Everyone needs at least one important person in their professional lives that has nothing to do with your boss, your co-workers, or your employees. Whether you’re the person who runs meetings or the person who cleans up after them, we all as professional people need a sounding board to get us through our professional crises and challenges.
Swapping work horror stories over margaritas with friends may be a fun way to unwind and let loose all of that nasty stuff that you’ve been holding in all week, like how tired you are of hearing your co-worker swoon over her new boyfriend, or how poorly-dressed the new supervisor was last Thursday.
Having someone to act as a sounding board for you is a more meaningful experience than that. It’s useful to be able to gossip (and depending on your relationship with your sounding board there may be some sniping involved). But more importantly, your sounding board is someone you should be able to go to in times of real difficulty; someone who knows you well enough to understand how you operate and which professional goals mean the most to you. They can help provide an objective perspective on your own unique challenges at work while keeping your personal and professional well-being in mind.
This person may be a trusted friend, a former colleague, or an acquaintance met through work connections. Maybe it’s a friend of yours that has similar career goals, or a relative who may have experience in your particular field. Whatever your relationship is to your sounding board, they ultimately should be someone you trust and ultimately someone whose opinion you respect. Ideally, your sounding board should be drawn from your pool of acquaintances outside of your own workplace (if you have one). Work relationships run the risk of going south quickly if sensitive or potentially harmful information is shared. Open communication between you and your sounding board is key; it’s important that you choose a sounding board with whom you can be candid, and who can return your candor in a constructive way.
A mentor may be someone with whom you share a working relationship, or hope to someday; a sounding board is someone with whom you can maintain a somewhat professional distance. You never want your own personal feelings or opinions to get in the way of a potential client or partnership. A sounding board is someone who will understand that you are not the sum of what you do to make money and that your career is not necessarily based on the current job you have.
I’m lucky enough to have a couple of different sounding boards in my life- people who I can rant to, people who can give me guidance when I’m feeling stuck, even people who are willing to look at my work with a fresh pair of eyes when I’m feeling like my brain is made of mush.
Choose your sounding boards carefully and you can find yourself in one of the best relationships you’ve experienced in your working career. I know I have and as I continue to dream and grow (and mostly dream) my business, I hope to meet many more.
Do you have a sounding board in your life? Give them a shout-out below, or if you’ve got a special story to share, email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I may decide to include it in a future post (with you and your sounding board’s permission, of course).
I look at careers and working life a little differently than the rest- probably because I spend most of my life working and then reading books that are about working. To see where I get some of my inspiration, click here to read some of my business book reviews. If you’re looking for more ways to balance your professional life, I write a lot about doing business here.