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Reputation Building in a Virtual World
by Caela Farren, Ph.D., MasteryWorks, Inc.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.” —Warren Buffet

We rely on [the virtual world] to reach more people in a dynamic way, but the way you communicate content becomes more critical and more intentional.Introduction
In our virtual world of work, there’s no water cooler to gather ‘round for people to take your measure, nobody to join for an after-work drink, no managers watching you, no sharing kids’ pictures with team members, and no eye contact or high-fives. We are connected to one another by smart phones, keyboards and flat screens for hours, days and weeks in the rarified atmosphere of isolation in an ever-increasing rush of creating and completing deliverables in cyberspace

What skills and strategies can you bring to a virtual world to be successful, to build your reputation, to make connections and create lasting relationships? What behaviors are the most effective in a virtual world? How do you leverage those behaviors?

Behaviors to Build and Manage Reputation
Reputation is the impression an individual, product, brand or organization leaves with others. Reputation is based on accrued actions over time. It lives in others—not within you, your brand, your products or your services. You can shape it, you can enhance it, you can protect it, you can wreck it, but you can’t wholly control it. Although your reputation lies in the eyes of the beholder, there are four critical behaviors you can utilize to build a positive reputation in the virtual world. They are trust building, listening, problem-solving and smart networking.

Trust Building
Both reputation building and building relationships requires building trust. Trust is the expectation that people can rely on your word. The foundation of trust is built with honesty and reliability, meaning that you never promise more than you can deliver and you consistently deliver on your promises. Whether it’s in a real or virtual world, sincere interest in listening and sharing personal stories, experiences and topics is at the heart of building trust.

Many of the same behaviors used to build a powerful reputation in the face-to-face world can be applied to the virtual world. “Trust is Number One in both worlds,” Tom Karl, CEO at MasteryWorks, Inc., says. “If you can connect on a personal level, it will be easier to connect on a professional and organization basis. Connections are often bridged and trust established when people learn they have experienced similar events in their personal lives. For example, I received a call from one of our consulting partner’s customers - someone whom I had never met - to assess a technical question. In less than 14 minutes, we shared personal information that changed the dynamic of our relationship. We came to understand that we could rely on each other for information and know-how to achieve a common goal. Gaining insight into our personal backgrounds, listening to the problem and joint cooperation in problem-solving built a foundation of mutual trust.

How do people build their reputation in a virtual world? Mutual trust is the critical foundation needed to build robust relationships and reputations whether on line or in the real world.” Sr. Vice President Kristen Leverone, at the New Jersey consulting firm of Lee Hecht Harrison agrees. ”Trust is the exponential factor in terms of relationship building, she says. “Without trust you really don’t have a relationship. You can build trust virtually. People doing what they say they’re going to do; people listening and following through.”

Bruce Wilson at writes that “a conversation is a relationship. Both speaker and listener play a part, each influence the other. You cannot establish trust if you cannot listen. Instead of being a passive recipient, the listener has as much to do in shaping the conversation as the speaker.”

Careful listening and consideration of on-line digital comments generate respect, rapport and trust. Team members trust those who genuinely listen to them and who listen to one another. Listening with empathy allows us to create bonds of trust. Empathetic listening gives us insights into what others may be feeling or thinking. It sharpens our focus and helps us understand how or why others will react to situations. Listening promotes trust and the ability to earn trust creates a competitive advantage. Listening increases productivity and problems are solved more rapidly when people are allowed to explain problems and work through solutions together. Listening is a proven incubator to grow insight into innovative solutions to sales, service and production methods. You cannot establish trust without genuine listening.

Kristen Leverone believes some of the behaviors and strategies to build reputation and lasting relationships in the virtual world are the same as in the real world. “Some of it is the same,” she points out. “For example, being a good collaborator [is important]. We rely on [the virtual world] to reach more people in a dynamic way, but the way you communicate content becomes more critical and more intentional. She believes that when you can’t rely on body language in a virtual world, content becomes more important and there is a need to set the tone of the conversation. She says that “collaboration is a key tool in the virtual world through listening, dialogue, and questions.”

The value of listening cannot be overstated. In their seminal 2002 work, authors Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee examined the paths to leadership through studies of nearly 4,000 executives. They found “listening skills were essential to effectiveness at virtually every stage.” The central finding of their research was that “emotions are essentially contagious, and thus a leader's attitude and energy can ‘infect’ a workplace either for better or for worse.” Look at the effect Steve Jobs had in the workplace. With this in mind the authors stress the importance of "resonance", which is” the ability of leaders to perceive and influence the flow of emotions between themselves and others they work with.” The essential importance of resonance rests in part upon a leader's ability to put into practice the skill of empathetic listening. “Skillful listening, the linchpin of resonance, is essential to learning to become, and being, an effective leader.” (Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis & Annie McKee, Primal Leadership, Harvard Business School Press, 2002)

Problem Solving – Delivering the Goods
In the face-to-face world, people can get a sense of what you’re about, what’s important to you and quickly assess what you can and can’t do far easier than in the virtual world. A physical connection creates an experience that provides the nuances that are harder to perceive in the virtual world. A smile, a nod and a laugh go a long way. Often the impression you get online doesn’t match the first face-to-face meeting. Although Dave Sheramata, a Senior Software Engineer, spends most of his time on a computer¸ he would prefer hiring people he first meets face-to-face. He believes that professional and social internet networks, like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter don’t necessarily build reputation. “Where someone went to school or held a job, even at a prestigious institution such as Google or MIT, does not mean he or she should automatically be added to our team. It helps establish reputation, but the ability to problem-solve is critical to building reputation.” Sheramata says that it’s not what people say or blog that builds their reputation, it’s what people do in the virtual world. “Solving problems on-line leaves a paper trail, while what people say many times may not be worth a grain of salt.”

Smart Networking
Networking provides innumerable avenues for reputation building through strong connections. Social media allows you to communicate with influential people globally to build robust virtual relationships. Powerful online relationships can open the door to innovation, brainstorming, possible joint ventures, masterminding, training and mentoring opportunities. Who you read, chat with, follow and influence can enhance or detract from your reputation. The virtual world of work has created a myriad of opportunities for reputation building. Using social media smartly is a critical tool in building your virtual reputation.

In today’s global organizations, people meet and interact in a virtual world where they can easily search for conversations, set alerts, help monitor our names and brands, and communicate and interact with others in ways that were unavailable just a few years ago. Building and maintaining relationships has never been easier. Always engage online in actions and conversations that brand yourself as someone to be trusted and supportive; someone who offers value in the marketplace and delivers superlative service. Both reputation building and building relationships in the virtual world requires building trust. A genuine interest in listening and sharing personal stories, experiences and topics is at the heart of building trust and reputation. Gaining insight into backgrounds, listening to problems and joint problem-solving build mutual trust and mutual trust is the critical element to a robust reputation in the virtual world.

About the Author
Caela Farren, Ph. D.
, is President of MasteryWorks, Inc., - a leading Career Development consulting organization offering innovative solutions to large and mid-size companies, including Sony, Northrop Grumman, Bayer, Lockheed-Martin and Capitol One. MasteryWorks provides enterprise web portals, training, consulting, and an assessment framework for employees and managers. For more than thirty years, Dr. Farren has been a passionate leader around complex issues redefining the workplace. She envisioned the current workplace climate more than a dozen years ago, when she published a cornerstone compendium on career selection, “Who is Running Your Career: Creating Stable Work in Unstable Times” (Bard Press, 1997). Through MasteryWorks, Inc., she oversees solutions that create the foundation for impact-filled “career conversations” - centered on increased contribution, performance, and fit. Her strategic approach consistently delivers on employee engagement and retention goals for her clients. Contact Tom Karl, Executive Vice President for more information - or (703) 256-5712.

MasteryWorks, Inc.
2230 George C Marshall Drive, Suite 122 Falls Church, Virginia 22043 USA 800-229-5712