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.
Bill Leider says
There is a universal law that goes something like this. When you truly give, that is to give with NO expectation of receiving anything in return – you will get back 200% of what you give. I have seen that law come alive in the area of participating in charitable, community and religious organizations. But only when the law is obeyed – give fully because you genuinely believe in helping and you expect nothing in return beyond knowing that somehow, you are helping to make a difference.
I don’t personally consider that networking, in the conventional sense of what people see as the investment (mostly time), and benefit (business opportunities) one seeks in engaging in networking activities. Yet, many of the behavior are the same, and certainly so are the potential benefits.
The critical distinction is intent. Any everyone knows, in their heart of hearts, their intentions. My belief is this. If you believe in the mission and goals of a charitable or civic or religious organization and you feel strongly about wanting to make a contribution of your time – do it. And do it all out, with all your heart and soul. And leave it up to the universe as to how, if and when you may or may not see something in return. And oftentimes in those kinds of situations, what you receive will come in unexpected ways from unexpected places, delivered by unexpected people. You just need to be awake and aware when they show up.
The other concerns that your friend(s) have about networking are a different discussion about their belief in the value of what they deliver and their willingness, confidence and skills in sharing that with the world – whether through networking or any other means.
Gregg Borodaty says
Great article, Jeff. We’ve discussed this before, but I believe that life is about choices. When we choose to tell ourselves that we’re not good at something, it means that we chosen not to be good at it. When we choose to tell ourselves we can be good at something, it may not mean we will, but it at least gives us the chance and helps us to identify the things we should do or practice to get better at chosen skill.
While this may sound cult-like, it’s part of a field called psycho-cybernetics. Our minds our more powerful than we realize, and in order to succeed at something, let alone achieve success, we have to envision what success looks like and have positive conversations with ourselves. I know it sounds wacky, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. You may be surprised at the results. I’d highly recommend the book The New Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz if you’re interested in learning more.
Jeff Turner says
Gregg, thank you. I appreciate both the comment and the book recommendation.