Connecting vs. Networking
I find the word “networking” to be somewhat tired and on the brink of cliché-dom. When I hear or read this word, I immediately think of the local Chamber of Commerce breakfast meetings, people wearing suits and/or desperate-to-impress souls who carry an excess of promotional materials to conferences and work a room like the shark from “Jaws.”
I think a better word for the new millennium is “connecting” — a more feminine word that suggests maybe it’s less important to impress absolutely everyone and more important to identify and share common ground with the person standing right next to you.
Chances are good that it’s probably not a coincidence that you are standing right next to each other in the first place, right? So why not initiate a conversation and see what comes out of the situation? You’ll never know until you stick out your hand or make a comment about the weather.
In my experience, when you do just that, trusting that the “right” person or people will cross paths with you, everything is so much less stressful and so much more enjoyable. I entertain myself so much more when I stick my neck (or my hand) out than when I just face the front of the elevator, silently, with my hands folded in front of me.
According to Webster’s, the word “connect” means to link or join two or more parts, things or people or––even better––to make a psychological or emotional association between people, organizations, or places. The eighth and final definition in my electronic dictionary says, “to have a good rapport with somebody.”
Let’s look up rapport. That seems like the perfect word to describe the intention to set when you want to connect with a total stranger. Webster’s says it means an emotional bond or friendly relationship between people based on mutual liking, trust, and a sense that they understand and share each other’s concerns.
Aha. You might want to read that again. Rapport is the key to any meaningful connection. It’s not a preconceived notion; it’s what arises naturally when two or more people allow it. I hope this takes some of the edge off for any of you who might break into a cold sweat at the mere sight of the “N” word (networking).
My willingness to connect when I was in New York City at the Writer’s Digest Books/BEA Writer’s Conference and the Book Expo trade show helped me meet some very interesting people like Jodi Picoult (we are both moms and have puppies), Scott Ritter (author of Waging Peace and parent of two daughters who want to write), and author Meg Cox (a writer mama, fellow journalist, and author), and many others too numerous to mention.
The bottom line when you want to connect is to be curious, forthcoming, and relaxed. Trust whomever you bump into and explore your commonalities according to what feels comfortable and appropriate in the moment. Most importantly, forget the “rules” often attributed to “good manners” and tune into your gut instead. This will help you connect better with others and feel less self-conscious while doing getting to know each other.
I was once a shy child who would freeze up and blush profusely when the attention of others turned towards me. Those who know me today might not believe it. I am not kidding, folks. I was painfully, uncomfortably, self-consciously S-H-Y. But today, I know how to relax and trust. It’s so interesting what can happen when you stay alert, present, and tune in to the new and engaging connections that are bound to transpire.
Some might call this serendipity, synchronicity, or their lucky stars in action. I think it’s simply the way things are supposed to happen. Or perhaps the way things can happen, if we let them.
I hope your summer travels lead you to some very interesting places, people, and connections. Enjoy!
Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007). She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at http://www.thewritermama.wordpress.com/. For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at http://www.thewritermama.com/.