Earlier this week, I had a conversation about networking with someone who professed to hate it.
Networking isn’t necessarily for everyone, I will admit. I’ve written articles before about how to get the most out of networking meetings (read the one I wrote for the Talented Ladies Club here), but the fact remains that some people would rather poke their own eyes out than go networking. I respect that.
Yet a couple of this woman’s points intrigued me and made me think not just about networking situations but about all sorts of social interactions, and I felt moved to address them here. Not with a motive to convert networking haters, more to present a different way of looking at things:
First off, she said that she hated interrupting people to introduce herself and that she got bored talking about what she did.
What if we dispensed with the idea of networking as a game to get more clients and opened up the possibility of making other kinds of connection? Although she didn’t use the word, there was a real sense of ‘should’ behind her message – that interrupting people and talking endlessly about your services is what you ‘should’ do at a networking meeting. What if she had dropped the implied ‘should’ and asked a question or admired someone’s business card instead? Might the outcome have been different? What if we treated all social interaction as a chance to learn more, whether that’s about the person we’re talking to’s favourite biscuit, some great business advice or to get a fresh perspective on a news story? When a connection has been made by really listening to someone, answering their question about what you do feels much less awkward and ‘salesy’, and more a part of a flowing conversation.
She went on to say that she never knew whether she had anything in common with anyone, other than being another local business, and she’d prefer to meet new people with a shared interest.
That person at the meeting whose business is something you have never needed and can never imagine needing? Her daughter goes to the same school as yours and they get on like a house on fire. She shares your passion for dancing. She also reads the local paper and, like you, was incensed by what she read last week about the new recycling scheme. She loves running and is looking for someone to accompany her on her long runs. In short, though she is passionate about her business, she is not just her business.
I am a keen member of my local WI. At our meetings, we have being women in common. We’re roughly from the same geographical area and share a similar demographic, but we have diverse hobbies, interests, businesses and opinions. Any social meetings or gatherings are a bit like a Venn diagram with the purpose of the meeting (business networking, singing, learning French…) being the intersection of the circles and the rest of the circles left to explore with a question here, a comment there, and a desire to know more. It’s just a matter of scratching the surface.
Yes, the aim of networking is to benefit your business, but it can enrich your personal life too, if you find the right group and you’re committed to being open. What if you went into the next meeting with an aim not just to spread the word about what you do, but to find connections, a support network and friendship? After all, you’re so much more than just your business – and so is everyone else in that room.
And I bet you’ll get a few more clients into the bargain 😉
I’d love to know your thoughts and experiences about networking – please leave a comment. And if you live in the South East of England, why not give the Mumpreneurs Networking Club a try? You don’t have to be a mum or even female to be a part of it.