[06.07.11]
50 great comments!

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
Tags: | | | | |
Categories: Career Networking
  • The best networkers are those that over time go out of their way to help others. Not just when they
    are out of work. They build up credits in their “help bank” so when they need a withdrawl they
    have ample credits.

    Your other point of focusing on the type of job and industry couldn’t be more true. There is a vast difference in, “help me find a job,” to “I’m looking for a customer service manager job running a busy call center.” This is a common mistake made by experienced job hunters. Spend time on focusing what they are searching for and you’ve moved from quanity (throw on the wall and hope something sticks) school of job hunting to quality. The latter will win every time.

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  • Hey John – Thanks.  Yes, this is one of my “big focus areas” with job seekers.  And you re absolutely right about maintaining an active network of people who you help and get helped by along the way.  Makes a big difference when you need to call in a favor.

    I said my peace above, but thanks for reinforcing it all with your experience.  🙂

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  • Anonymous

    The sympathy crowd is often also made up of those who like to see others in pain.  They don’t ever say it out loud, but some people like to see others in a rough spot cuz it makes them feel better.  They like to gossip and speculate about how your being laid off will impact you. 

    But nothing bums out these folks who love the gossip more than a GREAT attitude.  When you look at the world as full of opportunity and stay up beat even in a bad spot… they have no idea what to do with you.  Your outlook and “never say die” persona scares those who love bullshit.  Yes, it can be hard to get up everyday and seek the good, but if nothing else you piss off the folks who feed off the negative!

  • Yes, Thom, I’ve seen these folks as well.  Some need to be the “Jones’s”.  Always want a % of their network struggling worse than they are and trying to keep up with them.  Thanks for, as always, delivering your thoughts in such a direct and honest way. 

  • Hi Tim, Great post!

    I was coming here to comment on your
    suggestion for a job seeker to be specific about what types of opportunities
    they want, but I see that someone else has already made that comment!

    It is
    such great advice, though, as you mention, many people think this means they’ll
    be cutting themselves off from opportunities. That advice – to have a single,
    specific, focus – applies to all aspects of applying for a new job, from the
    cover letter and resume to the interview. Quality is always better than
    quantity when it comes to finding a new position.

  • Hey Wes – glad to hear you agree.  Because I meet a ton of job seekers who want to push back on this point.  You’re right – good focus should permeate your entire job search strategy.  Thanks for leaving a comment.

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  • Anonymous

    Tim this is so true.

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