Generation Y and Millennial entrepreneurs have learned an important lesson from our predecessors: we appreciate collaborating with one another over competing (or at the very least we espouse this principle). But in the process we have created a new problem that we must solve if we are to create and sustain long-term entrepreneurial success.
The problem is innocent enough, but the repercussions are tremendous. Simply put, we are unconsciously killing potential relationships with a series of interpersonal communication errors. The good news is this: correcting misguided communication is as simple as shining a light on three common blunders — and replacing our wonky habits with better ones.
Here’s a quick look at three communication faux pas that could be hampering your business:
Blunder 1: “OMG, we do the same thing. We should be BFFs.”
Okay, I’m exaggerating here, but I can’t tell you how many times another entrepreneur has approached me after I speak at an event, to say that he or she is also a speaker (or coach) and that we must work together on a project. When I go home, I do a little bit of online due diligence, and soon discover the person has just started her business or (while they may fancy themself an entrepreneur) hasn’t even gotten around to launching a website.
In our desire to build affinity with each other, we should watch our tendency to oversell experience, especially at the expense of acknowledging the expertise and hard work of others. I’m attracted to those who are honest about where they are in their professional development and business life cycle. Instead, I want to support people who show they have a keen understanding of what I do — and how much training and personal development I’ve engaged in — to get here.
Blunder 2: “I totally love what you do. Can you check out (endorse) my _____?”
This message is a close cousin of the first blunder. The toot issue is this: the overzealous communicator has made the communication exchange about themself at the expense of forging a connection first. I know how easily this misstep in communication can happen, because I was guilty of it when soliciting advanced endorsements for my onboarding book, 90 Days 90 Ways.
There were a lot of people (whose books and thought leadership I had admired for years) that I had intended to reach out to, never did, and then found myself connecting with them for the first time to ask for a favor. Whenever somebody’s business, work, etc. makes a positive impact on you, let them know — and keep letting them know. Then your relationship will unfold organically, and when the time comes where you can benefit from an endorsement or testimonial you can ask with confidence and know that you are not overstepping.
Blunder 3: We start off strong, and then let our communication fizzle.
This misstep is bound to happen unless you have a system for scheduling and maintaining personalized communication with the people in your network. It’s not enough to craft a follow-up email, send out a LinkedIn request, and follow someone on Twitter. While making sure you appropriately “touch” your new contact within the first 24-hours is key, what matters more is how you sustain contact moving forward.
Whether that means setting up calendar reminders, having dedicated Twitter lists, or — if you’re old school like me — keeping a small pile of cards on your desk to revisit every couple of weeks, stay engaged. For example, send them articles or event announcements that relate to their interests. Retweet their articles. Schedule quarterly coffee dates. This will ensure the relationship stays robust and alleviate the need to push too hard when you first meet.
Fixing Communication Problems
To recap, each of these blunders has the same solution — shift from a me orientation to a “how-can-I-be-of-service?” orientation. The next time you want to forge a relationship with someone, especially if she or he is a few steps ahead in your professional space, invest the time and energy to get to know who they are and how they specifically contribute to your industry.
Spend some time reading their articles and social media messages. See how they interact with their community. Circulate content you find beneficial and inspirational. Then, and only then, ask if there’s a way you can support them. When you show your value without attachment to an immediate endorsement or collaboration, you lay the foundation for a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.
Branded a “Moxie Maven” by the White House, Alexia Vernon is a public speaking coach who empowers C-suite executives, TV and media personalities, TEDx speakers, and community and business leaders to be effective communicators. She is the founder of Influencer Academy, a yearlong women’s leadership development program, and has shared her advice with media such as CNN, NBC, Wall Street Journal, and Women’s Health Magazine.