How to Guerilla Network
by Wim Dodson
Want to be memorable when networking? Step out of your comfort zone.
He was “pretty fly for a white guy,” as the song goes: long hair, designer stubble, and a very cool leather bag in which he carried his Apple laptop computer. Then he cut his hair and looked like a new man.
I said as much to this stranger I had seen several days a week for months at a local Starbucks. He said thanks. We began chatting each time we met. Both entrepreneurs and tech-heads, we began swapping tips and tricks and software tools we thought were cool.
Then one day I showed up at the coffee shop with one of my old laptop computers. He asked about the change. I sheepishly admitted I had accidentally spilled “just a couple drops” of Scotch on the keyboard of my Chromebook, my workhorse for writing.
“Oh, I bought one for my wife about a month ago. She doesn’t use it, and it’s just collecting dust. Want it?”
My eyes lit up, of course I could use it. We worked out a barter scheme: the computer for my first-born (actually, I offered up some free content development services).
Stepping Out of Your Comfortable Discomfort
This wonderful encounter and a professionally life-saving gesture could never have happened if I had stayed within my stereotyped milieu: bald headed, swarthy brown-skinned guys with full lips.
It’s very easy as a diverse professional to just want to connect with people of our own creed, color, gender, sexual preference and what-not. Unfortunately, we miss out on a universe of opportunities, new experiences and knowledge through such a blinkered approach to networking. And to life itself.
Why We Hate Formal Networking
Most people hate formal networking gatherings, even if they are within their area of expertise. They hate the awkwardness of walking up to a herd of strangers, the interloper, socially inept, loaded down with all those self-imposed stereotypes most of us have about ourselves.
The most successful people at networking events tend to be narcissists and sociopaths, which are often one and the same: they have a much stronger sense of their self-importance than they do of others. Indeed, they seldom do not want to get to know others, but instead want others to know them.
We tend to throw their business cards away after we’ve met them.
Lead with Your Curiosity
However, we do want to know the people who compliment us, want to get to know us, even would like to add value to our lives.
The best contexts in which to network in this manner tend to be the daily way stations at which we shop, refresh ourselves, even pray. It’s easy to begin and continue running conversations that finally allow us to exchange value.
What’s the best approach to engaging a complete stranger? Be disarmingly curious? Comment on a piece of clothing that stands out; or they wear something; or some bit of apparel; or perhaps they have an accent you’d like to know the backstory to.
Just ask, politely. The worst that can happen is you get snubbed.
Oh well, their loss.
Eventually -- and much more quickly than you can imagine -- a collision of coincidences occur in which you can gain mutual benefit through the acquaintance.
So be an equal-opportunity networker. Give a compliment to a familiar stranger. Ask a question of someone who intrigues you. And offer them your business or personal card, if it feels right -- not because business etiquette dictates.
After all, the career you boost just may be your own.