An essential part of business life is networking no matter what you call it. You have to be a hermit in a cave not to appreciate that connecting with people is a positive step for both personal development and expanding your network. What matters for me is the quality of the experience and the purpose for connecting.
In and out, but mostly in
I tend to be a seasonal networker. Yes seasonal, not serial, though I could be seen as that as well. At the start of a new year I get all excited and sign up for every event that comes my way. Why? Perhaps the absence of business connection in the holiday season creates a gap to be filled. So off I go like a horse out of the gates ready to meet new people, learn new things and connect.
Yet for me this whole idea and attitude is fraught with challenges. You see I must confess to those of you who do not know me well that I tend to feel more comfortable on the introverted side of the preference spectrum. For those who do know me then you have already probably said that I hide this well!
A curious yet personal style
I am not a networking specialist. I know people who are. I also have sat in my fair share of events/courses/workshops where the discussion or topic of ‘how to network’ came up. What I have observed is that there are as many ways as there are personalities of people. What I mean by this is that we promote or prefer to network in a style that suits us. For one person it might be to gather as many business cards and share just as many. For another it might be to walk away with one or two meaningful connections.
So it often surprises me when people come to me for networking advice or give me feedback that I am a good networker. In my mind I simply enjoy connecting with interesting people and staying in touch with those that spark my curiosity further. I find that I can always learn something from others even if we don’t share the same views.
Immersing myself in a networking experience, however it may appear, is an opportunity to also look in the mirror. I notice what others trigger in me and how I respond. I notice what interests me and does not’t. Most of all I notice the unexpected.
Irrespective of your preference for interrelating with others, the key for all of us is to approach networking with an intention and personal approach that sits authentically with who you are as a person. What may differentiate us then is how we set the intention and how we execute our approach. What I want to share with you is not necessarily the right and only approach but what works and resonates for me in the spirit of sharing some ideas for your consideration.
To me it is always most important to be clear about your intention. You probably have been told to have this set in terms of goals. In fact I remember teaching training courses way back in time on meeting skills. One of the key learning points was to have a goal for your meeting. Back then this made sense to me. And yes I can see it still being relevant for tracking progress and gaining a sense of achievement in your life.
But now I have an evolved approach. I prefer to focus on intention over a goal as I see intention is a way that I hold myself and be present in a situation whereas a goal drives me to an end result. Once achieved then what? My intention generally in networking is to open up a relationship and explore a new connection. I go to a networking function with the intention that I meet and learn something new about a person and about myself through the interaction. I also have the intention that relationships that intuitively feel right to explore further will naturally kick off with a desire to meet again or stay in touch. For me, my intention is not to collect business cards or count numbers of people I can add to Linked In.
Same people or new perspective?
Some might say that the intention of networking events is to meet new people. The question for me is how do you define a new person? A complete stranger? A friend or acquaintance of someone you already know? or other? What I have noticed is that because I do attend a few events I see the same people popping up at each event. So by default the faces look familiar.
This is a good thing for further developing connection with people. There are also people I know of but do not know in person. I see them through my online social networks, hear about them from others, read their articles, check out their websites and subscribe to their newsletters. But the face to face acquaintance still eludes. A fact of our modern world I suppose.
Let go of the filter
What is interesting about this phenomenon is that when we know of a person from afar or indirectly we form an impression about a person before we actually meet them. For me this can be helpful or a hindrance. Why? Because like you I am human and at times let judgment slip in and filter my impression. I may form an opinion based on an exchange on Twitter or LinkedIn or perhaps an observed sales tactic. I am also prone to put people on pedestals and see them as almost unreachable or not in my league of contact.
Both perspectives are to be honest simply ridiculous. If I were coaching myself I would quickly be drilling down to the truth of these two beliefs and illuminate the fact that what I am perceiving is not necessarily the truth. What I do then have that kicks in is a super intuitive sense when in an actual conversation. What I notice is that as soon as I meet a person I immediately see past the impressions, persona, emotions, moods, images and connect with the real person. Even the person in the conversation probably does not see that I am doing this. I just wish I was a bit better at doing this from afar as well. I guess there is always something for the personal development path.
Consciously aware, not self conscious
So to delve into this scenario further, I have taken stock of what works and does not work for me when connecting with new or at least people that are new to me face to face. For me it is about maintaining a vigilant commitment to remaining self aware and conscious at all times that I am engaging with others. I need to be mindful of my attitude, how I feel and how I am choosing to interact, or even not interact.
Why? Well for me and perhaps you, we are not always on fire emotionally, physically, mentally or even spiritually when attending events or engaging in networking social situations. It might be a bad day for us personally and we have had to muster up every ounce of courage to be present. Or maybe we got a bad night’s sleep, got up on the metaphorical wrong side of the bed and really wish to crawl back in and start over again. Maybe we are in the midst of a life crisis, personal major transition point like a change in our family situation, that does not warrant disclosure or idle chit chat. Whatever the case we show up in social networking engagements with a lot more than the ‘impression’ we are creating with people we meet.
So it is in this context that I now say it is important to remain highly conscious. Not just for our own sake but also for the sake of others. By being conscious we can make the effort to be present for others whilst at the same time handling the internal experience.
One of my very few ‘rules’ I learned many years ago in my early career as a trainer is to not show the audience what is going on behind the scenes. I suppose that this is an approach borrowed from the theatre. In the same vain as ‘the show must go on’ it is important to remember that you are there for the audience to learn not prop you up. I have over the years lightened up on this expectation in my pursuit of authenticity. What I have now realised is that it is ok to disclose how you are feeling and what is happening where appropriate but not let this lead you down the path of victim. Instead it simply lets people know you are human and clarifies context.
For example I had a coaching session one day where my back was out. As the client has been working with me for two years now it was easy for me to say up front that I had an injury and that it might seem strange sitting with me as I barely moved and held my back upright like a stiff board. The disclosure simply excused my unusual behaviour and let us move on into the conversation. Whilst I at times was aware of my physical challenge I never let it get in the way of tuning into the coaching conversation. At the end we both laughed as I slowly got up out of the chair.
An opportunity to be
What I have discovered in authentic networking is that it is a process of learning to be me. It is helpful that I really do love meeting new people. What I don’t enjoy are the less than sincere inauthentic responses. When I fall into this trap I now acknowledge that this is where the person is in their relationship building process and leave it at that. I then refocus on why I am there - to open up relationships, connect with people and get to learn and know more than I did before I arrived.
Ultimately though the most important factor in ANY networking situation, whether explicitly set up for networking or not, is to stay true to yourself. For if the person does not meet YOU they will not be connecting with YOU. Furthermore, for any chance of a relationship to evolve on a sound and mutual foundation it is important that others have real context from which to explore and engage further. Let’s just say I am not a big fan of masks, faking it, pretending - though I do know how easy it is to fall behind these. I figure if you have a good BS detector you can see through that anyway. In the end being true to you and authentic in networking is a win win for all involved.
So the next time you attend a networking, or any other type of event where connecting with people occurs, see what happens with you. Notice the experience when you set an intention and have a personal approach that is authentic and real for you.
I also look forward to connecting with you and learning more about you.