Saturday, November 19, 2016

Good networkers are born

I am an excellent networker. In non work situations, that is. I find it easy to converse with absolute strangers on a whole range of diverse topics and even where I know nothing about said topic, I always manage to walk away learning something new about said topic and have a nice time while doing so.
 
Some of my closest friends are people I met because I decided to say hello and make small talk in situations where on the surface, there was no reason to "talk". 
Let me share a few examples:
 
I met O at the hairdressers. She was getting her hair done and engrossed in her book. I ended up chatting her up, found out that she is also Nigerian. We exchanged business  cards and I got in touch. 
 We have become close friends and 10 years down the line, my husband and I are godparents to her second daughter. O also now belongs to my lean in circle and we are sharing tips for career advancement. 
 
A and I crossed paths as I was leaving the library and she was going in. We smiled, said hi, started talking and decided to go grab a drink together. 
Over a decade of friendship has followed and we get along so well including with our spouses. 
A is an amazingly talented woman and she coached me very successfully when I had two key interviews. Being that I'm an engineer, I am not very good at self marketing and her coaching really helped me learn to tell my story better. 
Apart from the fact that she is a fantastic coach, we value her friendship and that of her husband and in spite of the fact that they moved back to the US, we hope to keep in touch more often in the future
 
When I lived in Moscow, I made two key friendships in this manner. 
The first one was Sergey. Sergey and I met in a bus on the way from Novomoskovsk to Moscow. This was in the spring of 1998. At that time, I was in Russian language school and I could not speak good Russian yet. Sergey saw that I was reading an English book and struck up a conversation with me. He ended up showing me the Red Square for the very first time. We have kept in touch over the years. 
 
The second person was Alexander aka Sasha. He just randomly started talking to me one day on the Metro in Moscow ( Russians do that all the time " Devoshka, mozhno s Vami poznokomitsa?" Can I get to know you? is a common refrain any woman who has spent a bit of time in Moscow will recognize). 
It turned out he was a photographer and I ended up doing some modeling for him for some sports and car magazines, which was a cool way to make some money as a student.
 I met his family and also developed a good relationship with them. Just writing this brings back memories of tons of shashlik (grill) parties in the forests of Moscow.  Sasha and I are also back in touch thanks to facebook. 


 
So why am I writing this seemingly  random post? The fact is that I am not as effortlessly adept as I am in Networking on my private time, when it comes to professional Settings.
 I have been giving a thought to why that is the case and have come up with tips that will help you as well if you struggle in the same manner.
 
1) be authentic: I know it may sound like a cliche, but this is really key. My authentic self likes people. I enjoy learning about people collecting their stories and I am never too upset if they decide not to share. However, in my experience, sometimes we tend to put on 'work personas' which dictate what types of behaviors are appropriate at work and what are not. 
I have committed to being myself absolutely in every networking situation. That means if someone catches my fancy I won't hesitate to try to get into conversation. Just try it and you will see most people are intrigued and you will be chatting on before you know it. This is how I met my best career mentor to date.
 
2) take the first step: I just read something recently about giving a little first. Many people feel just as awkward in professional networking situations so smile first and say hello first. You'll be surprised at the responses you will get. 
 
3) make eye contact. Not in a threatening manner, but in an open friendly manner. I find that many times when I'm preoccupied I tend not to make eye contact and it automatically creates a barrier and puts people off from talking to you. 
 
4) Small talk can lead to interesting discussions, so don't be afraid of small talk. 
 
5) cultivate a friendly welcoming exterior. Even if you are too shy to take the first step, looking welcoming will embolden others to take the first step in talking to you. 

6) you are as good as everyone else: in certain types of upbringing older people or more successful people are the top of the pack. So younger or more junior people would typically wait to be approached or try to be introduced to them. Shed that behavior and attitude fast. It will not help you advance in your career. Always feel on equal levels with everyone.
Of course I am not encouraging you to be inappropriate, so learn to recognize the thin line between inappropriateness and self confidence. 
 
If these tips help you, please let me know and share any tips you may have with me in the comment section. 

Stay safe, x.

Read this article on Networking: https://www.thebalance.com/top-career-networking-tips-2062604
Book tip: 'How to work a room. Your essential guide to Savvy socializing.' - Susan Roane

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