When I asked my friends for their views on professional networking, Rachel summed up my whole philosophy in a nutshell:
“Don’t think of it as networking . . . think of it as finding friends and having interesting conversations.”
ABSOLUTELY. Many people are inherently interesting, especially when you get them talking about their own areas of focus, whether that means gluten-free cooking, coaching Little League, or enterprise sales. If you have so much as a slight interest in any of these things — or, even better, more than one of them — then you automatically have something to talk about.
Getting away from the Consumption Model of Networking
Bear with me for a moment as I put on my Cultural Critic hat. (Read: “Here comes a wee rant.”) We live in a society that promotes consumerism everywhere you look. We’re all encouraged by endless advertising, marketing, and unconscious peer pressure to connect with the brands and products and mass media that we consume.
If you do networking the smarmy way, it’s more of the same narcissism: How can I get what I want? Back-slapping, mercenary networking is in some ways about consuming the assets of others (their business contacts, the jobs they can give us, their money) for our own aggrandizement.
Contrast this to the kind of networking that Rachel talked about. In my view, that model includes things like:
- Making real human connections with interesting people.
- Being open to new ideas.
- Celebrating others’ achievements.
- Offering to help.
That’s a much, much better way to be, right?
Living Your Life as a Salon
If you’re willing to make it so, networking can turn your life into a sort of literary or artistic salon. In this context, networking is about finding and exploring the most compelling ideas and passions of interesting people.
Yes of course it’s to mutual benefit — just like all the members of a literary salon can walk away smiling from an evening spent together, enjoying the stimulation that comes with laughter, camaraderie, and new ideas. That’s what you’re going for.
Even better, the capabilities of today’s social media mean that you can do this at your own pace, and you can do it from anywhere.
- Waiting at the mechanic’s shop for your car to be ready? You can read an intriguing article and share it with your friends.
- Stuck in a backwoods location where no one shares your interests? You can find your birds of a feather online.
- Stuck in a stodgy company that isn’t open to new ideas? You can learn and share with some of the most innovative practitioners in your field through blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.
Social media is particularly a boon to introverts. I’ve met some of the brightest, funniest, most engaging people online — only to have them tell me later that they’re extremely shy in face-to-face settings. Twitter and Tumblr and other outlets give them the chance to take that extra moment or two so that they can collect their thoughts and share them in a format that they can control. This means that anyone can participate in a salon-style life — without needing to be a wit like Oscar Wilde or a raconteur like Christopher Hitchens.
Good networking means connecting with interesting people, finding out more about them, helping them out, and maybe collaborating with them.
What do you think about this approach to networking?