This week was filled with reminders of how women count on strong friendships and professional networks to deal with life’s ups and downs. I received encouraging e-mails, calls, and a card — how delightfully old-fashioned; it arrived via USPS, from Nebraska — from women I admire. They approach work/life challenges holistically, integrating intelligence and talent with sensitivity and kindness. I appreciate how generous many women are with time, wisdom, or a “you, go, girl!” They understand the heart of networking.
It’s no accident I’m part of a supportive network I can count on. Women who have a sense of purpose or calling in their work inspire me; I want to connect with them. I have initiated relationships with women I want to know. Getting to know someone requires listening and genuine interest in what matters to her, rather than a focus on what I might want from her. I’ve made my share of mistakes, and not all relationships last, but women mentors and friends enrich my life immeasurably.
There is more to networking than what best-selling books suggest. I once created a seminar entitled “Authentic Networking.” My client favored the title because she thought most networking programs were inauthentic. I agree. Networking is not about collecting 50 business cards during a 45-minute meeting. This is a superficial, unrealistic approach, based on quantity over quality. The best connections are made through recognizing and getting to know a unique human being.
Sustaining networks are based on mutual respect, support, receptivity, and generosity of spirit. Sometimes, in a first meeting, conversation, or reading of someone’s work, I sense immediate rapport. I know, intuitively, this person will be significant in my life. If I have an emotional reaction — e.g., seeing or hearing something that moves me to tears — I recognize I may have stumbled upon a transforming connection.
When leading a networking seminar for a male-dominated audience, I emphasize listening, earning trust, and making “gut level” connections. If I’m presenting to women, I’m more likely to talk about the heart, too. My best relationships — personal or professional — are based on emotional or heart-level resonance. When I can FEEL someone’s passion or enthusiasm for a project, and I believe in the outcome, I naturally want to help him or her.
On a related note, I’m planning an evening of networking with local women I admire on January 26. We may generate enough heart energy to get the entire state of NC buzzing!