to solve it, but to demonstrate that disagreements aren’t to be feared. They challenge negativity (inside their own heads) and counter pessimism when expressed by others. To ignite joy at work, radiate wonder, a readiness to engage, and a comfort with whatever the day brings and observe how individuals (and their limbic systems) are drawn to you.

This is for you if:

• You wish you could be charming, but instead, you just feel awkward.
• You can’t seem to get the notice you crave.

• Networking and relationship-building are buzzwords that make you break into hives. You feel more comfortable playing video games at your desk when no one is watching.
• You’ve mistaken being the boss for being respected, and now you need to reboot your reputation.
• When the caller ID indicates it’s you, your colleagues don’t pick up.
• You’re continually told you are not quite ready for new opportunities, yet the reasons offered as
an explanation aren’t holding your peers back.

Take Action:

• Lean back. I often find myself in the uncomfortable position of coaching people to care less. The most passionate and committed are often the ones identified as generating too much heat in
the organization. Be a surge protector—capture the negative energy by leaning BACK and holding the space for exploration. Let others speak. Listen. Don’t focus on promoting your idea or finding a fix. Add value by creating a nonjudgmental place for discussion.
• Prepare conversational gifts. Don’t just race to the next meeting. Stop and think about your audience. How can you catalyze a quality discussion? What thought-provoking questions might you ask to ensure the conversation is keeping up with current events? Do you have some relevant (but not obvious) information to share that could make the interaction more interesting and memorable for everyone? Tuck a story or two in your pocket, something from
your recent travels or perhaps a behind-the-scenes insight you have from a recent political or media event. Be careful your story isn’t too involved, self-aggrandizing, or diminishing of others. Your goal is to offer up a little entertainment—and some new knowledge.
• Don’t “own” the things you do well. Delegating the jobs that we don’t do well and don’t enjoy—that’s easy. It’s harder to train someone to take over a task that you find pleasurable, but it won’t help your reputation (or growth) in the long run. Pick a task. Let’s say presenting the monthly profit and loss report to the management committee. We know its great exposure to senior leadership and you are determined to get the numbers right, down to the last decimal
point. Use the chart below to do a quick assessment. Indicate whether only you can perform this responsibility and whether you enjoy having this as part of your job.
• Be sure to think expansively about who might be trained to perform tasks that you really enjoy doing. Have you convinced yourself that you are singularly qualified? Sharing opportunities that may have established your reputation is a powerful way of communicating that you are secure in your role and committed to the development of your coworkers. Having completed the chart, note the suggested next steps. Review your to-do list. What plum assignments are you hogging?

Can you identify opportunities to develop others by delegating your beloved responsibilities?

• Joy is contagious. From funny paper glasses that turn light bulbs into stars to notepads made to look like napkins, Douglas Gray, a cruise ship entertainment consultant has an endless supply of humorous props that break the ice, draw smiles, and make him the guy you want to hang out with. Cara opts to leave small puzzles on her desk—they start conversations and instill a welcome sense of whimsy. Sometimes images help—Jenna framed a photo of her hands-free holiday on a zip line. As the company comptroller, she’s always monitoring expenses and chasing financial reports, so she wanted people to know that after hours she was up for adventure and has the ability to literally let go.
• Delight others by noticing what is important to them. Ask your colleague about the picture on his or her desk (Jenna hung the photo of herself on the zip line for a reason). Did your coworker just finish her graduate degree at night? What was her favorite course? The woman next to you started carrying a bike helmet. Find out how her commute has changed.
• Make an extra effort to initiate conversation with shy colleagues. Just because someone is senior to you in the organization doesn’t mean they have your interpersonal skills. Don’t be
afraid to say hello.

Excerpted from CONNECT FIRST: 52 Simple Ways to Ignite Success, Meaning, and Joy at Work by Dr. Melanie A. Katzman (McGraw-Hill October 22, 2019).