Whenever a particular co-worker passes by my section of the office, I witness grown men and women attempting to dive under their desks to hide from him. Whenever he leaves, you hear comments such as:
“He just scheduled another hour long meeting with 20+ people to talk about nothing.”
“He asked for 5 minutes of my time, and he ended up talking for an hour!”
“I already gave him this information. I don’t know why he’s asking me again and again.”
“He always wants something from me. I don’t know what he’s done for me in return.”
To avoid being that guy, here are some ways to increase your likelihood that people would want to work with you.
1. Cherish people’s time
We are all busy. For people to pay attention to you, you are competing with a zillion things – emails, unfinished work, phone calls, meetings, urgent matters, instant messages, and (potentially more important) people. It’s more likely that people will pay attention to you if they know you respect their time.
A. Understand clearly what you need and what they can offer
I think the key to respecting people’s time is to first clearly understand what you need from engaging them. Instead of approaching someone with a vague question, think carefully beforehand so that you can ask them very specific and pointed questions which are relevant to their function / expertise.
B. Do prep work to save time
People hate giving you information that they know you have or that is widely available. If you have questions to ask someone, be sure to check first whether you have this information on hand. Additionally, be sure to get background information before you approach someone. This will save both of you some time.
C. Select an appropriate mode of communication
Has this happened to you before? Someone sets up an hour long meeting for something that could have been easily resolved through a quick email. Or, someone sends two dozen emails for something that could have been resolved through a quick face to face or phone call. Think about the nature of the conversation and select the most appropriate form of communication.
D. Keep to your reserved time
My fellow co-worker is quite famous for his drive-by’s. He will walk past my group’s section and stop next to someone’s desk and say “Hey! Do you have 2 minutes?” The problem is that 62 minutes later, he’s still there! The opposite extreme is the people that reserve your time for a meeting, but then they themselves are 30 minutes late! People do not want to work with you if you waste their time.
People are inclined to work with you if they know you genuinely listen to them. I’ve been on telecoms where a question is asked, and someone will immediately start answering the question only to realize that they have no idea what the answer is 3 minutes later. Thus, 3 minutes of everyone’s time could have been spared if the person just listened to the question in the first place.
A big part of listening is giving people a chance to speak and asking probing questions. I’ve seen people that just ask a series of questions and then try to answer the questions themselves or keep on explaining the questions. The other person only needed to be given the chance to answer. Often times, probing questions are necessary if you are listening to understand rather than listening to get a superficial yes / no answer.
Remembering is proof of successful listening. OK. Maybe we don’t all have great memories with so many things going on. However, if you don’t remember, then people don’t think you’ve listened to them.
3. Earn their time
People generally respond well to give and take relationships. Even outside of work, you would probably stop inviting / hosting a friend for dinner if she never reciprocates. Hence, nobody likes a taker, so don’t be one.
The best way to get someone to do work for you is to do something that benefits them. The first step to do that is to have a good understanding of what they do, what common issues they may face, what support they need, and what you could offer, which could include:
- Relevant Information: In today’s data-driven world, information is key to effective decision-making, but there is so much of it and often resides in disparate places. If you have access to a system or have seen a news article / report that could be helpful to the individual, then share it freely.
- A good word: A super easy way to get on someone’s good side is to give their boss positive feedback about them and let them know that you’ve done so.
- Contacts: You could refer someone that could help this person’s work or career. For example, for this person’s role, you may know his Africa counterpart. It could be good to put them in contact to share best practices across regions.
- Funding: Providing someone with extra budget to pursue their project is probably one of the most powerful ways to get someone to work with you.
- Career Development: If you know of any good opportunities that the person could be interested in, then you should not only point them in that direction but also put in a good word if possible.
- Personal Interests: Bring up information that may serve their interests outside of work. For example, if you know someone is really into fusion food, then you could alert them if a new fusion restaurant is opening.
Be careful not to make the relationship too transactional — only doing something for someone when you need a favor. It’s important to keep the give and take dynamic in mind, so be sure to give even when you don’t need to take.
4. Maintain the relationship
Once you develop the working relationship, it’s important to maintain it even if you no longer work with the person directly. This is good practice since you may work with this person again or need something else in the future. Periodically, be sure to catch up over coffee or lunch just to see how they are doing. It’s much easier to rekindle a relationship than to establish one from the beginning.