As an introvert, the idea of networking is about as appealing as getting a root canal. In fact, a root canal would be better because I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. Superficial chit-chat, the sense of being sized up and evaluated, and the weird transactional feeling that I’ve experienced at networking events is unpalatable to me. It’s no surprise I struggled with networking for years.
And then things changed. It happened while reading The Education of Millionaires, byMichael Ellsberg. He’s a wonderful story teller, and in the course of reading his book it became clear that he was also masterful at building relationships with remarkable people. At some point as I was reading his book, a tiny light switch flipped in my mind:
Oh, so instead of networking, I can just build relationships with people?
It may seem simple or obvious to you, but it was a revelation to me.
I gave myself permission to stop networking. And I decided to build relationships instead.
This subtle shift in perspective allowed my natural curiosity and preference for connecting one-on-one to surface. Suddenly, instead of feeling fake and awkward when I was at an event, I could stay connected to my curiosity and find ways to genuinely connect with one person at a time. I could give up small talk, and let natural curiosity lead the way.
And then another game changer: once I realized that “networking” was really “building relationships,” I found that any situation could be transformed into an opportunity to meet a new, interesting person.
Just last week, for example, I was summoned for Jury Duty.
Everyone looks so glum in a jury room. No one really wants to be there. People don’t talk. They just sit and wait and hope to be excused. They gaze into the middle distance and sigh, looking bored or perturbed. Or they stare into their phones, tablets, laptops, or good old-fashioned books.
Jury duty is quite possibly the most un-networking situation you can be in. The only thing that comes close is riding the subway in New York. The social norms in both settings are: Don’t talk. No eye contact. Keep to yourself. Leave as quickly as possible.
By late afternoon, I was excused and my service deferred due to upcoming business travel. As I headed back to the jury room to hand in my form, I found myself walking beside a woman who had been in the same jury pool. It seemed we had both been excused for the day, and so I asked:
“So, what did you get deferred for?”
“I’m going to Florida,” she said.
“Nice,” I said, “I’m going to New York. Is Florida for work or vacation?”
We start chatting as we walk. When she asks what I do for work I tell her, “I’m a meditation teacher.”
“Oh?” she says, “I need some of that. Where do you teach?” I tell her it’s mostly corporate and private sessions, but if she has a card I’ll email her details about my public class.
What does she do?
She’s a fitness editor at a big fashion blog.
We introduced ourselves, exchanged cards, shook hands, and wished each other well and safe travels.
1. Interesting people are everywhere.
Be open to meeting them, and the odds increase that you actually will, no matter where you find yourself.
2. You never know who is next to you at that place you wish you didn’t have to be.
Sure, you might not enjoy being at the DMV, jury duty, or in a forever long line at the airport or grocery store. But your future best friend, colleague, collaborator, mentor, or the love of your life could be right next to you.
3. Social skills are critical for opening doors and developing relationships.
Practice and polish yours in low-risk situations, so you can be relaxed and resourceful when you need to be.
4. Allow for pleasant surprises.
5. Genuine curiosity can lead you to many adventures and build many relationships.
So if you’re an introvert, like me, who struggled to make peace with the idea of networking, take heart! You now have permission to never network again. Instead, connect to your innate curiosity and focus on building relationships. Practice anywhere.
And for the extroverts reading, you also have permission to stop networking. Try it. See if it feels different to meet people when your intention is to simply build a relationship.
Want more tips about building relationships? Here’s a link to one of my favorite posts and talks by Michael Ellsberg.
Kim Nicol is the author of Offering: The Gentle Power of Mindfulness to Awaken the Love, Calm, and Wonder in Everyday Life.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn