I attended last week the IMPACT 21 Executive Forum in NYC. The theme of the event was collaboration and gender equality in the workforce. Attendees represented both ends of the business spectrum — from international corporate leaders to local entrepreneurs (and everything in between).
I saw startup minds.
These minds were hungry for innovation. They were willing and eager to act and think differently. They were more concerned about resolving the issue at hand from top to bottom and less concerned about the bottom line.
No matter where we are in our career or personal life, we are constantly getting ready to face our next step. We are all beginners. So whether we realize it or not, most of us are startup minds or startup minds in the making. Therefore, how well we connect and learn from other startup minds defines our growth – both personal or professional.
Startup communities have proven to be powerful engines for the emerging New World economy. From “Startupotamia” Silicon Valley to San Francisco, to New York, Austin and Boulder, entrepreneurial ecosystems are thriving. Engaging and forming strong relationships in these communities is key to the success of each member or prospective member and to the community as a whole.
“Startup communities must have regular activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack … Over the years, I’ve been to many entrepreneurial award events, periodic cocktail parties, monthly networking events, panel discussions, and open houses. Although these types of activities have a role, typically in shining a bright light on the people doing good things within the startup community, they don’t really engage anyone in any real entrepreneurial activity … The leaders of the failed activity should try again to create things that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack, and participants in failed activities should keep on engaging in stuff, recognizing that they are playing a long-term game.”
Whereas the corporate world in general and its sub-spheres in particular used to run a very structured, hierarchical frame in terms of communicating, networking and connecting, startup communities are living, breathing organisms that are the evolving sum of the unique, individual “cultures” each entrepreneur brings into them. There are constantly new things, people and ideas that emerge within or are brought from outside.
The startup mind can often be somewhat of a loner mind — even for people who are generally considered extroverted. Many entrepreneurs begin with a can-do-it-all-alone attitude and only over the course of time, and after cultivating confidence and trust, do they open up and gradually allow outsiders in.
Forming Relationships in the Startup Community
Whether you are a long-time member of a startup community or you are just entering a startup circle, creating healthy person-to-person relationships is crucial – not only for business, but also for personal wellbeing. Naturally, anxieties over how to connect and communicate arise.
Social psychologist, relationship expert and author Dr. Sara Nasserzadeh says there are three universal components to connecting to others in any area in our life (business, personal or romantic):
- Employing a win-win mentality
- Showing mutual respect
- Making sure the other person knows, feels and sees that you are committed to the above two
Employing a win-win mentality
is the reciprocity of being open to giving and receiving — both equally important for mutual growth. According to Dr. Nasserzadeh, most entrepreneurs have tremendous passion for their ideas, values, products or services, and this passion, when properly utilized, can work to their best advantage when connecting with other passionate entrepreneurs.
But shared passion, says Dr. Nasserzadeh, isn’t enough to build a solid relationship base. Being able to express a clear vision is the second piece in the win-win mentality puzzle. If you can’t convey your clear vision properly, your fellow startup leader will not be able to receive it, let alone support you in any way. Similarly, if they cannot convey their vision to you clearly, you will be unable to be of service to them. So get clear on what your primary goal is (preferable that would be one single goal at a time), back it up with your passion and put it out there.
“In the case of investors,” says Dr. Nasserzadeh, “most tend to invest in the person first and in the idea second. If you show a ton of passion but no vision, you may come across as a person who is unreliable and without much substance.”
The third piece to the win-win mentality puzzle, according to Dr. Nasserzadeh, is being flexible with the “currency exchanged” while establishing a connection. Many of us enter a conversation or a meeting with the expectation to offer X and get the same in return. If we provide someone with sales leads, we may expect sales leads in return. Or if we make an introduction, an introduction in return may seem fitting. But the person across from you may have to offer some great marketing insights rather than give you straight up sales leads; or instead of connecting you to other people, they may just listen to your vision, not immediately respond to it, but come around and be of help when you least expect it.
“It’s not always apples for apples. Sometimes it’s apples for oranges, both beneficial! ” says Dr. Nasserzadeh.
Showing the right amount of mutual respect
, says Dr. Nasserzadeh, can be tricky. According to her, if you respect a person too much, you may become anxious and stressed out around them. You might not feel comfortable to express your ideas and alternative solutions to what they are offering. This will then prevents them from seeing your way of thinking and true potential. Placing someone on a pedestal, making someone more “special” than you are isn’t helping either side.
On the other hand, if you don’t respect the other person enough, you indicate that you don’t believe in their ability to self-sustain and to do things for themselves, let alone having something to offer. You may end up patronizing them or doing all the work for them. Worse yet, you may not take them seriously, which can sabotage an otherwise opportune relationship.
So seek to empower rather than enable. Remember that people are humans first – see them as independent from their past achievements or failures. We are all equal in our fears, insecurities and aspirations. When you realize this, cultivating compassion and having equal respect for one another becomes a lot easier.
Making sure the other person knows, feels and sees that you are committed to looking at them from a win-win perspective and showing the right amount of respect comes from one simple act: listening.
In her practice, Dr. Nasserzadeh observed that many entrepreneurs get so wrapped up in their goals and ambitions that they can’t stop talking about them and forget to listen actively. She says active listening involves empathy, consideration and courage to seek and ask the right questions.
“Right questions are only generated if you are genuinely interested and care about the topic under discussion. You can’t plan for the right questions (well, maybe for one or two) but then you can never predict how a conversation goes, therefore you better devise your questions based on the actual conversation rather than premeditated plans,” adds Dr. Nasserzadeh.
So listen to what is said and “hear” what isn’t said. Then ask more questions. You may be surprised at the doors that might just open.
And be kind. According to Dr. Nassserzadeh, the simple truth is that “people first and foremost look for other people whom they find pleasant.”
– Tonka Dobreva, Cojourneo