September 12, 2013

Finding Common Ground When You're a Woman in a Male-Dominated World


(This blog post is the second part of a series after the post called Powerful Tips for Women Looking to Overcome The "Likeability Bias.")

The Challenge in Finding Common Ground

Although this post can stand quite well on its own feet, I would highly recommend reading the first part before getting into this one. This was actually triggered by some of the best feedback I received on the first blog post (thanks to @MauriaFinley). Mauria wrote back saying she wanted to see more tips and tricks on how to find common ground when you're a woman in a world that can be quite dominated by men, such as the tech industry.

I thought it was an interesting and rather astute remark because women often have less in common with their peers and people they need to build relationships with, especially if these people are of the opposite gender. This became apparent to me during an exercise I perform with my clients in which participants create a list of items or interests that they care about. We call those common ground themes. In a second step they create a list of items in which they have no interest, but those they work with do.

It was remarkable to see that people found many common ground themes, and very little of the other. However, with one of my female clients, it was almost the opposite. She had many things for which she lacked passion, despite the fact that people in her network cared about these things immensely. Examples included sports, latest gadgets, technology, and cars.

6 Steps When Finding Common Ground

The best question to ask in this situation is "What should you do if you find that you don't have much in common with a peer?" To answer that question, I came up with 6 steps to follow when faced with these challenges.

* Step 1: Start creating a firm belief that you have something in common with every person you meet.

First and foremost, be relaxed about finding common ground. You can always find something in common as long as you're facing a fellow human; in the end, we all bleed blood. That gives you a huge playground to uncover things you have in common. It's just a matter of how willing you are to dig in deep and how skillful you are in doing so. This is important because it removes the barrier to success that many people have when it comes to this. It simply isn't true and more importantly, it just isn't helpful.

* Step 2: Do your best to switch your natural behavior. Try to identify things that are different.

This is a trap we all fall into at times, no matter what gender. We are hard-wired to do so and it goes back many thousands of years when we were still living as small tribes in caves. During this time, we're trained to process very important aspects of thinking "us vs. them." We would take care of anyone who was one of us but likely try to kill those who weren't. This was a survival strategy that became deeply ingrained in our ancient brain that is still part of how we operate today. Naturally, when you see someone, you will likely notice things that are different about them such as the skin color, size, or accent of the person first. It's critical to overcome that by looking further than the initial reaction and not allow it to get in the way of finding something in common.

People say women typically have a higher level of empathy which is one of the most powerful allies in this respect. It allows you to keep an open mind, overcome the initial view and actually find areas with a person that allows you to be empathetic. When I identify something different in another person, I aim to think about a very human aspect of that person, like what I might have in common with him or her. For example, I noticed how differently a person was dressed compared to me, and because of that, he ended up in my "them" bucket. But, he was roughly my age and I though I bet he too is a father who cares deeply about his children and wants the best for them. Just like me. It worked, and I instantly felt more empathic to him. Leverage tools like this one as much as you can to weaken the natural drive of finding what is different.

* Step 3: Know what you have to offer as potential common ground.

In a busy world, we often forget how multi-faceted we actually are as human beings. I recommend a very simple exercise here. Take small Post-It notes and a timer, set it to 5 minutes and write down all the things you care about. These things can include:

* Personal interests and passions you currently pursue
* Personal interests and passions you pursued in the past (they never go away, they just go dormant)
* Professional interests (even if it's not at the core of how you make money)
* Areas of expertise

All of those things will help you identify all the facets of what you have to offer people as common ground. As a next step, I recommend taking these notes and cluster them into themes. Most people come up with Sports, Kids & Family, Food & Entertainment, Travel, and Professional Expertise. Try it out and see if that works for you. You'll be surprised by the amount of things you had forgotten about. The beauty of this exercise is that it won't take you more than 15 minutes, if you stay focused.

* Step 4: Aim for the easy common ground areas.

The best things you can find as common ground are those that are unique about you and that you are extremely passionate about. If you find a fellow-human that is just as passionate about it, you will instantly elevate your relationship to levels you didn't think possible. It has happened to us all before but just doesn't occur often. It's simply not as easy to find those passions with another person since they are unique and far from mainstream.

The way to get more comfortable with finding common ground is to lower the bar significantly. Think about all the items we have in common that at least 50% of the people we know care about. For example, hiking, outdoors, food & drinks, cooking, kids & family, reading, and combatting email overload (I feel like almost everyone I meet has that challenge in common these days). This shows that you probably have several things in common with a large amount of people and if you are aware of it, you can try to find it in conversations with those you meet. Even if you feel you're very different, there's plenty of ways to find common ground on those types of themes.

* Step 5: Utilize the common ground you have found.

Once we have learned information about what we have in common, it's critical that it gets used. This can be done simply by staying in touch with that person by sending them items of value (I call them Value Payloads) on a regular interval. Basically, send them emails with a simple sentence that may be similar to 'Let me know if I am wrong, but I thought this could be relevant to you', etc.

This is powerful because you will have a lot to offer by sending them items based on what you have in common with that person. When you have a passion for something, you typically expose yourself to items that can be shared and sent to people. For example, in terms of hiking, you may know of a great local hike that others may enjoy if they also have an interest in hiking. All you have to do is send them information about that. It will take you only a few minutes but will have a significant impact on the relationship you have with this person and how much they end up liking you.

* Step 6: Use future verbal interactions to find additional shared interests.

Now that you're in the groove, you can actually start going deeper to find more unique things you have in common. Maybe you have a common affinity for camping or cooking Thai food. Perhaps you have traveled to unique or similar places such as the Galapagos or Machu Picchu. The more you practice finding these things, the more it will become second nature. When that happens, it's only a matter of time before you realize that a lot of people like you.

I happen to be a believer that likeability is one of the most underestimated tools in our business world. If you want to read more on the topic, a good resource is this book by Tim Sanders.