Networking is a human exercise
What is networking? I used to imagine this torturous idea of entering a room full of strangers and negotiating my value. “I will be a rockstar in your firm if I get the internship, look at my GPA!” This is a very narrow definition of networking. Networking has a larger scope and plays a major role in our everyday lives. I argue that networking is a human exercise, not a capitalist one.
Let’s start by redefining networking and renewing our understanding of personal connections. Networking has strong professional connotations because careers are a popular shared interest. But you can also form networks based on shared interests with classmates and neighbors. Everyone else you know (e.g. a friend of a cousin, mom’s uncle’s friend’s son) likely came through networking. You can build very strong emotional ties with people in your network. Viewed this way, networking is not a capitalist activity. Networking is the art of forming personal connections.
Let’s go back to the scenario. You’ve entered the room for a networking event. What should you do? When you were at a wedding last weekend and Nkechi’s mom introduced you to her brother, what were you doing? Or when you said hi to the new associate and kicked a short conversation, what were you doing? The key point is that networking should be the same as making friends. It needs to be natural. If you’re uncomfortable in a certain setting, you don’t need to stay. In reality, people make friends in many different ways. You can build a valuable network while remaining true to your personality.
Never eat alone taught me that humans are social animals and thrive in tribes/ networks. Our ability to grow and share value in healthy relationships affects our lives. Funny enough, a friend recommended the book when I was starting a networking organization. We invited friends and strangers to come for themed Saturday brunch. For the event, we rented space, got furniture, unlimited mimosas, and food. The focus was on creating a warm environment where everyone felt comfortable. Although it was a networking event, everyone loved it and met a new friend. Check out pics.
On top of building a network, each relationship must be genuine and will sometimes take time to build. Each journey will take its unique turns. It’s important to approach each person without expecting anything in return. We need to invest time to understand, build rapport with, and develop an enjoyable relationship with each person. Without genuine effort, the person will notice. We’re all very good at detecting emotions in others. So when you’re at lunch with someone and pondering about something else, they can feel it. You build trust by giving 100% focus to another person. No fidgeting with hands. No cell phone. No looking around. 100% focus on them.
When it comes to relationships, the personal and professional can co-exist. Some of my best friends have similar professional interests and we discuss everything, from their romantic partners to their careers. We ask each other always “How can I help?” — We help with anything from referrals, editing articles, and making tough decisions. We lead with trust and love. Some of my other professional friendships have more boundaries but the key ingredient is a genuine level of care. That care is what we need to form the networks that can enrich our lives.