by Ed Shepherd
Changing careers can bring with it many new challenges, some more unexpected than others. With a background of dealing with multi-billion dollar investment clients, I presumed I would have the appropriate meet and greet skills to create purposeful interactions during my On Purpose placement at Ben & Jerry’s.
So, imagine my shock when at one of the first meetings I attended, every person greeted the other with a hug, some even kissing each other on both cheeks. Not knowing what to think, I put it down to the fact that these people must have been old friends. Yet these intrusions of personal space began occurring on a regular basis, from a simple kiss or smiley face at the end of an email, to outright hugging in the office. Is it professional to hug your line manager? Am I simply being overly-British when it comes to personal space?
I soon realised experience within the financial services industry would not necessarily prepare me to work in marketing. Many of these encounters can have City-types running for the safety of their pension trustee meetings; with its firm handshakes and robust spreadsheets you don’t know what you’re comfortable with until its gone.
As the weeks progressed, however, I have grown more accustomed to ongoing breaches of my personal space. Meaningful friendships within the workplace are key to having impact in your role, especially when based at the organisation for only six months. Getting habituated to the culture of an organisation quickly will be vital to producing these meaningful friendships. I am quickly learning that professionalism can mean different things to different settings and what passes as professional in the City can be downright rude in the social enterprise world.
So, in an attempt to produce some advice from my own insecurities, I have created three top tips to avoid awkward greetings in new sectors:
- Follow the lead – Simple mirroring of the person before you is an easy way out
- Have conviction in your approach – Confidence will help avoid David Brent like awkward moments.
- Be prepared for anything to happen – Avoid a fortress-like protection of your personal space, industries operate in different ways!
My On Purpose placement has given me a much wider perception of how people interact professionally in different sectors, and undoubtedly prepared me better for future encounters. One key thing I have learnt is that professionals adapt to their environment. I would love to hear from you about when you have been caught out when working in new environments!