Ever been to a high school reunion? Some former classmates look the same. Some you only recognize if they have a name tag.
It's not how people look that flips our memory switch. It's their names that get us to remember how each person has been preserved in our minds:
-How they treated us (and we them)
-How smart and/or accomplished they seemed to be
-How they behaved alone, in groups, and with those they dated
-If we trusted them, could confide in them, or could rely on them
What we remember is how they branded themselves. The same is true for us.
Behavior traits stick.
It's tempting to blow off our high school image as not the real us. After all we were young, developing, and learning how to be grown-ups.
It's usually not what we did but the perceptions about why that stick for a long time. People remember.
Every person who's crossed our path is in our network. Right now, we either are or aren't tapping those relationships.
Your network grows every day through your interactions at work, in the community, among family, and on-line. Every impression you make sticks.
When your name is mentioned and someone recognizes it, s/he has an impression or perception to share. That's often how conversations start. Each mention, just like the @ on Twitter, reinforces perceptions.
Everyone is a link to someone else. The degrees of separation keep shrinking. Just spend an hour exploring Linkedin and you'll see the power of that.
The multiplier effect of impressions is staggering. So if we want to succeed, we need to be mindful of how our behavior is perceived.
Choosing to be friend or foe
We work in competitive environments. Our companies compete to be profitable. We compete to be recognized, rewarded, and/or advanced in our careers.
Everyone we work with is competing too. Often we're competing for the same things:
-The bossfs attention or approval
-A big raise
-Recognition or an award
We might compete in a way that:
-Overshadows others, diminishes their efforts, and/or undercuts them
-Engages others, showcases their efforts, or recognizes them
-Presents an optimistic, can-do attitude or a self-important, hard-nosed one
-Bullies our coworkers or motivates their enthusiasm to get work done
-Panders to the boss or showcases our principles
The way we compete brands us: Everyone watches.
You at work is like you back in high school only older and wiser, hopefully. Everybody you work with remembers what youfve done in their world and passes their perceptions along. Were you someone whom they trusted or someone they doubted?
Networking is about your network.
Like it or not we are brands. Everyone is labeling us, including ourselves.
People who tell me they hate networking often presume it means connecting with new people and then developing some kind of tit-for-tat benefit.
New people are valuable, but there are hundreds of people who already know you that you should be (re)connecting with to enrich your career. The question is: Why have you let those relationships wane and what's keeping you from rekindling them?
Is it because you're unsure about how they see you and have let so much time go by? Remember: that answer goes both ways.
Periodic self-assessment is smart personal and professional planning. We learn by seeing ourselves through the eyes of our colleagues. If you have a chance to take a 360 degree assessment, that would be a great start.
Otherwise, ask your coworkers their perceptions of you. Okay, that can feel uncomfortable for you and them, but you need to know. If you were a box of cereal, you'd want to know if your customers thought you tasted good enough to keep buying.
Remember: Everyone you work with is in your network in some way forever. Itfs good form to treat them well. Be nice.