This week’s equally dramatic sunset photograph posted on Facebook prompted a similar response from people all over the world.
Why do millions of us do this? What’s the point?
For me there are several impulses at play. One is the desire to participate in creating something of value or beauty or both. Then there’s the desire to share what we’ve experienced with others, a natural human instinct that adds further value. This hankering to connect is rewarded when others participate and respond. The element of surprise - the unexpected people (often unknown) whose lives we briefly touch and who touch ours in return - is an added bonus. I was very moved when the Ukrainian girl ‘liked’ my photo, given the tension she must be living under at present. I’m thrilled that she now ‘follows’ my photographs and I hers, allowing both of us to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the landscapes of each other’s lives. The real beauty of photography is that it transcends language and age barriers.
The reward that comes from this kind of twenty first century networking is an ever-expanding feedback loop that serves to challenge, encourage and inspire.
It’s a far cry from the traditional idea of networking where typically a group of look-alike people is gathered in a social setting to meet useful contacts and set up opportunities to further common interests in the future.
These networking events can take many forms and occur at any time of the day and night - corporate breakfasts, lunches and dinners, book clubs, mothers’ groups, men’s sheds, conferences, speed-dating, awards ceremonies, cocktail parties, school reunions and Christmas celebrations.
Any of these can be daunting scenarios to infiltrate for even the most extroverted among us. We humans tend to think everyone else is more interesting than we are, that ‘they’ all know each other, have tons of confidence (unlike us) and actually enjoy networking.
Let me assure you this is not the case. ‘They’ think the same about you!
Some people do thrive in such a setting but many distrust or simply hate this form of networking and invent all manner of excuses to avoid it. Wild horses cannot drag these people to a networking opportunity even if their careers or social lives depend on it.
While these occasions can be valuable opportunities to meet new people and enhance our lives or careers, it’s the attitude we take into them that makes the difference between success and failure.
I once met a woman at a party who chatted with me for a good half an hour. Then she said “Thanks for the great conversation. I came here with the intention of meeting the three most interesting people here and you’re the first”. She gave me a warm smile and wandered off. I’ve never seen her again, nor have I forgotten her words. Employing this approach myself, I discovered that intention is everything.
If you drag yourself along feeling fearful, anxious, resentful (“I have to go!”), telling yourself (and others) how much you hate this kind of thing, you are likely to waste your time clinging to people you already know or having a predictably miserable time.
Self-fulfilling prophecies work like that.
Next time such an opportunity presents itself, consider that you could see it not as ‘networking’ with all the negative connotations that might have for you, (stress, obligation or embarrassment) but as ‘connecting’ instead.
Connecting infers openness, generosity and authenticity. It allows a sharing of information and experiences and genuine interest in others to be reciprocated with all the returns that that implies.
Whatever your preferred label (networking or connecting) or method, try reminding yourself:
· I have something of value to offer as well as to gain
· I can add value simply by being open to others and sharing who I am and what I offer
· I will meet the most interesting people
· Everyone has a fascinating story to tell, so all I have to do is ask…
You might be very pleasantly surprised, find unexpected common ground, learn something useful and even have fun!
Incidentally, I’ve just registered in my first EdX free Harvard on-line course. So for the next 15 weeks I will be connecting with up to 100,000 other participants from all over the world in a giant cyber-classroom. I’m very excited to see how that little networking experience goes! Watch this space…
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