I’ve got networking on the brain lately. I’ve been coming across some great postings on networking at the same time I had a very “small world” experience.
There is a lot of misunderstanding about networking. People often think of it as schmoozing or being insincere. Or they approach it as a one-time event rather than an ongoing process or developing relationships. Or they get in a bind and figure they better go network.
It’s hard to quickly network as a last-ditch effort to get a job, expand your business, recruit new applicants, or find more clients. By then it’s generally too late. At that point, you’re not networking, you’re selling. Nothing wrong with that but it’s a different activity with a different goal and different tactics. As Harvey MacKay says, “Dig your well before you’re thirsty.”
Tim Mushey inspired this post with a post he did last week engaging the conversation and interacting with people wherever you are. Us humans are really good at overcomplicating things and making things far more difficult than they need to be. Networking can truly be as simple as saying “hello”, giving a friendly smile, or introducing yourself. Being inclusive and making others feel welcome isn’t hard to do, but so few do it that it is an easy way to set ourselves apart.
The thing about networking and building relationships is that you never know where it is going to lead. Sometimes they go nowhere, sometimes they become crucial, and sometimes they lead to other relationships and unexpected outcomes.
If we are all truly separated from each other by six relationships or less then it really is a very small, interconnected world. No matter how far removed you think you are, you really aren’t. I was reminded of this over the weekend.
I live in a smaller city about two hours from a major metropolis. Most weekends I mountain bike on a local set of trails in the middle of town. It’s a great trail system, but is a labyrinth through the woods and can be very confusing if you don’t know the way. I always like to say hi to the other cyclists as I go by. If I see them looking at a map or talking about directions, I’ll stop and chat. If they are from out of town or new to the trails, I’ll generally recommend directions or invite them to follow along.
Two weekends ago, I came across a fellow named Colin who had come into town the night before from the big city to attend a wedding and brought his bike along to get a ride in. (More small world: I believe both he and my boss attended the same wedding, though they don’t know each other.) He asked where a specific trail was and I offered to show him the way. We ended up riding together and at the end of the ride I gave him my card and told him to call if he was every back this way looking to go for another ride.
Last weekend, I ended up riding with a couple of guys from the big city. Call them Tom and Doug. Similar story. They were in town with their families and had brought their bikes along. They asked about directions when we came across each other on the trail and they ended up tagging along. They offered to return the favor by showing me some of the trails up in the city the next time I was that way.
As luck would have it, the next day my aunt and uncle who live several states away texted to let me know that they were going to be in the big city over the weekend for a trade show. I decided to take Tom and Doug up on their offer and get in a bike ride while in town to visit with them my relatives.
So, I’m waiting at the trailhead for Doug and notice a guy pulling into the parking with a familiar looking bike strapped to his car. When he gets out, I recognize him as Colin, the guy I rode with two weeks prior! Keep in mind this early Saturday morning, two hours from my house, in an area of well over five million people. The odds of bumping into each other ever again are low enough, but the odds of showing up at the same trailhead for a ride at the same time?! Apparently much better than I would have ever guessed.
It would have been so easy (and perfectly acceptable) if I had passed them by and not said anything. Instead I had several great rides, got to see new trails, and potentially have a few more friends. It’s a fun small-world story, but it’s also a reminder to be polite, friendly, inclusive. It costs almost nothing yet you never know when you’ll see the person again or where that connection will lead. It is so easy to cocoon ourselves from other people these days and so important to make sure we don’t.