I was invited to talk “business” with an old friend. We met at a local Starbucks and chatted casually outside. I’ve known them for more than twenty years, both as a friend and a former employee. The conversation started off light, but quickly turned to the matter at hand. They were struggling to grow their business and feeling like they couldn’t break out of the rut in which they found themselves firmly entrenched.
One thing led to another and finally the conversation got to the heart of the matter. This incredibly bright, talented, open and warm human being didn’t think they were very good in face-to-face conversations and they didn’t think they were good at networking. After some prodding, the real issue came to light. It was a completely different internal conversation they were having with themselves.
They felt they were being manipulative when they engaged in activities where any part of the motivation was to further their own agenda. They had recently volunteered to help a charity and were ashamed to admit that one of the motivations was to meet people in the community that might lead to new business for them. They couldn’t allow themselves to truly “own” the fact that offering their skills to the charity was the perfect way for them to demonstrate their value to a potential customer. What they also couldn’t see was that denying acceptance of that motivation would end up creating no opportunity at all. In addition, it would also end up making them resent their involvement with the charity.
And so, the conversation they chose to have with themselves was really just a mask. “I’m not good at networking,” were the words they chose to use instead of, “I can’t figure out how to reconcile my fear that I’m not being authentic with my genuine need to meet new people.” They had not allowed themselves to to finish that sentence with, “my genuine need to meet new people who have problems that I am uniquely qualified to solve.” What they should have been saying was, “I am going to give myself fully to this charity that I believe in and openly encourage others to see that I am someone who can assist their businesses in the same way I’ve assisted this charity.” I can relate.
I’ve had those conversations with myself from time to time. We all do. I’ve experienced the self-limiting power of the negative messages we send to ourselves. And I have also experienced the self-affirming power of flipping those messages around. For my friend, I’ll say this again here in the hopes that they read this; if you have a sincere desire to help a charity, it’s ok that you also have a desire to meet new people who you might be able to do business with as a result. The two motivations don’t cancel each other out. You’re not bad at networking. Telling yourself you are is not a solution to this conflict. It’s a recipe for stagnation.
And for myself and anyone else who needs it, I will repeat the message I shared a few days ago when talking about social proof. Because it is the same message when talking about any of the principles of influence. In this case, we’re talking about reciprocity. It’s ok to actively use your skills to influence the behaviors of others, just be sure to use your powers for good and not evil.