Beyond Networking: Creating Supportive and Lasting Friendships

Making FriendsWhen was the last time you made an effort to brush up on your networking skills?

Well, if you’re in job search or trying to improve your ability to connect in business situations, your appetite for networking help may be related to the level of pressure you feel to get results. Fortunately, networking tips are not hard to find, and there are some excellent books that can help you. Of course, there are some great online resources too. In fact, my friend, Ora Shtull, posted a helpful video on using body language to enhance likeability. Great tips, and well worth checking out!

Yet, it’s what Ora said at the end of her video that really caught my attention. She said: “Let’s make sure our body language matches our words and intentions.” In a comment to her post, I noted that how we frame our intentions can be a big influence on how we experience meeting others. More often than not, openness and a genuine curiosity about people can go a long way toward reducing anxiety and building rapport. When we create an internal frame of receptivity, meeting others can become much more enjoyable. [Tweet this]

How Can I Help You?

Unfortunately, that’s not how most individuals approach it. Most are reluctant to meet new people. Until they have to. [Tweet this] In fact, based on what I’ve seen in my career consulting work, it’s often some need – often desperate – that gets people to reach out to forge new contacts. So, they brace themselves to venture out to networking events and other meetings to connect.

Some still work the room, leaving a trail of business cards in their wake. By now, however, most people realize that coming across as too needy or too aggressive can be a turn off. So, they seek to avoid appearing to be someone who is merely using people. To that end, most people follow the advice of networking advisors who suggest uncovering needs, and to lead with giving. In fact, recently, this idea has taken on such momentum that some see it as a paradigm shift from taking to giving.

While the intent is admirable, I don’t believe most people carry this out particularly well. Frankly, I become uncomfortable when someone I barely know follows up a meeting or an online interaction with an offer to help me. Call me cynical, but my first thought in these instances is, “What do you want?” That’s often followed with me thinking that if I need help, I’ll turn to my friends.

As I see it, networking has typically been about getting what you want. In the process, you may be willing to help others get what they want. In other words, it tends to be transactional. Friendship, however, allows for helping each other get what we each want – without the forced reciprocity. [Tweet this]

To be fair, Selena Soo, an advocate for leading with giving, takes a long-term view. That is, by being proactive in meeting people daily, and then nurturing these relationships, you’ll build good will and trust. Sounds to me like sowing the seeds of friendship!

Mere Exposure

Incorporating this longer-term approach into daily life makes sense. But how? Fortunately, not every situation is a networking event. Life presents us with many natural opportunities to meet others. And in situations were people are consistently exposed to each other, it’s often easier to connect.

Almost magically, through mere exposure, whether in person or online, the barriers come down and relationships get started. Familiarity, it seems breeds not contempt but likeability. [Tweet this] With consistent exposure we get opportunities to reduce our anxieties and break through barriers to establishing new relationships. Often, at a comfort level and pace that can work for us as well as the other person.

While the level of intimacy in these budding relationships may be low, consistency leads to what Shasta Nelson calls Contact Friends, that is, people with whom we are friendly when we see them in a shared context, say at a class or in an online group. Over time, consistency and growing intimacy allows these friendships to mature.

Cultivating Both Happiness and Success

In her book, The How of Happiness, among other practices, one happiness habit Sonja Lyubomirsky identifies is nurturing social relationships. More recently, Gary Vaynerchuk made this point in a compelling way that applies to both life in general and to business in particular:

“How we cultivate our relationships is often the greatest determinant of the type of life we get to live.  Business is no different.   [It] … happens in the small, personal interactions that allow us to prove to each other who we are and what we believe in, honest moments that promote good feelings and build trust and loyalty.  When given the choice, people will always spend their time around people they like. When it’s expedient and practical, they’d also rather do business …[with]… people they like.”

Friends enjoying the viewClearly, the level of success we attain in life most often depends on our ability to earn the positive regard of others, and to establish the kind of intimacy that leads to satisfying and sustainable relationships. Of course, while developing friendships seems like it should be natural, they don’t just happen. [Tweet this] They start with intentionality, but also take attention, interest, and sharing; and as trust grows, more transparency.

Take Small Steps

Certainly, there are some basics for relating to other people that work both in person and online. In fact, your mom probably taught you some of these. Yet, I think that fundamental to establishing relationships is draw out (or maybe nurture) your spirit of generosity and genuine interest.

When you take an interest in other people, they take notice. And more often than not, they take an interest in you. [Tweet this] But let’s face it; too much interest too soon is simply creepy. Rather, it’s important to do this in small steps. With care, you can make friends, even in a digital world.

Take that long view, and get started. Your life will be better for it!

Forget Networking Tips and Start To Think Different

Like-Minded People If you’re like a lot of people, you either don’t like to network, or know people who don’t like to network. Or, maybe it’s both. I’m thinking about this because I’ve just watched a video on networking tips. While the expert’s tips were actually good, her first point was this: “Regardless of experience or position, many people loathe networking.” Sorry, but my most immediate association upon hearing those words was to an old Lisa Barone post, It’s Not the Recession, You Just Suck.

Harsh. I know.

A Logic of Desperation

Frankly, there is a certain logic that sustains resistance to networking. After all, nearly everyone says they dread it. So, you can say you dread it too. With that out of the way, there isn’t a whole lot that anyone, including you, should expect.  And when you find that you have to network, you can always brush up with a couple of networking tips, attend events, and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, pressure to network typically leads to an approach that’s one sided, agenda driven – and often desperate. Although you may not want to believe it, most people you meet under these circumstances see that. So, you risk alienating them. Worse, when you don’t get the results you were hoping for, you whine about networking being loathsome. [Tweet this] It’s a vicious circle. Worse, it keeps you chained to beliefs that keep your expectations low.

Think Different

As I see it, one of the biggest obstacles to putting yourself out there to meet new people is the mindset that’s attached to it. And very often that mindset – your mindset – is fed by the prevailing beliefs around you. If you like, you can continue to subscribe to them.

Or not.

Consider, for a moment, what our world would be like if Steve Jobs had not dared to think different. How would the world of technology have developed? What options would you have for how and where you create and consume content? And to what extent would you be able to find and seize new and exciting opportunities for work and life?

So, ask yourself this: How do you limit yourself by subscribing to prevailing beliefs? [Tweet this]

Take some time to consider this. Look for examples not only in what you believe about meeting new people, but also about what it takes to have a rewarding career, and a rich and meaningful life.  Do this honestly, and I think what you’ll see is this: The only one holding you back is you. [Tweet this]

Change The Frame

As I see it, “networking” is not the best frame. Rather, the best frame is “like-minded.” That is, meeting and developing relationships with like-minded people. Those like-minded people can enter your life via business events, but also via any of a range of activities where people come together around shared interests. When you’re open to meeting like-minded people, you have the chance to meet people who matter to your long-term success and well-being.

According to Wikipedia, “Business networking is a socioeconomic business activity by which groups of like-minded businesspeople recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities.”

If we strike a couple of words from this, then a simple truth emerges: There are lots of situations where like-minded people come together to create or act upon opportunities. [Tweet this] Here are a few examples:

  •  Arts Committees allow like-minded people to come together to create or act upon opportunities to promote the arts.
  •  Not-for-Profit Boards bring together like-minded people to create or act upon service opportunities.
  •  Online learning sites, like those offered by Chris Brogan, enable like-minded people create and act upon opportunities for self-improvement.
  •  CrossFit classes enable like-minded people come together to create or act upon fitness opportunities.

Now, ask yourself: What are the natural opportunities you have for meeting and getting to know others? [Tweet this] And in answering that, consider both in-person and online opportunities.

Take advantage of opportunities to get together with people who care about the same things you do, and before you know it, you’re part of a community. And being part of community brings opportunities for mutual support and mutual recognition.

Think about it.

As you do, consider the story of a guy who took last place in an athletic competition. Horribly overweight and out of shape, Greg was skeptical about trying CrossFit. He was concerned about his ability and what other people would think. And he didn’t want to be made fun of.

But he tried and stuck with it. In fact, he even rose to the challenge to compete in the CrossFit Open. Yes, he set low expectations for his performance, but he surpassed them. Yet, what really surprised him is the acceptance and encouragement he received. Here’s what he said:

“…I learned what community means. It is more than a collection of people… It is coaches and athletes. It is friends. It is people that care about your success. It is people that cheer where you are going more than where you are at today….”

So, who are you ready to cheer on, and who’s cheering for you? [Tweet this]

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What are your perspectives on meeting people? What beliefs hold you back? How do you need to change your thinking?  What are some of the shared interests or activities that bring you together with like-minded people? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.

Why Making Friends Matters To Your Success

Make FriendsAh, networking and relationships! How well they fit together into a larger framework of success. And while it’s easy to complain about having to network, most of us want success. So, we work at becoming better networkers. I get it.

Still, I often feel an obsession with becoming better networkers can blind us to what it takes to build longer and stronger relationships. That is, the kinds of relationships that enrich our lives – even when a there’s no business or career advantage. Okay. Yes. I’m talking about friendship.

What Networking Often Lacks

If you’re like me, and a lot of other people, you know that having the right connections is critical to success. You also know that those relationships often come your way via networking. At a most pragmatic level, you realize that growing and tapping into networks opens doors. You may also be starting to see that the broader your network, coupled with your ability to navigate it, the more valuable you become.

Of course, while giving a passing acknowledgement that “relationships matter,” many people keep their eye on the prize. That is, they pursue specific new opportunities, such as qualified prospects and sales or job leads. In short, networking often becomes transactional.

This networking approach too often leads to shallow connections. What’s more, it’s typically transparent and off-putting. Nor is it a sustainable approach to achieving continued success. After all, there’s little long-term benefit in linking with people with whom you have only passing acquaintance. Most often, the people who think of you, when they see a relevant opportunity, know you well, and like and trust you. [Tweet this] Those kinds of relationships take time to build.

 Genuine Sharing, Genuine Caring

Perhaps one of the biggest drivers of the transactional mindset has been the common advice that networking is about “giving to get.” It’s not. So, approaching it that way is a turn off. Overall, I believe the sounder approach is to focus more on creating and nurturing bonds with others.

Traditionally, people have developed and strengthened their bonds via meeting up for coffee, meals, and other shared activities. Clearly, meeting in-person is a key part of cultivating relationships. These days, however, you also can take advantage of technology tools to support bonding. Used well, social media increases your ambient awareness and supports brief interactions over time. [Tweet this] As a result, you can interact more regularly, adding depth to your relationships.

Yet, however we connect, basic social niceties matter. When you begin to pay attention to the little things in other people’s lives, you not only get to know them better, but also may discover more areas of shared interest. And the more you do, the stronger your bonds can become.

A Lot Like Making Friends

Over time, as bonds become stronger, you may find you have the basis for true friendship. If so, it’s worth investing more in those relationships. For as Shasta Nelson points out in her excellent book, Friendships Don’t Just Happen!  Although making friends seems like it ought to be automatic, it’s not. In fact, she says, if you’re simply waiting for friendships to develop, chances are you may be well networked but lonely. [Tweet this]

So what’s it take to develop friendships?

Well, genuine sharing and genuine caring. And time. In Shasta’s words,

“The strength of our friendship isn’t as dependent on how much we like each other, but more on how much time we spend together developing our friendship in broader and deeper ways.  …two primary factors that create friendship…[are]… consistency and intimacy.  …consistency is regular time spent together, and intimacy is sharing that extends to a broad range of subjects and increases in vulnerability.”

Since these factors can change with time and circumstances, there are different categories of friendship. Yet, a key point to grasp is this: Making, keeping, and even changing friends is perhaps one of the most important skill sets you need to have. [Tweet this]  Especially if you want to enhance the overall quality of your life.

Friends Are Key To Life Success

An old saying reminds us that on their deathbed no one says, “I wished I’d spent more time in the office.” It’s a sad reminder that in the pursuit of success, people can miss out on life. Yet, if we measure success based on a better quality of life, then friendship is surely a critical element. In reimagining success, it’s clear that while networking is driven by self-interest, making friends is about enlightened self-interest. [Tweet this]

Cultivating friendships requires, among other things, a spirit of generosity. Friends and SuccessBeing a friend often means that we act in the interest of others. Yet, in the long run, we also serve our own interests. For what we create for our friends, as well as ourselves, is a brighter and more promising future with a greater sense of belonging, more happiness, and even enhanced longevity.

I will have more to say about friendships in future posts. Meanwhile, even if you already have friends, you could probably make more. Look for opportunities to make new ones both in-person and online.

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What are your perspectives on friendship? How are you making friends?  What are some of the shared interests or activities that are at the basis of your friendships? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.

Be Yourself, Only Better

goldfish jumping out of the waterHave you ever noticed that a lot of people simply aren’t comfortable in their own skin? Of course you have. I have too. I think it may be true of all of us at different times in our lives. Ultimately, however, we learn and we grow. So, most of us seem to find a level of self-acceptance allows us to have rewarding and successful lives.

What Authenticity Is

Frankly, though, there are some people who translate their discomfort into a quest for self-reinvention. Others, it seems, translate it into an obsessive concern with authenticity. Regarding being authentic, a friend of mine once made the interesting observation that “The people most concerned with being authentic, usually aren’t.” [Tweet This] Perhaps this sort of façade is what prompted Gapingvoid cartoonist, Hugh Mac­Leod, to call one of his e-books, Authenticity Is The New Bulls**t. In it, he lays out a pretty simple success philosophy:

“i. Work hard.

ii. Be nice.

ii. Have great product or service.

iv. Don’t suck.”

I like it. Yet, I think a rewarding and successful life can be even simpler, and may only take trying to be just a little better every single day. While I’d love to claim this insight as my own, it’s actually something I discovered quite by chance. So, let me tell you a little story…

[Read more…]