Who doesn’t like talking to strangers?
Once when I was on a plane headed to see my mom in Florida, I sat next to a handsome and friendly young man. We got to talking and I started thinking about how he and my oldest daughter should meet. The next thing you know, I had his cell number and I’d connected the two of them (with their permission).
Just so you don’t think I’m just a meddling mom, I’m also a person who asks strangers for directions and ends up finding out where they live, what they do for a living, and who their childhood best friends were.
Call it bold. Call it extroversion. I call it networking…
and I think it is one of life’s callings.
Allow me to get a little philosophical here about some core beliefs on the meaning and purpose of networking:
1. Networking is connection.
Connectedness is one of my top 5 CliftonStrengths. If you’re not familiar with CliftonStrengths, check them out. They provide a framework for knowing yourself and others that is based upon natural talents and strengths. Connectedness is a strength that involves the underlying belief that all things/people/events happen for a reason. There are no coincidences. A person with connectedness, like me, can’t help herself from seeing possible threads of connections between people. Networking is in my DNA. Even if you’re not a Connector, you may still appreciate networking more if you think of life as a grand web of meaningful connections that we can always be discovering and building. Take away the coincidences, and life looks more like a web of opportunities and possibilities.
2. Networking makes life more interesting and fun.
Even if you’re an introvert, you have to admit that doing the same things over and over with the same people can get a little boring. Meeting new people doesn’t have to mean forming deep relationships with everyone, or even giving up on your core group of people. It’s just a taste of the vast and diverse world. Organic networking – the kind that isn’t forced – is a delightful way to simply learn more by hearing different people’s stories and points of views. Think of it as trying a new spice on your favorite dish.
3. Networking is the nurturing of and openness to possibilities.
With each new connection comes a possible future path, be it personal, professional, spiritual, or other. Not to go all quantum theory on you, but think of all the possible paths our lives can take. While we don’t have full control of all the future ones, we can create possibility by being open to meeting new people. If I had not said yes to a mom’s kickball tournament (what WAS I thinking?), I never would’ve met JoDee Curtis, and this whole network for people professionals never would’ve been part of my story. If I had not asked the hotel security guard for a recommendation for a guide for a sunrise horseback ride to see the pyramids at Giza, I would never have had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do just that.
4. Mutuality is critical regarding networking.
While I may be an extroverted person who has Woo in my top 5 strengths, I try hard to be a good listener. I love to ask questions that allow people to talk about themselves in a comfortable way. I also happen to enjoy it when others do the same with me. I think most people find it easiest to talk about themselves, so being able to ask some good (but not too nosy) questions is a good networking skill. It does work best when those we meet are also inspired to ask a few questions in return. (As I have to remind my husband regularly, when I ask him what his spirit animal is, I want him to ask me back!)
5. Not networking can lead to isolation and a self-reliance that can be defeating.
If you don’t take time to cultivate connections – especially mutual ones – you can be left on your own to problem solve and pursue your goals. While this can be fulfilling if you’re successful, it can be limiting and disappointing when you come up short. I maintain that you may reach your goals on your own, but those goals are self-limiting when you don’t access a network of trusted partners. Just imagine how much grander your goals can be when you are able to tap the wisdom, experience, and energy of others.
6. It’s okay to connect and never reconnect.
Some relationships aren’t meant to evolve. You may never see or hear from a person except for that first interaction. And that’s okay. You may even forget most of what you learned (name, occupation, need at the moment, etc.), and that’s also okay. If the connection isn’t meant to linger or have any degree of permanence, you’ll know it. Let it go. But, if you’re genuine and not selfish in your reasons for connecting in the first place, don’t be surprised if somewhere down the road something about that person or interaction comes back into play for you. It may be in the form of knowledge or empathy or experience that you draw on in the future. That connection (albeit brief) now becomes part of your life story and approach to the world.
Introverts hold the keys to effective networking
As a natural networker, these things are no-brainers for me. I know that’s not the case for others who are more introverted or reserved. To you, I want you to know how much I want to get to know you even more than my fellow social butterflies. You have the good secrets, the interesting stories, and the thoughtful perspectives. Maybe we need to be the ones to start the network ball rolling, but don’t shut us down. We may have some good questions that give you the opportunity to share your story, and then just go ahead and ask us what our spirit animal is back!
Christine is the Vice President of Strategy and Operations for Powered by Purple Ink. Although she is not an HR professional, she is definitely a people person. She spent the first half of her career in education as a high school history teacher and then in curriculum development for television and web, and then went on to become a content marketer – mostly for SaaS companies. All along, she’s been a consummate connector – whether between people and content or between people and people.