Get your Wingwoman (or Man!)

Have you ever been at a party with that guy that can’t stop talking about himself?

We’ve all been there, our smiles plastered to our faces, while inside, we’re tracking, like predators that break in the conversation that means we can get out, get out!

But what happens when that moment happens again and again in your industry, and your income and your success is riding on those moments and their ability to produce new client relationships?

In developing the Build Yourself+ Workshop I interviewed a number of women in leadership, and one of them, a principal at an architecture firm spoke about the challenges of being a woman when it comes to getting clients.

Most architecture principals’ yearly compensation depends on the money she brings in through the client relationships she initiates, holds and manages. In the male-dominated real estate development and construction industry, an industry in which many of the client decision makers are male and prefer to work with men, she found herself with an additional set of challenges as a female principal.

As I wrote about a few weeks ago, women are often expected to be nurturing listeners, and we can get stuck as live studio audience members on the “me show” as someone tells you all about himself and forgets to consider that you just might have some accomplishments of your own. Learning to work a room, and to weed out the bad apples was just part of this woman’s coping strategy.

One day, a professional from an allied industry this woman had worked with asked her to help her get into an important industry party. The two went together and it was a gamechanger.

“We had this great dynamic,” she says, “I could introduce my colleague and say, “You should meet her, she just completed this great project in town, and then she would introduce me and what I had been working on. It was a great way to meet people and network without feeling like I had to be ‘me, me me’ the whole time,” she says.

They formed their own traveling, provisional  ‘Merrill Lynch Ladies’ pact. They worked the room, supported each others’ success, and in the process strengthened their own relationship.

I call it empowerment wingwomen.

I have a friend who was socially awkward as a child. At camp one year (where he had no friends) he decided to spend the summer watching the other kids and understanding the social dynamics that drove their interactions. (Yes, this is a little anthropologist/animal behavior observation-creepy.) He came up with a list of social rules that he put into practice next summer, successfully developing friends and relationships. One of them that he still references to this day is “Everyone wants to be friends with best friends.”

What this means is that we are drawn to people who clearly have social, emotional and intellectual chemistry. This is not the same thing as what happens when girls go to the bathroom in pairs, mind you. In what I’m talking about, there’s a strong, perceptible link between the two central actors, but their energy is directed outward. Stage directions people! They enjoy being together, and they enjoy being together with other people. We want to be friends with best friends because we want to be included in the aura of mutual admiration and open curiosity that surrounds them.

So grab your wingwoman! She doesn’t have to be female, by the way, lots of men make great wingwomen.

Just like lots of women make great policemen, I mean police-people. I mean police officers. You know, wing-people or wing-officers just doesn’t have the same ring. Find out what your wing  is working towards, who they’d like to meet and what the stories are that they want told.

Work that room baby, and build each other.

photo credit: adapted from Ben Klocek