I love meeting new people, but I don’t like “networking.”
When I ask people, “Do you like networking?”, most people moan, sigh or look disgusted.
If you want to design your lifestyle around more meaningful work so you can work on your terms, meeting new people is not only unavoidable, it’s absolutely necessary. Building community is one of the 10 most important Life Skills That Matter.
If you want to make a big change in your life, hanging with like-minded people will dramatically improve your odds of success.
I believe this is the case because when you see possibility in others you regard as equals, you begin to see the possibility in yourself and become motivated to achieve it.
So if neither of us likes networking, how on earth do we build our communities? Simple.
Stop networking, make friends instead.
The Networking Mindset
The goal of networking is to view people as “transactions”. You want something from them. A job, a sale, a favor or money.
I don’t know about you, but the primary reason I don’t like networking is because I don’t get to be myself. I’m being someone I think other people want to see.
I want to make the transaction happen as fast as I can before they discover who I really am. The connection is self-interested, not genuine.
I also feel like I’m networking because I’m “supposed to.” It’s not something I want to do.
It’s been drilled into my head my entire life to “put myself out there” and “make connections if you want to be successful.” I know it’s well-intentioned advice, but putting it into practice has made me feel like a desperate used car salesman.
Here are a few other reasons I think we don’t like networking:
- We feel like we are always asking for something and use our dignity as the bargaining chip.
- We don’t know what we really want, so we don’t know who we want to meet.
- We are afraid of rejection.
- We believe networking is all about meeting as many people as possible, so we chronically feel guilty about not attaining our imaginary quota.
The Friend Mindset
The goal of making friends is to feel a “connection” with someone. You have mutual interests to share.
The best part of making friends is you get to be yourself (or at least I hope you feel that way!).
You aren’t “making” a connection, you are “feeling” a connection. There’s a big difference. When you meet someone, you aren’t looking for anything more from them except to spend time with them. There is no agenda.
The foundation of friendship is trust, not a “transaction” like in networking.
When you meet someone you might consider to be a friend, you genuinely listen to what they have to say and you are fully present in the conversation.
You aren’t plotting away about how to guide the conversation toward a sale or even feel pressure to end the interaction to hunt down your next new “contact.” You are enjoying the connection. It’s not grudge work.
Imagine how differently you might treat someone in a professional setting using the “friend mindset” versus the “networking mindset.” Give it a try!
The Community Mindset
The goal of building a community is to feel both “connected” and collaborative with a group of like-minded people. You support each other to help each other succeed.
I like to think of the “community mindset” as a blend of the best aspects of making friends and making connections. I have loads of friends I adore, but I could never imagine working with some of them.
Unlike networking, I’m not looking to “get something” from the people I want to work with in my community. However, I do want to align my professional interests with them. It’s also important for me to feel a connection with them, similar to making a friend.
When I’m building my “professional” community, I’m seeking mutually beneficial relationships, so we can help each other grow over the long term.
Most important of all, the community mindset enables me to be comfortable in my own skin by building relationships on my terms.
6 Ways To Build Community
1) Be yourself.
I know it’s cliché, but so few people actually do it! When you are yourself you align yourself with people who will want to help you succeed for who you are and will support the work you’ve always wanted to do.
2) Be interested, not just interesting.
As you meet people, don’t make it all about you. Make it about them. Ask them questions. If you aren’t genuinely interested in them, move along.
3) Feel connected, don’t make connections.
When you are building community the quality of your relationships trumps quantity. A core of deep relationships in your community will serve as advocates for you. They will vastly amplify your message by talking about you in their own community and beyond.
4) Give to receive.
When I was a sales trainer, this was one of my core pieces of “networking” advice. Stand out from the crowd and make yourself memorable by offering your help and support. Demonstrate your interest in, don’t just talk about it.
5) Put yourself in positions to engage.
For those of you who might be more introverted and uncomfortable with starting up conversations, place yourself in the “path of conversation.” What do I mean by that? Physically put yourself in positions where you will have to talk to people. Here are a few ideas:
- Volunteer at professional events aligned with your goals.
- Seek out leadership positions within groups or associations for your profession.
- If you are having dinner with a large group, sit in the middle of the table, not at the end, so you have more opportunities to talk to people. (Hanging near the bar at a networking event is also a great place to naturally fall into conversations.)
- Create content online like a blog, podcast, tweets or video on YouTube to showcase your expertise, so people interested in your subject will contact you with follow-up questions.
6) Ask for help.
Show you genuinely share your new connection’s interest by asking them for help with something you want to learn or a problem you are having trouble solving. Ask them for suggestions about books, blogs, podcasts, conferences to attend or tools of the trade.
Just Be Curious
My goal for you is to “network” without thinking you are even “networking.”
Let your curiosities make introductions for you. Your litmus test for reaching out to someone is not whether or not you’re going to get something out of them, but rather your genuine interest in them or their work.
It’s possible when you view new people you meet less as “connections” to make and more as “friends” to be made.
Here’s a quick challenge for you: meet one new person in the next week online or in the real world that genuinely interests you.
Stop networking, make friends instead.