Updated: Nov 8, 2019
Networking is Magic
Please don’t tell my daughter I said this, but it turns out My Little Pony was right. Friendship really is magic. And networking, at base, is just a term grown-ups like to substitute for friendship because it sounds more professional than “making friends.”
When I say “networking,” most people think about going to specific networking events to make small-talk with people in their industry and hand out business cards, or connecting with people on sites like LinkedIn, Alignable, etc. But the fundamentals of networking go much deeper.
Networking is, at base, finding like-minded folks and forging connections with them. The common element could indeed be a career, industry, product, or passion. But it could also be any number of other things including proximity, common connections, common interests, kids the same age, or simply a solid personality fit.
Every time you make a connection–online, at work, in your neighborhood, at your gym, through school… anywhere–you are building out your network. Note I didn’t say “professional network” because the truth is, your professional network and your personal network are one and the same.
I’ll give you an example.
I spent five years working as an Executive Assistant, and during that time I amassed an incredible network of smart, talented, hardworking humans who also happened to be working as support professionals. When I transitioned into a new career as a content creator, do you think I dismissed those connections as no longer professionally relevant? Hell no. I reached out to them for support, advice, and resources just like always. Because a solid connection is a solid connection. Period.
When I needed an editor for my book, I didn’t just reach out to the writers I know, I reached out to my entire network, only to discover that several people I had met through entirely different channels were now professional editors!
Networking isn’t so much an activity as it is a mindset, an openness to conscious connection that you can put into practice across all areas of your life.
When we connect with other like-minded people, and align toward a common purpose, there is no limit to what can be achieved. Every movement, every paradigm shift throughout human history has been the result of simple agreement and alignment among individuals, moving into groups, and so on. And that always begins with one person opening up and showing another person their truth, in the form of an idea, a belief, a passion, etc.
It is a courageous act of vulnerability to put oneself out there in the line of fire, risking social backlash, criticism, ostracization, and even threats or actual attack. But when we make a true connection, the results can be life-changing.
Networking is Science
Networking isn’t just magic. It’s science. In her article “The Surprising Science Behind Friendship,” Danielle Groen explains the health benefits of connecting with kindred spirits:
“In the past 25 years, numerous scientific studies and reviews have shown us what, exactly, friends are for: they slash our risk of mortality in half, double our chances of recovering from depression, make us 4.2 times less likely to succumb to the common cold. They’re even, according to England’s University of Oxford psychologist Robin Dunbar, responsible for our massive brains-we need that neural power to keep track of our various complex relationships. (Dunbar found that the biggest predictor of a primate’s brain size is the magnitude of its social group.)”
In fact, the complex circuitry of our remarkable brains mirrors the complex network of humans in community: a massive, interwoven web of individuals firing off communications to one another so that the whole can function and take directed action. The larger and more functional the network, the more you can accomplish as an organism.
Humans are not intended to work alone. We work best as a hive, a tribe, a thriving network. Most of us understand this intuitively, and that’s why we spend so much of our collective energy on connecting and maintaining relationships with other humans.
Networking is an art
Like all sciences, there is an art to the practice of networking. I’m sure you’ve met one of these networking artists: Social butterflies who make friends everywhere they go, and are constantly introducing people to other people, exponentially expanding all the networks they come into contact with.
But if you’re not one of those people by nature, don’t panic! You can still be great at networking, you just need to create some new habits that will keep you open to the myriad networking opportunities happening all around you, all day every day.
Take notice when new people enter your sphere. At the grocery store, at a bus stop, online… anywhere you happen to be, pay attention to who else is around. Take special note of anyone who seems to have something in common with you. Maybe they’re expressing an opinion you agree with. Maybe they have kids your age. Maybe you like the way they dress. Maybe they are reading a book that sounds intriguing to you. Maybe they like the same kind of salad dressing as you. Just take note that there’s a possible connection point there.
It’s important that you send out a vibe of openness, of being interested in engaging with strangers. It’s equally important that you have strong boundaries to keep you safe and put others at ease. But even more important than either of these things is to be unapologetically yourself, always.
You can’t attract like-minds without putting yourself out there and showing your true colors, courageously embracing the vulnerability of being who you really are in public. I put a lot of focus on integrity and authenticity: making sure that everything I say and do is a reflection of my truth.
This is not always an easy thing to do. Social pressure is strong to conform to the mainstream point of view and not to rock the proverbial boat. There can be very real and dangerous consequences for stepping out of line and going against the grain.
But failing to speak your truth also has very real and dangerous consequences for your self-respect, as well as your ability to find your true tribe.
Simply living life out loud as the person you were meant to be is the best way to ensure that the right people will eventually come into your sphere. And if you’re practicing awareness, you’ll notice right away when they do!
Once you’ve located a potential kindred, reach out and acknowledge a specific point of perceived connection. Let them know you agree with their opinion. Tell them you have that same sweater at home. It doesn’t really matter what you say, as long as you are offering them validation and creating an opening for them to connect with you.
That said, I strongly recommend you avoid anything that could be construed as a pick-up line, particularly if you are male-presenting. This includes any compliment of or commentary on their physical attributes. In addition to reading as creepy, those sorts of compliments are very superficial and don’t speak to who this person really is. After all, we have no control over our genetics, so it doesn’t feel very validating to be judged by those characteristics, even in a positive light.
Instead, focus on their actions. What have the chosen to wear or carry? What are they saying or doing? These are the things on which you should focus your validation.
The reach-out is the scariest part of networking, to be sure. You do risk rejection anytime you reach out to a stranger with an offer of connection. That’s why networking events exist, to reduce some of that perceived risk.
But if you are offering something pleasant, i.e. validation, and you do it casually and without attachment to the outcome, the vast majority of the time it will be accepted in the spirit it was offered.
Really pay attention to anything they offer up. Give it focus, and respond authentically. Ask a lot of questions, and really learn from the answers. Be interested as well as interesting.
Bottom line: aim to forge a real connection, not just collect contact information. Again, try not to get too attached to the outcome here. Getting to know someone and learning a bit of their unique story is an end in itself.
Offer them a way to contact you in future, and ask for their info in return. Then use it!
Cultivate the connection, and if it thrives, wonderful. If not, let it go. Another connection will come, I promise. Go for quality over quantity, and the network will multiply without your having to lift a finger, as the right people will bring more and more of those kinds of people into your life by proxy.
Which brings me to the last, but possibly most important habit…
5. Pruning the Garden
You are not for everyone, and not everyone is for you. Networking isn’t about amassing a collection of acquaintances with whom you have little or nothing in common. It’s about creating a community of like-minded individuals aligned toward a common purpose. When you have that, there is nothing you cannot accomplish.
Now, not everyone in your network needs to be your best friend, of course. There are many degrees of connection, and everyone brings something different to the table. That’s the beauty of a network. But everyone in your network should be enthusiastically on your team, and it’s your job to prune out those who are not.
Pruning is of course a very personal pursuit, based largely on your intuition about whether or not this person is bringing the right energy into your life. But here are some behaviors that are definitely grounds for dismissal from your network:
Badmouthing you, your business, or your product
Naysaying or discouraging you from following your dreams
Questioning you or asking you to justify or explain yourself publicly
Taking more than they give
Jumping to negative conclusions about you or your opinions without asking questions
Trolling, mocking, or provoking flame wars
Generally being unkind or disrespectful
Just as the right people will bring in more of the right energy, the wrong people will do the same, and you may find yourself surrounded by jerks.
If, on the other hand, you continually weed out those who don’t belong, you’ll leave plenty of room for your beautiful hand-picked flowers to flourish. And with a network full of enthusiastic supporters, how can you help but succeed?