The trading floor, where I spent the first decade of my career, is a battleground. Most standard societal norms cease to exist when one finds herself working on a trading floor. In my first job as an interest rate sales analyst at Lehman Brothers, my boss told me that I was not allowed to use articles (i.e., couldn’t say the words “the”, “a”, “an”) because “it wasted time and time is money.” My role was to execute multi-million-dollar transactions on behalf of clients (banks, hedge funds, pension funds.) If I made even one mistake, it could cost the firm and my traders millions of dollars within seconds. Speed, precision, and excellence were nonnegotiable. My days could consist of up to 100 transitions within an eight-hour period, considerable market fluctuations, and a range of emotions wide enough to put a Shakespearean play to shame.
I learned more about human behavior in a day “on the desk” than I had in my entire life prior to that experience. Because many norms of polite society were ignored and emotions ran high, the life lessons came frequently and in droves. One of the greatest lessons I learned is that it takes a lot more than doing “a good job” to build trust and credibility. An authentic connection to others is vital.
This story below illustrates the first of my many lessons.
I recall a very important client who transacted with us daily. Let’s call him Dan. I was the “number two” on his account—the primary relationship was with my boss, Jim. Jim got to sit on the phone chatting up a storm about the football game and recent economic news with his feet up on the desk while I tried to answer three phone lines ringing simultaneously. My cortisol levels were through the roof! I was a machine, striving for speed, precision, and perfection. When Dan called that day, I grabbed the line before the first ring.
"Lehman” I answered, (anything longer would be a waste of time).
“I need Jim” Jim was on the phone with another client. It was my duty to take care of Dan in those situations.
“He is tied up. Can I help?”
“No, I need Jim.”
I gestured to Jim that he has to jump in, but I stayed on to listen (that was also my job—to be a second pair of ears to catch the order as it came in and execute fast).
Dan was calling to put in a trade. It was similar to the hundreds of other trades I executed for him.
"WTF! I have executed hundreds of these for him; what is going on here?”, I thought.
Dan was losing money and getting nervous. The market fluctuations were rattling him more than usual. His conviction in the trade was low and he needed someone he trusted to lift him up. He wanted comfort—he wanted to be in trusted hands—and to him, that was Jim, not me. Jim knew Dan’s kids' names; Jim was the one he complained to about his portfolio. That meant that Jim was the one who would make it all ok. I might have been the right one for the job (at that point, I arguably was faster and more accurate than Jim in executing these trades and Dan knew this). But, through his cloud of emotions and insecurity, Dan saw none of that. Dan, a brilliant, highly analytical money-making machine, relied on an authentic connection and gut over analytical decision making when deciding whom to trust.
So many decisions in our professional lives are made based on trust and the strength of an authentic connection. Your clients will choose you over others because they feel right about working with you. Your colleague will share the spotlight with you when she/he feels safe that you will also have his/her back. Your boss will give you the reins on a high-profile project because he trusts you. To trust you, they need to know you AND feel known by you. Trust isn’t possible without an authentic connection.
Remote work is hindering authentic connections in the workplace. I regularly see people put on a work face that stops them from being open and honest with their colleagues. I see team tension escalate due to misunderstood emails. I see brilliant professionals passed up for opportunities because they aren’t fully known to key decision-makers.
It’s time to shake things up. If Jim and Dan were able to build connection through a phone line and a Bloomberg chat while operating at lightning speed, so can you.
I want to share 3 things you can do to start building authentic connections today:
First, pick up your phone! Tone, warmth, and understanding are lost on email and chat/text. Connections are built fastest with audible communication. Yes, you are worried they are busy. Do it anyway. If they are busy, then they won’t pick up. But at least your call will send a message that the phone is a welcome touchpoint for you.
Second, warm up your emails or chat messages. You are probably drowning with work. If you are feeling rushed, then most likely your written tone lacks warmth. Slow down to speed up:
Use the person’s first name in your messages
Share something personal that is going on with you (ex. “Hi Dan, just got your email. Had to shovel my wife’s car out after this crazy snowstorm. Did you get any snow over there?”)
Share your intentions and reasoning (e. “I am asking for this in a certain way because then it allows me to help Client XYZ faster”)
Lastly, Sign up to join my Working Remotely While Building Connections Webinar next week on 2/10th. Those that register will receive the recording of the webinar in case you can’t make it live. I will share tactical ideas:
For deepening connection virtually with your managers and colleagues
Establishing new connections and
Releasing tension with coworkers.
I hope to see you there!