(Networking for Loners revisited)
Shawn Graham’s post about networking over at Courting Your Career got me thinking about – well, networking. Admittedly he makes a valid point about how following sports is a great strategy to break the ice particularly with people from different backgrounds. I agree that as a Latin American if I were a football, a basketball or a baseball fan, it may have been easier to connect with others on the US college scene. Now that I’m living and working in Sydney, I would probably find more connections with locals if I’d be a footy, a rugby or a cricket fan. However, as much as I enjoy playing tennis, cycling and swimming, I have trouble faking an interest in watching others play – let alone memorizing their stats. And even when I know that my tennis game is bound to improve from watching the pros at work, I have trouble stretching my attention span to watching a full match.
For those of you who are also at a loss for words when the conversation gravitates towards the latest sporting news, know that there are many other effective ways to connect – without trespassing no-go zones. (My personal ones are: gossiping, politics, sex and religion.)
- Food – As an experience we all share and most everyone enjoys, food is a universal glue amongst us all. Thankfully, unlike sex, it’s acceptable to share our love for it with strangers. There’s also no need to be a gourmand to be an authority on the subject. Sharing our finds of eateries around town, our sick & twisted encounters during our travels, or our own experiments and creations (whether successful or not) all make for a sure way to bond with people.
- Wine, beer and hard liquor – This is not reserved for snobs and it’s certainly not about sharing with strangers what a fool you made of yourself while drunk at last year’s company Christmas party (save that for the bar scene). There’s more to speaking about booze than drunkenness and hangovers. Not enough has been said about grape varietals, single malt whisky and boutique beers, seriously.
- Books – Only at high school parties it’s uncool to talk about what you’re reading. Sharing with someone what’s on your night-table or your favorite author is a sure way to connect in a non-threatening way. Personally, whenever I meet someone I find interesting, I ask them about what they’re reading. That’s how I’ve found some really great reads – and bonded with bosses. (feel free to label me ‘geek’) Why if you don’t read? (which I find hard to believe if you’ve made it this far in your career), keep going down the list.
- All things culture –There’s no need to try too hard (or dress up) because whether it’s theatre productions, concerts, movies, exhibitions, or the opera, most people enjoy some form of art. Speaking with others about the many expressions of art is such an easy way to keep your finger on the pulse of culture. As a bonus, you stand to find out about events that you would’ve otherwise missed.
- Travel – It’s more the norm than the exception to meet people who have travelled beyond their country borders (except for Bush Jr. – that’s as far as I’ll trespass the no-go zone). Whatever you do, avoid giving someone a laundry list of all the places you’ve travelled to. That’s what nouveau travellers do. Besides, one of the easiest ways to connect with people is by listening. Also, we all love stories. Systematically running down a list of all the stamps on your passport is bound to bore people and make you come across as obnoxious. Focus on experiences you’ve lived overseas. Feel free to throw in tips.
- TV shows – How much can you talk about Desperate Housewives at a business meeting without coming across as unprofessional? For hours if your client is into it as much as you are! DH aside, it’s likely that people watch some sort of TV show. Aside from being an easy way to connect with people, finding out what they watch is a good way to learn something more about them. (For the record DH is my favorite form of brain candy and I indulge once a week – not twice – on Monday nights, Sydney time.)
- Sports – No, not watching them, playing them. And you don’t need to be a jock (like some have labeled me). In our health conscious world, it’s more common to find people who are active than those who aren’t. And how refreshing it is to see how the business world no longer revolves around golf. You don’t need to look that hard to find colleagues and clients who regularly run, bike, swim, practice yoga, hike or play basketball, tennis or soccer. In that sense, I’ve found that sports are a great conversation starter.
- Them – So you have this one-of-a-kind individualistic individual in front of you and you’ve failed to connect with them through any of the topics on this list. What now? Talk about them. I guarantee that will do the trick. We all love to talk about ourselves – especially with someone who shows a genuine interest in us. Besides, as humans, you’ll find that we’re not that different from one another. We all have dreams, fears, feelings. Albeit the content of all those may be different, but we experience very similar things.
It is possible to network without faking it. I know this after trying very hard to fake an interest in watching sports. After a few failed attempts – marked by falling asleep shortly after the national anthem – I’m glad I stuck to my guns and instead looked for other ways to connect with people. Staying true to myself and sharing my real interests has made a big difference in my own path. Beyond what faking it would have achieved. Guaranteed.
Photo by Dallas Photoworks.