It would be nice if work was meritocratic. The thing is, we’re emotional beings and not very logical or rational at all. We make decisions based on our emotions more-often-than-not and that goes for promotions and job offers.

So to shift things in your favour, you need to create emotional connections with people who might have a say in your future opportunities – your career influencers.

So the question is, what are you doing to build up and protect your relationship credits with those career influencers?

Most of my clients (as well family and friends) confess they put in all the hours into delivering great work and then are disappointed when no-one has acknowledged or thanked them for it. Not their boss, not a team mate, no-one.

They also confess that they do little to nothing to manage their own careers, to “promote” themselves – it feels self-congratulatory, a bit sleazy.

So let’s break it down.

Creating emotional connection with people (goes beyond a drink at the pub end of day)

Yes shared experiences are important for building common ground and trust with your boss and team mates. But don’t limit yourself to just that (plus end of day drinks may not be your thing).

Here are 3 high impact ways to create an emotional connection with people you want to influence:

  • Coffee meetings – the obvious one but I guarantee you’re not doing it enough with people who can have the biggest impact on your career. This might be your boss but it may also be a leader in another team or function where you’d like to get some experience or a future role.
  • Acknowledging and thanking your team mates – privately and more importantly, publicly. This is about creating ‘social proof’ – letting everyone know that your team mates are great and that you are someone who loves to acknowledge others. It’s a very attractive leadership quality.
  • Scheduling focused exploratory meetings with your boss and other key influencers – this is about having an open conversation to find out what they need and how you could help or support them. Yes, you read that right – it’s you offering your time and expertise to them! This is how you make yourself invaluable and create an emotional connection. Offering someone help doesn’t happen enough and the affect it has on people is the same, whether they are senior to you or a complete stranger. It releases the hormone Oxytocin which is responsible for creating bonds between people.

Promoting yourself comes in many different guises (including promoting others)

In our age of selfies, we’re still uncomfortable about self-promotion when it comes to our work. And yet, we measure ourselves by the quality of our own work and how much time we put into it. So, we’re disproportionately disappointed when we don’t get thanked or acknowledge for our effort.

We’re waiting for the pat on the back but it hardly ever comes – it’s a rare commodity!

So why wait? Seriously, if it’s not coming, what will you choose to do?

Here are 3 ideas:

  • Ask for 2 minutes at the next team or company meeting to say thanks to your team.Hey, it’s social proof again, and you get your team, career influencers and other company leaders listening to you for the whole time. Smile, be general (effort of the whole team including clients if appropriate) or specific (but make sure you mention everyone by name). Acknowledge how they honoured or demonstrated company core values or behaviours.
  • Send an email to your boss that sings the praises of your team mates. Your boss will love to get a positive message. It will create a positive emotional connection with you and demonstrate your own leadership potential. If you’ve had someone from another function or department join your team, don’t forget to send them a similar message too – they could be one of your career influencers!
  • Blog about your team. If it’s an internal blog, your company will be delighted you provided great content because, guess what, people don’t think to blog this way. If it’s an external, public blog (and you’ve been given the green light by your employer to post it), it’s a great opportunity to let your wider network know about what you’ve been up to. And don’t forget to include a link to your post in your email signature.

Self-congratulatory? Sure but you’re taking people with you and your team mates will appreciate your efforts in acknowledging and thanking them! They’ll see your leadership quality.

It all takes time so be patient (and be forgiving when people don’t deliver for you)

Yes, it takes a long time to build and protect your emotional connections with people, especially your career influencers. Even in our age of instant, you need to be thinking months and years – so best start on your plan today!

You need to demonstrate consistency, persistence and humility to build trust with people – especially people who might decide to back us for a promotion or a job opportunity. After all, they’re staking their reputation on you doing a great job or being a fantastic hire. They need certainty and confidence in you that you won’t put their relationships at risk.

And when opportunities do come along and your cheerleaders, your career influencers, can’t make something happen for you, the worst thing you can do is be annoyed or angry with them. Recognise your own disappointment and separate it from their efforts to help you.

Make sure you thank them for their support, for putting your name forward, for recommending you, and for believing in you. This time, someone else had the better emotional connection and a better match of experiences.

There’s definitely something to learn from your experience and to shore up for next time – like meeting with your career influencers and asking for the opportunity to gain more experience and at the same time create stronger relationships.

Having a career plan is critical to knowing what to talk about and what to ask for

Having your back isn’t just about protecting you from unhelpful people. Having your back is also about being able to advocate for you and sponsor you for new opportunities. But if you don’t know what to talk about and what to ask for, how can your career influencers help you?

Having a career plan is critical to your own motivation. Here’s how:

  • You’ll stop feeling lost and directionless.
  • Knowing what role you want to go for next or even the one after that one – helps you identify your gaps.
  • Having gaps is good – they give focus to your conversations and requests. This is what you ask your career influencers advice and guidance on: How can I best get these experiences? Can you help me?
  • You can look at filling those gaps through experiences outside of work, such as volunteering your time for an industry committee or local charity. This is also a great way to expand your network and discover more career influencers outside of your employer.
  • You can quality-stamp your experiences by getting certified or taking relevant courses.
  • When things don’t go to plan (which you should plan on being the case!), you’ll have something to come back to, strategise over, course-correct as necessary, and go again.
  • You’ll stay focused on your big picture and you’re more likely to stay on track, whatever happens.