I had a very enjoyable catch up with a friend a few days ago which started me thinking about the topic of networking. We had caught up to exchange updates about our respective lives and to debrief about a recent connection that I had facilitated for her. The lunch was lovely, conversation interesting and potential contacts discussed. Did this make it a social catch-up or a networking meeting?
In the not too distant past, I was taught a formula for networking by a career management firm. It was supposed to be a “sure thing” and if kept up persistently, would result in an explosion of contacts and new opportunities.
I persisted for a year, hanging on to the promise, but it left me cold. I was definitely not one of their success stories!
When I kept to the formula, I was overcome with dread. The process was reminiscent of cold calling. As a former CEO, I had been on the receiving end of many cold calls and remembered the annoyance, the irritation, the smell of desperation. To be fair, the formula was not quite as terrible as pure cold calling and if done with some flair, could be passed off as professional and as claimed, probably worked for a lot of people.
At the time, all I was aware of was the sinking feeling and of being completely drained even when I had meetings that went well. These emotions and reactions were warning lights saying “Stop what you are doing and listen to what your body is telling you”. Mine was telling me this – “You are not being authentic”.
I was desperate for real connections not superficial ones, not the 10 meetings per week that I was supposed to target with the 2 contacts I was supposed to get from each meeting. I was supposed to research each contact so that I could ask intelligent questions. All good advice really, but for me it amounted to “feigning” interest, so I felt like a fake.
I finally made the decision to go my own way, to network the way I was comfortable; to let conversations happen naturally instead of following a script and an agenda; to connect with people when I really wanted to instead of to a schedule and most importantly, listening to my instincts. I was taking a risk since I was going against professional advice and the “threat” of not being successful hung over my head.
Since then, I’ve made some interesting new connections both in person and online. They have all been based on genuine interest in the person, deeper contact because it hasn’t just been about business and always foremost on my mind, “what can I do to help this person?” Only now, more than a year later, has my networking started to bear fruit. I am getting new contacts albeit at a slower rate than with the formula and I am getting referrals. I’m happy, because I’m authentic.
Recommended reading on authenticity:
- Networking for introverts (coachmi.com.au)