Invest the first ten minutes

You’ve set up a 30 minute introduction meeting to get up to speed on that project. So, you have got 3 options on what to do in the first 10 minutes –

1. Jump straight into business (with some small talk added to taste)
2. Do a quick introduction – “I work for xx team and I am now working on this project” – and get to business.
3. Invest the first ten minutes into getting to know each other

As might be obvious from the title of the post, I believe option 3 is the way to go.

Choosing option 1 and 2 is a sign that we believe that the purpose of the meeting is to get onboard quickly. Of course, they are both the more efficient options.

However, the real purpose of the first meeting with someone you are going to work with is to build a relationship of trust. And, trust requires us to first get to know them and, in time, understand them. It is this trust that will enable us to work together in a team. And, it is the bedrock of true long term effectiveness.

Also, here’s another thought – why not start every introduction meeting the same way? Sure, that one might be with someone who you just want a quick short term favor from. But, do you really know that?

What if we approached every relationship as a potential long term relationship?

Ten minutes can go a long way.

Care mismatch

Care mismatch = when one party in a 2 way relationship cares more about it than the other. For example…

…when you realize your friend only calls you if he/she needs something from you.

…when you find that the sales person is only being nice to you to make the sale.

care mismatch
Thanks to source for the image

…when you can’t understand why your manager hides behind policies when you make a request for an exception that you deserve.

Care mismatch causes an enormous amount of unhappiness every day. It feels natural to expect reciprocation when we care deeply about something.

Unfortunately, that rarely happens. The more you give, the more you’ll realize that reciprocation is rare. The lesson, then, is not to stop caring. It is to change why you care and to better direct your efforts – e.g. by setting limits when you don’t sense reciprocation.

Care because you want to, not because you want something back. Care mismatch is a part of a life. Learning to be incredibly caring despite that is how we get made.

A few thoughts on relationships – the final MBA Learning

2 years ago, I began writing weekly posts under a category called “MBA Learnings.” I thought it’d be a great excuse to share what I’m taking away from my experience at graduate school. While some of these started out as lessons from the classroom, the series has evolved into a collection of mammoth posts that attempt to frame the experience (classroom lessons are part of regular posts). The hope with these posts – such as today’s note on relationships – is that they are applicable to life as much as they are to graduate school.

In a meeting with senior administrator at school yesterday, she wondered why many just “get through” the experience when there is so much more you can absorb. My thesis is that it is similar to life – it demands a clarity around priorities that only comes after a certain amount of thought. The following 6 links hope to frame the landscape to make the thinking process easier.

1. I’m in, Now what? – An attempt at helping you structure your transition to school once you are admitted.
2. Advice to an incoming student – A long “expectation setting” post that breaks life at school into a tension between 6 priorities
3. Designing for introversion – An introvert’s guide to thinking about the MBA experience
4. Lessons learnt from internship recruiting – Lessons + a guide to how to think about the summer before school. I have, since, written a more comprehensive guide to a job search.
5. The recruiting journey through self doubt – A few thoughts on dealing with the emotional aspects of the recruiting process.
6. Digging into my 1st year process – A reflection on how I approached my 1st year and what I learnt

This final learning is one that has been many years in the making. The reason I picked relationships for the final post is because it is never an easy topic to write about. To approach this, let’s first ask the question – why is it so much easier to make friends in high school and in college than at work? More folks have “best friends” from their college and high school days than from work. That isn’t to say it isn’t done. It just happens lesser than one might expect.

While youth and malleability are a factor, my sense is that high school and college allow for two important factors that help with forming deep relationships – shared experiences and slack time. Shared experiences are powerful in forming relationships. Hours and hours of slack time help deepen those bonds as you learn about the little things about each other. At work, while working in teams on intense projects often creates those shared experiences, it is less common to find work projects that result in plenty of slack time.

Graduate school lies somewhere in the middle – there are shared experiences if you take similar paths. But, that is a big if – there are very few students who would even have the same academic journey as you. And, slack time is rare if you decide to keep busy. There are many who will admit to never having been as busy at work as they have been at graduate school. But, and this is where things get complicated, you expect to build friendships the same way you did in your college or high school. You also expect to build out a “network” – whatever that means. So, the business school dream ends up becoming about walking out with this amazing portfolio of friends who will refer you to dream jobs and partners on your course to building that great global business. So, you might be tempted to attend every social event, every dinner, every evening at the bar and build that “network.” As you might imagine, all this gets overly strategic and stressful very quickly.

My recommendation would be to call bullshit on everything before you get started. This is hard to do because you have to discipline yourself to cut through the noise to get to what matters. I clearly remember a good few instances when I found that very difficult. The strategic intent involved with “building your network has irked me” from time to time. But, I’ve learnt to get over that. The key with environments that offer a lot of opportunities to find your own approach.

If I had to boil what I’ve learned about friendships in graduate school (and life?) into 3 things, they would be the following –

1. Understand your own priorities and align your actions based on those priorities. This gets down to the question – what really matters to you? Do you care about having a broad network of global friends? Or, do you care about having a solid group of 3-5 friends? Do you care that these friends are international or would you like all of them to have similar backgrounds? There isn’t a right answer here. The key is to be intentional and to be consistent with the kind of person you are.

For example, I care a lot about a few deep relationships and my hope with school was no different. I just cared a lot about having 3-4 friends at the end of the experience that I would have a relationship with. But, I was also interested in getting to know people and hearing their stories – something the school environment uniquely enables. So, I would set up time to go for walks with people. I’ve probably taken walks with 2-3 new people 1-on-1 on average nearly every school week over the past 2 years. Whenever someone suggested we should grab coffee, I’d take them out for a walk. But, when given a choice between depth vs. breadth, I would choose depth.

2. Engage deeply in some communities or maybe even create your own. Going back to the idea of combining shared experiences and slack time, activities or communities help with both. It doesn’t matter if it is the running club, band or entrepreneurship club – it matters that you engage in communities that you care about. These sorts of communities enable you to meet diverse people with whom you can build relationships based on shared values and beliefs.

You can also create your own little communities, of course. A couple of friends created an activity where they spent time with individuals doing an activity the individual loved. Another duo regularly hosted dinners where the conversations were based on meaningful themes. Another brought the same group of foodies together to eat at various restaurants. I was part of a group that showed up every Friday evening at a spot to discuss our lessons for the week.

Communities are especially important if you seek to build relationships with people different from you. Most relationships need to make their way from knowledge -> understanding -> trust. If you and I grew up in the same place, it is easier for us to understand each other and, then, to trust each other. But, if we’re from different continents, we need an excuse to really get to know each other and, slowly, understand each other. The flip side of this long process to understand each other is that the trust that emerges is one that, like all things hard earned, is very special.

3. Learn to let go – expectations are relationship killers. This is a general life lesson but one that is incredibly applicable to relationships. Expectations destroy relationships. All relationships are two way streets – it can only work if both sides are equally keen to make it work. When it works both ways, we aptly call it “chemistry” – because the reaction between the two produces an outcome that is different and better. But, it is hard to know when things work out well. It generally requires a lot of experimentation. Reactions also happen at different speeds – some are instant, some happen over a longer period of time.

My experience here is that you attract people based on who you are. If you are a person of good character, you attract people of good character. In the long run, it all works out. That doesn’t mean it is easy to let go in the short run. Whenever we put in the effort to give to people around us, it is really hard to say – “Hey, I’ve given this everything and did so because I cared. But, I don’t expect any reciprocation from the other end.” But, doing so makes life much happier. Just be patient with yourself – if my experience is anything to go by, this is something you’re always working toward. :-)

One last thing. Relationships are never easy. When we attempt to build them – whether it is a friend or a significant other – we have to give ourselves to people and choose to be willing to extend ourselves. This means coming face-to-face with our own insecurities and our desire to be loved. As is the case with these attempts, we will often meet with failure and breaches of trust. The takeaway from those experiences shouldn’t be to stop trusting altogether. It should be to get better at picking people.

We have many influences in this life – our diet, the information we consume, our environment, etc. – but probably none more so than those we spend time with. Every once a while, we will come across people who not only make us feel loved but also push us to be the best version of ourselves. When that happens, hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

In the end, all we have is each other…

relationships

How to ask for help from people you don’t know

Asking for help is a skill. Some are very skillful at it and some are pretty poor. From having observed skillful people, I’ve seen it come down to one operating principle at each stage.

Before: Thoughtful – This is demonstrated by asking for the right thing the right way. Asking for the right thing requires you to have knowledge of how this person can help you without it being too much of a burden to them. This often requires a degree of homework – for example, most famous venture capitalists have blogs where they explain what they look for and how they normally operate. All of these offer clues on what to ask. Asking the right way just means acknowledging that they probably get many such requests, being concise and asking nicely.

During: Authentic – It sucks to be in conversation with someone and feel like they’re putting on an insincere show. As people become more senior, this happens a lot and it is fairly easy to detect. Be yourself. This will mean accepting that there is a good (>50%) chance that you might not “click” with the person you’re speaking to. This can be hard to accept if there are high stakes around what you are asking for. But, it is the only way to do it right.

After: Follow up – If ever there was a sign of character, it would be how the person follows up, if at all. This means sending a genuine thank you (it is amazing how so many thank you’s can feel cursory) after your conversation. And, most importantly, it also means staying in touch with updates if they’ve made a connection. For example, if they helped you get a job interview, it means staying in touch with them and sharing quick updates through the process.

Most people remember to be thoughtful when asking. A much smaller subset remember to be authentic. And, very very few remember to follow up. In my opinion, that is one of the reasons psychologists who study influence recommend that you ask people you want to connect with for help or advice. One part of the rationale is that we flatter people when we ask for help from them. But, the other part is that, the way you ask for help speaks volumes about your character.

Good character indicates high personal net worth. And, the size of your network is directly proportional to your net worth.

asking, help, connecting, relationshipsSource

Picking people

Every human being we closely associate with is a result of a conscious or sub conscious choice we’ve made. We pick friends, life partners, colleagues, and managers. We control the picking process more in some cases than others. In cases where we didn’t directly pick a person we interact with, it was likely a result of association. If our friends are accomplished athletes, it is very likely they brought in a new athlete into the circle.

In the final analysis, the depth of our relationships will likely determine our happiness. And, what’s more, our intelligence, fitness, maturity and wisdom will likely be the average of the people we associate with the most.

Life, as a result, is an exercise in picking people.

So, as we reflect this holiday season, let’s examine all the relationships we’ve picked in our life. Let’s be open to letting go of relationships that aren’t working as well as they used to (I’ve learnt that is more because of “bad fit” rather than because of “bad people”). These relationships are a great opportunity to fine tune our picking process.

And, after we do that, let’s make sure we take a minute or two to give thanks (or, perhaps, write a quick note?) for those relationships that make us happier, wiser and better. Those don’t come by often. And, for every one of those, congratulations to you on picking well.

picking people,, pick, relationships

Loss

A friend passed away yesterday. I didn’t know him anywhere as well as I wish I had but I did know he was an incredibly nice person. The little bit of overlap we had was actually thanks to this blog. We met a few months back because he stopped me and spoke of a recent post. We had a few other chance meetings but nothing substantial. I knew him well enough to wish him a happy birthday a few weeks back. He responded with a note that said – “When I grow up, I want to be like the editor of ALearningaDay.” I laughed.

I think we might have passed each other a couple of times after that and I remember thinking I should sit down with him for a conversation sometime. That didn’t quite happen..

I looked back at that note from him yesterday.

I’ve learnt that there are broadly 3 kinds of reactions after we hear of an untimely loss that happens in close proximity. When you take away those who don’t know the person at all, you are left with those who were close and those who were acquaintances. When you are really close, the loss leaves an indelible mark on your life forever. Things are never the same again. If you’ve got a strong culture within the family, there is a chance you might experience normalcy. But, given we spend most of our lives running away from the idea, most near and dear ones find it incredibly hard. And, when you know of the person as an acquaintance (me in this case), it serves as a strong reminder that we’re not here forever.

I felt myself walking about in a bit of a daze all of yesterday. It made me think of nothing and then many things all at once. Having experienced untimely loss close twice, I feel I understand the pain of near and dear ones and it always seems to make me stop, reflect and take stock.

And, yesterday, I felt the following thoughts repeatedly pass my mind –

1. We must be excellent to ourselves. If we are fortunate to be blessed with good health, we must do everything in our power to keep it that way. It is a privilege to be healthy. It is up to us to use it well.

2. We must be excellent to others – especially those who are dearest to us. For there are few other things that matter. We’re here for a short time and it is all about who we touch. And, for those close to us, let’s not wait till tomorrow to share a hug.

3. We must work to make this world a bit better. When we think about it, the time we spend with our near and dear ones is actually a minor proportion when compared to the time we spend at work. Yes, this is not always possible. Yes, we need money. But, where possible, when possible, let’s seek out opportunities to touch others and make this world a bit better. A lot of what makes the world today is unfair. This is about not letting the unfairness getting us down but working towards building a better future.

I don’t think such moments are about deciding to live every day as if it were your last. Life isn’t about absolutes and I find such thinking naive. I do think it is a constant balancing act. And, there definitely exists a balance between working towards a better future while doling out hugs, kisses and love generously.

Be nice. Be kind. The world will roll on without you. All we have is a limited amount of time to make a small difference where we can and when we can. Let’s make it meaningful, make it count.

We lost a wonderful member of our ALearningaDay community yesterday. He will be missed.

People who believe in you

Most people who you encounter in life will be indifferent to you. Who you are, where you are going, what you care about, etc., won’t really matter to them.

Then, there will be those who will find creative ways to tell you that you aren’t good enough. And, that, if it wasn’t for them, you would go nowhere.

But, every once in a while, you’ll come across those precious few who actually care. They get you, they think about your well being and really believe in you. Belief is a beautiful thing – you just know it when you see it, you feel it in your veins. They make the effort, try hard to be helpful and show you they care.

Such people rarely come by. So, when they do, keep them close.

And, if possible, as often as possible, be that person yourself.

On relationships that didn’t work

It is easy to classify people we have known as those we liked and those we disliked based on whether our relationships remain positive or ended either negatively or with a sense of “good riddance.”

I find it helpful to add a third category – the ones that didn’t work – and separate them from the truly bad relationships. I tend to believe that 9 out of every 10 people we meet have good intentions and it’s just the chemistry that doesn’t work.

When I think if this third category of relationships, I think of many relationships that, well, didn’t work. In fact, just thinking of them this way takes out nearly every relationship that I’d previously written off as “bad.” In most cases, these were relationships that became that way as we grew, while, in other cases, it took us a while to realize things weren’t working. In some cases, I pulled the plug and, in other cases, either the relationship just drifted away or the other person pulled the plug. Some of these lasted many years with earnest attempts at making then work while others didn’t.

In every case, however, I learnt something about myself. I learnt about my core values, my chosen approach to life and about my own level of openness to different traits and value systems. These tend to be particularly instructive when I think about some professional relationships that didn’t work as differences in “approach” or “the how” features as a reason for it not working as much as the value system.

The beauty about thinking about what didn’t work is that we get much better at spotting doomed relationships. That, in turn, means we get better at picking future friends, project mates, partners and team members -> less time wasted and more happiness.

It is tempting to write off relationships that didn’t work as bad investments we ought to avoid thinking about. It’s much better if we remember the good times (and there generally are a few), understand why they didn’t work and apply what we understand in our life going forward.

We are never going to be perfect at this but we can get better..