I met a CEO last week, who looked me in the eye as he shook my hand. Not too firmly as to intimidate me and not as if he was holding a little flower. He asked me briefly about my day, we had a little 'chit chat'. I then I asked him to tell me a bit about his journey and role. He spoke about his background, the challenges of the business, the economic and political environment. Not least the impacts of major disasters on his country.
He asked my opinion, he waited for me to answer. He listened and added to my observations.
I was able to share with him a vision that I've been developing for the future of our products. Not just an incremental shift, but something that could change the way we think of it. We both left the meeting feeling incredibly motivated, with a shared view of what the future may hold for our businesses.
It was only afterwards, when I relayed this meeting with somebody else, that they wondered why I had thought this was so special. It sounded like an ordinary exchange to them.
Two years ago, when I started a consulting business. I found myself needing to meet lots of new people and I found it very difficult to create deep business conversations at networking events and in meetings.
My business partner Adrian couldn't understand it, he was my biggest fan. 'You're confident, intelligent and funny, why do you find it so hard?'. (thanks, Adrian!)
I began to think it was me, I thought that I was terrible at talking to people and only ever ended up talking about my daughter or some other non-relevant stuff. I thought maybe people thought I was young and inexperienced which was reflected in their surprise when I talked about working in media before email was a thing. Come to think of it, I was called a child prodigy when I was about 26 and running the European Media Research business for a publisher. At the time I thought it was a compliment, in hindsight, it was actually quite patronising, but I grew used to these types of labels throughout my career.
I remember once being asked about a senior candidate for a role. 'Is she too pretty? will the others be able to cope with her around?' Horrified, but not surprised I answered 'The hell no!.'
I've only ever found my next big role through somebody that knew me. I often fantasised about wearing a bodysuit and wig, to see what it would be like in another person's shoes, to find out for sure if it really was me. not that I'm too pretty for others to cope mind (I wish!). I'm just different to most of my peers and different isn't always good.
I didn't give up and I researched people and companies in advance so I'd have plenty of things to ask them about, but it hardly ever went beyond the first couple of lines, before the answers were directed to other people, seemingly more interesting than I. Often, I would ask a question and the listener directed the answer to my business partner who would attempt to throw it back my way. Either that or they would ask me about my home situation and took the conversation to recent holiday destinations.
I lost so much confidence and felt compelled to change my appearance in an attempt to remove judgments. I began to wear higher shoes, so I could meet groups of people at eye level instead of a foot below. I tied my hair back (which is incredibly curly) and wore more formal outfits. I tried to look older. I spoke at events and gained a lot of traction in the industry with my perspectives on management and innovation. But still, I was overlooked in these types of conversations and potential opportunities.
I eventually decided not to go to networking events, and I found new business through connections and by speaking at relevant events and left the networking to my business partner. It was a shame. However, I managed to attract the types of people I wanted to work with, who wanted to work with me like Movember, Bupa, Citipower and lots of other awesome clients.
That is why, when this CEO listened with respect, without the need to prove that I was worthy of his time, I realised that it should have always been like this and that it wasn't me and I didn't need a body suit to disguise me.
We all have some unconscious bias preventing us from hearing what certain types of people have to say. Even people like ourselves.
Check out this free survey to see what you could do to improve and maybe you'll meet some interesting people and have as much fun as we did, inventing the future.