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How to tap into allies in your PR job: Unilever International's Amrita Sarna

Building allies plays an integral role in our progress and development in an organization. Sometimes finding the right ones can be as hard as getting that elusive, perfect coffee we crave - strong, calming, and reaffirming.

Early on in my career, I got the opportunity to witness first-hand how simple work equations turned into long-endearing relationships that stood the test of a testing workplace! From resolving an internal conflict to guiding on a big-scale campaign, allies can plug and play different roles in our career journey.

Identifying the allies

Research shows allies are key in creating a culture of belonging, a sense of oneness with the organization. Simply put, your ally is your guiding light, a confidant, and a mentor who can instil confidence and help you build professional equity in the long run.

So, who is an ally? A senior team member with invaluable experience, a co-worker who is a sound board for your ideas, or even a journalist who can help you shape your pitch more effectively. Surprisingly, some of the allies I made were from the media fraternity, offering dollops of good personal and professional advice. That taught me in the unlikeliest of places, you will find your strongest support.

Some alliances form naturally: you bond because you share an interest, goal or concern. Communicators have often found their best alliances amidst an organizational crisis, where you pool resources, leverage your strengths, and deliver together as a team. This is also an opportunity to build stronger credibility with your ally group – who in this scenario are stakeholders from different roles/ functions. The role of an advisor in a crisis encourages the leadership team, your peers, or external partners to look beyond your title, and see you as a trusted ally and confidant – one who can weather storms and have their back always!

Leaning in and strengthening ties

Sometimes your allies can also be your harshest critics! We always expect allies to nod a yes to us and remain steadfast in their support, that even the slightest rejection instantly elicits a negative thought.

I remember often reaching out, looking for validation on how I tackled a senior at work or gave a better idea at a client meeting expecting a pat on the back. Instead, I would be met with a disproving nod, or a long lecture hectored to me. This was indeed a valuable lesson and importantly developing a new perspective. A perspective that helped me grow and add value in each critical juncture of my career by becoming more adept, accommodating of change, and understanding of work environment nuances.

An equally integral lesson in alliances is the ‘art of listening’. Most of us love to offer an opinion but don’t like taking one. Being an effective ally means becoming an active listener. Instead of immediately jumping in with the perfect solution to a problem, take the time to listen and empower one to find the best solutions on their own. This also means acknowledging your shortcomings and being open to learning. For example, if you are trying to support a fresher at work, it’s important to think from their shoes and understand their challenges and concerns. Or if trying to win over a tough manager –adapt their style of work, learn to ‘view from their lens’.

But all work and no play can make your allies dull. This relationship like all others needs to be nurtured and built on care and empathy, one where you are with each other through thick and thin. As Winston Churchill puts it, “There is at least one thing worse than fighting with allies – and that is to fight without them.”

Amrita Sarna is communications lead, Unilever International

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