Meeting people and working at networking is not something I find to be a natural activity. I am very uncomfortable in a room full of people I don’t know. In particular, I dread going to “networking” functions.
Recently, I was asked to recall situations in which networking had proven to be successful for me, and as I wrote down the list, it struck me that the situations that caused great business relationships had nothing to do with active networking. Instead, they were relationships that were created because it was the right time and place and I was already being myself. Granted, I do enjoy the process of understanding the six degrees of separation with others and that certainly helps with networking, even if I’m not actually actively networking when I am learning about other people.
Here is an example of a situation in which networking occurred naturally. Back in the 1990s, I was going through a tough time because my father was in stage 4 cancer, and I was travelling back and forth to Chicago frequently to see him. On one particular return trip, I was convinced that I had just seen my father for the last time, and obviously I was upset. The man next to me noticed that I had been crying and gave me a tissue. This started a conversation that lasted the entire trip to Toronto. As it turned out, he was travelling to Toronto frequently to start up a business, and the travel was causing him some challenges at home. Leaving the house that day was upsetting for him because he had to miss one of his kid’s school concerts. Shortly thereafter, I started helping him with his HR strategy and the staff size doubled over about a year. Although this dotcom business failed in the early 2000s, I still connect with him from time-to-time and would consider him a friend for life. Now had I been in a different frame of mind on that trip, we likely would not have ever spoken, and this relationship never would’ve been forged.
Trust is a word that is not emphasized enough in the world of networking. In order for someone to recommend, refer, or hire you, they have to trust you. And, there has to be something in it for them, and that could be something as simple as a new resource or someone who shares a mutual interest. When there’s no direct business relationship to form an opinion on about you, the person has to come to know you as a real person. There has to be commonality. They might come to know you by seeing you with your kids at the hockey rink, or in a social gathering, or in a yoga class, or at a volunteer event, or even while dog walking (great way to meet neighbours). In truth, I once was able to pick up a project through a series of conversations struck up at the leash free park. The commonality was dogs first and eventually business, and I didn’t strike up the initial conversation with any intent on developing business. Actually, I didn’t do the work for this person, rather they referred me to someone who was looking for someone like me.
That’s the side of networking I think people fail to see. So often the person you meet is not the person who will hire you; they are the person who will be asked if they know someone. From a networking perspective, the unfortunate side to this is that it means in your lifetime you have to meet many many people. The upside is that if you take care in your desire to meet people, your life will be enriched by meeting and coming to know many people.
Want to get ahead? Keep it real.