I just finished reading Charles Ruffolo’s book “Network Your Way to Success” which provides some wise words of wisdom, a step by step approach to networking, and reassuring words for those unsure of how to approach networking in its broadest sense. It is not, with all due respect to its author, rocket science, it is some common sense based on experience – but since not everyone has had an experience which feeds a natural networking process, there are most definitely many pointers relevant to anyone wondering how networking actually works.
I have been fortunate to have been exposed to an upbringing which stimulated many of the basics of networking, and so much of its basic principles come naturally to me. I would definately recommend this book to anyone who is somewhat bewildered at how people network – once you have read it there is no doubt in my mind that you too will have an ‘aha’ moment and realise that it is, not, in fact rocket science.
There was however, in my opinion, a missing chapter. What if, despite all one’s best efforts at following the basic principles people simply do not respond – do not engage, enquire, and pursue? What if an existing network remains closed? For this does happen – here or elsewhere. I missed this chapter because I do consider myself a natural networker – and yet when I returned to Holland from overseas, and the children started school I was amazed at how difficult it was to meet new people – mothers (essentially) of classmates. This was not a momentary difficulty of the first few days, it remained one during the first year of school. It frustrated me to no end …. HOW was it possible that I shared such a common experience with these people, was open to meeting and getting to know them, and yet remained on the fringes ….. I am not alone in this observation, many others, outsiders if you will, share this experience (be it here or elsewhere). How does one break into a network which is solidly based on commonality? The commonality of this particular network (school/social) was based on community. Many of the individuals had a long history with one another, knew one grew up together, went to school together, knew one another’s stories, families etc etc. I was the outsider, with a story that did not fit into their common understandings. So, what does one do with an unknown element? Two things: essentially ignore OR with interest, engage.
It was my ‘hello mothers’ who engaged with me, my experience in that first year and taught me that when a network seems closed there are several things one should NOT do:
(i) do not make broad assumptions about everyone being THAT way
(ii) do not give up – remain true to yourself, open, engaged, interested in them, even if you are not ‘accepted’ you will have learned a lot about others – and that is never lost time
(iii) by not giving up, you will find those that will respond – and engage back – by saying ‘hello’ – when you are an unknown element others may need a little more time to get to know you, warm up to saying ‘hello’
(iv) realise that as someone with a different experience you are an outsider – the existing group cannot place you and therefore will take time to fit you into their world – if they do not, well, then ask yourself, do you want to be a part of their world?
Granted this experince was one with a more ‘social’ network, as opposed to the business network – however, when applied to the ‘old boys network’ trademark, would my lessons be that different?
I, personally, think not. It requires as Charles Ruffolo says in his book being true to yourself, letting yourself be known for who you are, what you stand for and what you can do. It may take longer to ‘break’ into certain networks – but these are not fortifications, networks are built and based on people, and when people get to know you someone will notice and be your introduction into a world you may thought ‘closed’.
For me, at my children’s school it was the ‘hello mothers’, those who said hello back wherever we met and who I invited to coffee one morning towards the end of that first school year, and even as an ‘outsider’ was able by so doing to introduce them to one another – and I know that one or two friendships have evolved from that morning – friendships which may have otherwise taken longer to get started.
So, say hello back, always, and who knows what networks will open for you.