Have you ever bumped into your boss in the lobby or elevator and thought, "What luck! An opportunity to get in their good graces." and then, immediately, "Oh no, what should I say?" I have. Too often, I'd chicken out and say something lighthearted and predictable about the weather. Or, I'd fish for some tenuous common thread to pull on. "I know you like the beach after you mentioned it in that speech yesterday. Guess what? I like the beach too!" As I scurried away to my desk, I felt I'd missed an opportunity. Unplanned interactions can feel like a win or a risk, depending on how you approach them.
Of course, no career is made in a single, short "elevator" conversation- no matter how flawless you are. However, you can start important relationships or impress people who need impressing with one brief interaction. Make the most of unplanned interactions by doing some thinking about how you want to present yourself in advance.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Michelle Prince, the Global Head of Learning and Development at Randstad. I asked her a few questions about her approach these spur-of-the-moment conversations and how she makes the best of them.
So, imagine you're taking the elevator with your boss. How can you make a strong impression in a short time frame?
"No matter how frequently you meet with your boss or manager, every interaction is an opportunity to move your career forward. While your first inclination may be to discuss trivial topics like the weather, kids, pets, traffic, etc., go for something more substantial instead, which will ultimately leave a stronger impression.
"That's not to say getting to know your boss on a personal level is unimportant (you should do that, too). But if you only have a few minutes together, use the time to express curiosity or recognize a success. For example, asking a question about a recent meeting, or commenting on a successful project, signals to your boss that you are not only focused on work, but committed to growing in your role, as well."
Are there specific do's and don'ts when it comes to making a favorable impression?
"Religion, politics and money. It's impolite to discuss these three topics in most conversations today, let alone at work. Because of their personal (and sometimes contentious) nature, steer clear of this taboo trinity.
"Another point of contention to avoid: talking negatively about coworkers. No one wants to be known as the 'office gossip,' or the person complaining about his/her colleagues. You'll surely stand out to your boss, but not for the reasons you'd want. Be noticed as a team player by complimenting a coworker or sharing credit for a win. You'll gain recognition and build a much more favorable reputation.
"Do follow-up on your conversation -- no matter what you end up discussing. If it's timely, schedule a quick meeting later that day, or send an email later that expands on your comments. You might also share a relevant article or a new idea. Either way, it is important to reiterate the highlights of your conversation, to stay top of mind and continue building a relationship."
Regular check-ups are being normalized vs. the yearly annual review. How can we encourage employees to frequently communicate with their boss, even in small time frames?
"It's essential for employees to take initiative and set up meetings ad hoc with their boss throughout the month. This shows a boss that you care about your job, are keeping his/her expectations top of mind and are completing projects or tasks on time. Bosses and managers tend to be busy, but a simple 15- or 20-minute conversation can set everyone's minds at ease, knowing that you're on track with the team's goals and strategies. Frequent check-ins also allow both parties to monitor progress of not just projects, but careers, too.
"As a boss, the key to establishing good accessibility with your employees is finding out what method of communication works best, especially in today's more virtual work environment. Whether it's regular updates via email, regular one-on-one meetings, a shared project management tool or weekly status meetings, figure out the best approach to ensure you're an accessible, approachable manager. If you are managing a virtual worker, take advantage of video conferencing capability so that you are seeing each other frequently even though it's not in-person."
"In fact, according to a study by Randstad, Millennials and Gen Z don't want annual reviews anymore--they want frequent and ongoing conversations. Having grown up in a world of texting, tweeting and Snapchat, these generations are accustomed to constant communication and feedback. The annual performance review is coming to an end as Gen Z and Millennials are receiving feedback either daily (19%), weekly (24%) or regularly (23%) instead of annually (3%)."
The relationship between manager and employee represents a vital link not only in performance management, but in the development of each person's career. Don't pass up brief opportunities to get to know each other better, as they may be crucial cornerstones for you to build that relationship off of.
For a list of awkward things not to do or say, click here.