By Julienne B. Ryan
Have you had this experience?
You’re at a business event and you’ve met a fellow attendee and have spent the last five minutes sharing the basics like your names, job titles and event-related comments.
You think you’re doing a reasonable job of being appropriately engaging and inquisitive. You haven’t made any verbal social missteps. You’ve even begun to ask your best networking questions. As far as you can tell, your interaction is going very well.
However, in a couple of minutes, you’ve started to experience some inner tension. You start to think “Am I talking too much?” or “Are they interested in what I have to say?” Then you hear The Clash’s* timeless question “Should I stay or should I go?” resonating in your brain. You don’t want to outstay your welcome, so you’ve convinced yourself that you should end this conversation quickly. You say your good-byes and head to the coffee station with your mobile pressed to your ear.
You may have ended your conversation too soon, before the real story had a chance to come out.
Chances are, you were so focused on making a good impression that you thought that the tension you were experiencing was negative, so you allowed your inner critic to take control. By doing so, you may have ignored your intuitive gut that was sending you some unexpected comments.
You know what I’m talking about. You ignored that inner genius part of you that makes connections that don’t make immediate and rational sense, the part of you that comes up with some incredible ideas when it’s allowed to do its job, the part of you that connects the dots into stories.
Sometimes the tension you are feeling in networking sessions is not pressure to please stop talking, but an intuitive prompt telling you to take a chance and share an idea, comment or question that has flashed across your mind.
Sometimes during these networking moments, you just need to allow yourself “to be.” When you are patient, interesting things can happen when you go off-script, be spontaneous and ask one more question.
I am sharing this concept because I enjoy “people connecting and networking” for my work and in my personal life. I enjoy those spontaneous conversations that occur when I travel, work or even when I run errands.
I started to think a lot about how we approach networking after I had some unexpected conversations that showed me how “connected” we all are, how we are linked in one glorious story. It all came about because I took a chance and asked one more question.
I recently traveled to Peru with my husband and visited Inca ruins. I turned to the couple next to me and asked, “So where are you from?” They live in the next town. Seriouslyl! A short while later, our tourist chatter changed to “So what do you do back home?” That’s when I learned that one of them is a senior level executive consultant and we have numerous contacts in common.
The next day, my husband and I met an Irishman who lives in Peru, and we found that he went to primary school with a friend of ours in Ireland. Amazing connections were uncovered 3,770 miles away at 11,400 feet about sea level in the middle of the Andes.
Shortly after I returned to NY, I experienced a hellacious commuting situation. I and a few thousand other fellow commuters were stuck. We weren’t going to going anywhere for a long time. So I turned to the guy on my left and asked if he knew anything about the situation. He updated me, shared some concerns and mentioned his destination. That’s when I asked one more question and learned that he and my husband were fellow educators at the same school. Then the guy on my right starts talking to me, and I learned he’s a supply chain engineer! It gets better.
Later, I shared my experiences with Rod Colon**, a colleague and master networker. He listens for a minute and asks “What’s the supply chain guy’s name?” I tell him. He knows him and says, “I taught leadership classes at his company.” Unbelievable.
A couple of short conversations revealed multiple, amazing connections. We are all part of one big story.
I started to think about each of these encounters and how most of us prepare for and conduct networking conversations. How many times do we meet someone and think that we won’t have anything in common? How many times do we make assumptions that the person we are speaking to is not the person that can help us?
We draft a list of sequenced questions, rehearse them and visualize a successful outcome. However, while networking preparation is a key component, it’s also important to remember that the best conversations happen when we allow for a natural, unscripted flow. Story connections emerge. Our prepared questions should serve as a guide. If we try to control the conversation too much, we may actually miss opportunities to connect and learn. We could miss out on the unexpected, the real story of why you are standing next to each other.
So the next time you’re chatting with someone, be patient with yourself and remember that you can’t always be in total control. Take a chance and listen to the inner voice that wants you to say “Tell me more” and ask one more question.
Unexpected connections are everywhere. We are all part of the same story. Consider the possibilities.
*The Clash was a British Punk Band in the ‘80’s!
**Rod Colon, career coach, master networker, writer.