[06.07.11]
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Tired Of Your Network Feeling Sorry For You?

This post is about creating productive empathy (not sympathy) within your network in a time of need.

productive empathy, job search networking, closed network, empathy altruism, social psychology, behavioural sciences, cognitive neuroscience, job search, empathy, emotion, specific, helpfulness, academia, positive, engage, mindset, psychology, sympathy, proactive

So here’s what happens during job search or any type of tough career transition. And it stinks.

People feel sorry for you (sympathy).

They say:

“Wow, that’s a bummer about Joe and Mary.  A tough spot they’re in.”

“What will happen?  Do they have any savings?”

“That sucks.  What’s for dinner?”

In addition to the job search stigma that is often attached, there’s this lousy sympathetic reaction from your network.  The exact opposite of the reaction that you want. Trust me.

But if you stand still, it’s all you’ll get.  And it will come from the people in your life that you least need it from. Your family.  Good friends. And close network connections. The people who should be in your corner. Ready to help.

Especially if they’ve never been out of work before. Aren’t part of the job search fraternity. And, as a result, don’t get it.

You just stood still and let them react that way. Didn’t you?

You let them feel sorry for you instead of shifting them to productive empathy.

But you can’t carry all the blame. Because a good portion of the reaction happens out of earshot.  At the other end of the room.  Or in the car on the way home. How could you know?

Well, now you know. It happens more than you think. No more excuses.

Sometimes you’ll also hear this:

“I’ll keep my ears open for you.”

And that’s almost as bad.  These are code words from your network.  De-coded, these words say:

“I wish I could help, but I don’t know how. If I only had more details”

But these code words are also an “out” for an uncomfortable friend or family member who’d rather not dwell on your situation.  They may want to help, but the conversation as it went, was not up-lifting.

So how do you turn unproductive into productive?  Shift uncomfortable to helpful. And, most important, move from sympathy to productive empathy?

Why productive empathy?  Empathy suggests “feeling”.  And this is what you want to expect or generate from people.  You want them to feel something, right?  So they will act.

But what will compel supportive action (i.e. productive empathy)?

Two things.

1.  Give them a specific way to help you

Specifics?  You need to provide your network with specific job search objectives.  Without them, your network will not know what to do.  You will confuse and scare them off with general or vague objectives.  Watch this video for examples. And for those who feel that specific objectives will push away other opportunities, you are right they will.  But if you say you are “open to everything”, you will get little to no engagement from your network.  Are they supposed to send you “everything” they see?

2.  Be positive about your situation

We want to help people who appear capable and willing to help themselves.  We want to support a winning attitude.  Sounds unfair but it’s human nature.  So you have to deliver your objectives and any job search networking updates with a smile or positive spin.  Because if you ask someone to introduce you to a target company without it, they might hesitate.  If they think you’ll deliver less than your best.  Why?  People have been burned before.  It’s true.  So be HeadStrong.

Here’s the main point.  One you can tweet. Click the blue bird to tweet:    Tweet: Want an engaged network during job search? Turn sympathy into productive empathy. Here's how: http://ctt.ec/twufB+ via @TimsStrategy

Want an engaged network during job search?  Turn sympathy into productive empathy.  Here’s how: http://ow.ly/5ce0E via @TimsStrategy

When you do, that huge and motivated group of people (who really do want to help) will step up and get involved. Because you’ve invited them in.

You’ve told them specifically what role you need them to play in your life. And it has nothing to with standing on the sidelines. During a key part of the game.

That’s my view.  What’s yours?

Thanks SanFranAnnie for the great photo via Flickr


Written by: Tim Tyrell-Smith
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Categories: Career Networking

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