There are two kinds of people we all “network” with. Those we know and those we don’t know.
The main business of networking is about involving the people you know in your endeavors. It is a two-way stream. The people you know appreciate being asked to be involved. If they choose to participate, they are honored to be able to be of service. They can choose not to participate, but they probably liked the fact that you thought of them (and if you wonder if this is true, think about what its like when people invite you to be part of their endeavors).
The secondary business of networking is discovering by chance, or purposefully, people that can contribute to your project. Your project may be as simple as wanting people to enjoy themselves. It may be as specific as wanting to set up an organization to provide shelter to the needy. When you start your project you really have no idea who can contribute. You may know who you would like to have on your team. The best people for the job may be people you don’t know, and somehow you need to discover who they are.
They may be strangers.
Lets talk about strangers
Ever notice how, when you go to an event and even an event that was set up as a networking event, people gravitate to people they know? There you are, all alone, you know no-one. So you wander over to a group of people and try to find some common ground opening for a conversation. The group may respond and include you, or they may exclude you. You feel like you are at the new school, in the playground, wondering how to get through the lunchbreak and start thinking that you might have spinach in your teeth or you mightn’t look cool enough. The past bounces up and hits you in the face – as though you are still a school kid and have the life skills of a school kid. Or the people don’t belong to your tribe. Or they are responding to their training to not take candy from a stranger.
Talking to strangers usually occurs as scary and inevitably our fear of talking to strangers stops us from striking up a conversation at the traffic lights, or in the train, or in the airplane.
Newsflash. We are not school kids any more. We have life skills. We are up to things. We are no longer living in tribal communities, where talking with strangers may lead to tribal warfare. We were taught not to take candy from strangers because we were kids and didn’t have the life skills to negotiate out of a bad situation. Yet we live life wary of talking with strangers. What harm can really come of it?
Let’s list a few possible scenario’s.
What could happen
They may hate the interruption of their thoughts and punch you in the face
They may not speak the same language so you end up looking weird
Medium (depending on whether you live in Europe or not)
You don’t get to have a conversation
You may discover you have shared interests
You may end up having a cup of coffee together
You may discover you have absolutely nothing in common
You don’t get coffee, but you may find the next person more interesting
You may discover the love of your life
Fantastic if it happens
You may discover a long lost relative
Unless you are my mother, Low
Can lead to great conversations
They may tell you about roads and paths you never knew existed*
Your curiosity is satisfied and you have new adventures waiting for you
You may have a few moments of fun and self expression
You feel great and the day can begin
They may steal your purse/food/coat
Inconvenient, you will probably have to spend money to replace it
You get answers to questions you always wanted to ask
High, especially if you are my dad
You never wonder what could have happened if you had dared to ask
* I was cycling one day around the rural roads near our home and decided to stop and ask everyone I came acoss (3 people in an hour) what they loved about their walk. Every single one of them showed me a path through the fields I didn’t already know about.
Our old village selves may have had reason to be wary of strangers, at one time it may have been pertinently dangerous to talk with strangers. Our DNA seems wired to that old fear. And what is the worst that could happen? You could look weird. Who cares – you will probably never see that person again. They may hit you. Agreed, that is unpleasant but unlikely. They may steal your purse. Again, unpleasant. The question is, is avoiding all that unpleasantness worth it? You are trading in the very small likelihood of something bad happening for the very real likelihood of something great happening. You are denying the other person the opportunity of fun, connection, and a feeling of being alive and part of something bigger than themselves. If you don’t like talking to strangers it may be a good time to re-wire your DNA. The old fears have no standing in the present – and they certainly have no standing in the things that you are up to at work, or in the family, or in your community. Put simply, fear of speaking with strangers keeps your project small.
Networking is not a talent, it is your innate ability to connect with others. With people you know and people you don’t know.
NETSHEILA is passionate about people developing this innate capacity to connect and include others in your endeavors. It is how we make our projects great. We do it in schools, we do it in research projects, we do it with companies and corporations.
Lin McDevitt-Pugh founded NETSHEILA with the intention of connecting people within organizations to the great people around them. A sure way to have accesss to more resources, and more fun, at no cost.