The importance of human relationships in the modern world

I spend a large chunk of my daily life attached to technology. I wake up courtesy of the alarm on my phone and as I turn it off I am greeted by the notifications that have reached me overnight. Fantastic, one of my friends on Instagram has posted for the first time in a while. Swipe that notification away. Oh, good, two of my favourite shoe stores have given me a special 15% discount on their fall selection. Delete, delete. I put my phone down and have a fleeting recollection of my clash with a ferocious lion in my dream last night. I try to delve into my memory to find the remnants of my battle, but all I find are two cheap pairs of shoes. Before the day has even begun technology has penetrated its way into my conscious thought. I would imagine that many of you find a similar beginning to the day, perhaps with less lions, but likely with the same bombardment of trivial information.

That’s the cost of living in the modern world. Even if you try to cut down on screen time, most of you will find that your job requires you to spend many hours looking at a screen. Your appointments, communications, and the general organisation of your daily life are likely delegated to you by a small rectangular beacon of information. Technology makes life convenient and efficient. China, through Alibaba innovations, is the poster boy for the integration of technology into everyday life. Alibaba promotions show the ‘ideal’ daily life in which an individual uses their phone for every aspect of their day – getting from place to place with Didi Chuxing, reading news from Youku Tudou, shopping on one of their numerous online marketplaces, and so on. The growth of virtual reality makes this even more invasive. Online stores are being designed to replicate the interior of real stores, giving the feeling of walking around browsing products. Whether this level of assimilation reaches the Western world is yet to be seen, but unless there is significant pushback it appears that the impact of technology on everyday life will continue to grow.

This growing reliance on technology makes real human relationships even more important. Perhaps much of your interaction with a client or work associate happens through text or calls, with a rare face to face meeting along the way. A positive interaction with a client can lead to increased trust and bonding, thus taking the relationship to a new level. A client will often prefer working with an individual with whom they have good rapport, even if that person is less technically adept than the competition. Learning skills to make the most of face to face interactions is therefore paramount in the work climate of today.

Firstly, you should go into business meetings feeling relaxed and confident. In the lead up to a meeting try to remove any expectations that you may have set upon yourself. View every client interaction as an opportunity for success, but placing too much weight on that opportunity can cause anxiety. Nervousness can cause you to speak too quickly, fidget, lose concentration, sweat profusely, and leave an overall impression with the client that you are disorganised or even untrustworthy. You will personally have to test what works to quell your nerves. You could develop a pre-meeting routine that gets you in a confident mindset, or have a few pre-planned questions to fall back on in case you get caught up on your words.

Once in the meeting, begin with a firm handshake, an abundance of eye contact, and an upright body position. Whilst conversing consciously make an effort to slow down your speech to articulate yourself clearly. Mimic the client’s body language and mannerisms to create a subconscious bond. While this may feel wooden at first, these techniques should all become natural with some practice. However, if it continues to feel unnatural, drop it. The most important aspect of your interaction is that you truly listen. You don’t want to miss a subtle change in tone or choice of wording because you were too busy trying to cross your legs at the same time as the client.

Once you have overcome any issues of nervousness and mastered a few key techniques to boost your confidence, interactions should feel more genuine. That is the key to striking a positive business relationship. Yes, a firm handshake and upright body position may subtly influence a client’s opinion of you, but the true success of your meeting will come from human connection. Don’t try to refocus the meeting on business issues if the topic wanders, feel free to talk about fishing or dogs for twenty minutes if that’s where the conversation leads. The true purpose of the meeting should be to feel like you’ve developed a stronger relationship with the individual across the table.

Now that technology has permeated our everyday life, these client interactions have become fewer and farther between. As a result, to be successful in maintaining business relationships, you must nail down the impression you make in these meetings. Ultimately, the impression you give will not come from your body language, level of eye contact, or firmness of handshake, but from the bond you make with another human being.

Dean Franklet is a third year economics and finance student at the University of Canterbury where he is President of the largest commerce society on campus. Spending his life in Texas and then New Zealand with a few other stops along, he gives a unique global viewpoint to portray in his writing.

Image: Pexels

Building Consulting Relationships

Building Consulting Relationships

(Source: Flickr)

This post considers how to build consulting relationships.

Some people appear to believe that the goal of attending networking events is to collect as many business cards as possible.

This was always the wrong approach, however in a world with LinkedIn, it is also absurd since a person’s business card will contain much less information than their Linkedin profile.

Networking is about building relationships not about the size of your Rolodex; knowing one person who can help you is better than having 1,000 LinkedIn connections.

When it comes to networking, here are five (5) ideas to bear in mind:

  1. First impressions count: Good grooming will not necessarily secure you a job, but poor grooming can scuttle your chances. You will be judged on your appearance. It’s not fair, it’s not nice, and it may sound like high school all over again, but you need to accept reality and play the game. Invest in one quality business suit that you can wear throughout the recruitment process.
  2. Provide value early: Networking is about building relationships, and the good way to build relationships is to give something of value up front. If you are a practicing consultant then this might include sharing industry knowledge or making helpful introductions. Unfortunately, if you are a student talking to an HR person at a careers event then you are unlikely to have any such value to offer. However, luckily, nobody ever said that you need to provide value of a commercial nature. If you’re a naturally funny person, feel free to tell a tasteful joke.
  3. Find common ground: As an ambitious aspiring consultant, you may be tempted to barrage an HR person or consultant with a shopping list of questions. Don’t do it. You are there to build relationships, not to tick off a check list. Take an interest in the person you are talking to, ask them about their interests and experiences, and see whether you can establish common ground.
  4. Ask burning questions: Research the firm and its recruitment process prior to attending a careers event in order to avoid asking obvious questions. If you still have some burning questions, feel free to ask them.
  5. Follow up: If you had a good conversation with an HR person or consultant, it is a nice courtesy to send a short follow up email. In your email, re-introduce yourself, remind them what you talked about and thank them for their time. Below is a short sample email to give you an idea of what is required:

Dear Sally,

This is Joe Simpson, we met yesterday at Bain’s careers evening held at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford.

I enjoyed chatting with you about social enterprise and Michael Porter’s “shared value” theory.

Thanks for taking the time to visit Oxford and share information about Bain’s graduate program.

Best wishes,
Joe

[For more information on consulting interviews, please download “The HUB’s Guide to Consulting Interviews“.]

Gaining Consulting Contacts

Building Contacts

(Source: Flickr)

AS an aspiring consultant, the purpose of networking is to gain industry contacts, learn about your target firms, and obtain names that you can use in your application cover letter (e.g. “I am applying to Bain following my discussion with your Associate John Citizen at the recent New York University careers fair.”).

There are various ways to gain contacts prior to sending out your consulting applications.

Here are three:

  1. On campus recruitment events and careers fairs are the easiest way to meet consultants and HR people;
  2. Reaching out to family friends and classmates who are current or former employees at your target firm is another good approach;
  3. If you are at non-target school and don’t have any relevant contacts, then cold calling the recruiter and asking to talk with her is a suitable fall back option. You can talk to her over the phone or, if possible, arrange a time to meet for coffee.

[For more information on consulting interviews, please download “The HUB’s Guide to Consulting Interviews“.]

The Value of Top Business Schools

THERE MAY be a business school bubble for other people, but not for you.

Whether you are buying into a bubble depends on whether the cost of what you are buying significantly exceeds its intrinsic value. For most assets, you can find the intrinsic value by looking at the expected return – the more money the asset puts in your pocket, the more valuable it is. This works well for stocks and bonds but not quite as well for education, and rather poorly when that education is from a top business school which offers some very attractive non-monetary benefits:

  1. Personal branding derived from the brand name of your MBA school will stand by you for life. “Oh, you’re a Harvard graduate, good man, let me open some doors for you!”
  2. Social status derived from the prestige of your school may be a particular boon if you are a man. A first year psychology student once told me that women look for just two things in men (1) status and (2) resources.  (Given the cost of attending a top business school you had better work that social status to your advantage.)
  3. Networking with smart, well-connected, ambitious and successful business school students will help you discover new ideas and unforeseen opportunities.
  4. Positive emotions are contagious and by associating with the happy and fortunate people whom you find at business school you may be able to achieve more than you ever thought possible.

5 Benefits of Forums

OVER the last 3 months I’ve had lots of people ask me interesting and relevant questions about consulting and business strategy, which made me realise that people often prefer to learn by asking questions and discussing ideas rather than reading text books or blog posts.

To help you continue learning about consulting and business strategy, a brand new consulting forum will be launched soon!

There are at least 5 clear benefits to be gained from participating in a forum:

  1. Learning: Asking questions and getting advice will make it easier to learn the things that you want to know;
  2. Credibility: If you know the answer to someone’s question and you post a helpful comment then you are helping to build credibility with other forum users. By establishing a reputation as a trusted expert you can attract attention and generate opportunities for yourself;
  3. Networking: Participating in a discussion forum is a good way to meet people who have similar interests;
  4. Community: Joining a discussion forum is an easy way to become part of a community of interest. Belonging to a community of interest allows you to help others, get feedback and support, and to build a personal identity; and
  5. Popularity: If you have a website, your popularity is measured largely by how many links point to your website. If you create a signature line to use in your forum posts which includes a link to your website then every time you ask a question or post a comment in the forum you get an extra link back to your website.