Networking. How can one word turn my knees to jelly and make my stomach flip flop? The mere sight of the word makes me ill. I hate networking. In my book it’s right up there with anchovies, cold calling and root canals. Not a fan. However, I do love people. I am always interested in learning more about them, their stories and what makes them tick. My kids will warn their friends before they introduce me with a roll of their eyes, “Get ready to be grilled.” Or let out a breathless sigh followed by, “Oh, Mother Please.” when I am in the midst of a particularly good line of questioning.
Have you read the book "Now Discover Your Strengths" by Marcus Buckingham or taken its associated test to uncover your strengths? I have had the opportunity to take the test a couple of times in the past couple of decades and one thing has remained consistent- my towering strength is “woo” which stands for winning others over. Yep, I am the one who makes friends effortlessly, easily strikes up a conversation, and tries to find ways to invite others into the mix. So naturally you would think that a gal like me loves to network. Ugh. That word again.
I do enjoy getting to know people, but the thing that really makes my heart sing is when I can help make a connection. Not in a swipe left or right kind of way. I mean connecting two people who may have never met and helping them to resolve a particular problem or issue. Problem solving through connections- that’s what I do. This is the part where you stop me and say (after loudly clearing your throat) “Excuse me, my dear, that is the definition of networking.”
The word networking conjures up all kinds of nightmarish visions for me. You know the ones, where you walk into a room alone filled with strangers who are paired up and highly engaged in their own conversations and every time you walk up they turn and walk away. It’s sprinkled with a healthy dose of self-doubt and “what ifs” - it oozes of uncomfortable memories like those of walking into the first day of school or work.
If I take that same situation and think about how I can use my community of connections, knowing that I have something to offer, it suddenly seems like the room is filled with opportunity.
Who will I meet and make a connection? Networking seems selfish, but making a connection is selfless.
Now, I wouldn’t say that I don’t leverage my connections for my own problem resolution; it’s just not its sole purpose. I have leveraged my connections to open the door to my very first job and every day since throughout my 33-year career journey. My connection community has played a number of roles in my life from sounding boards, coaches, and mentors, to advocates and sponsors. I have played those same roles just as many times for others. The one thing I treasure most about my community of connections is its diversity - I have met the most interesting people in every part of my life who support and challenge me - that’s what makes it unique.
What does your community look like? When was the last time you leveraged it to make a connection for someone? I invite you to join me in building your community by joining Key4Women where you will find a vibrant community of entrepreneurial and professional women who make connections, advocate and empower each other to make better, more confident financial decisions.
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Barb Smith is Senior Vice President, Director of Key4Women at KeyBank. She is privileged to spend her days focused on how KeyBank can help women reach their financial goals. Key4Women is a women-focused initiative that provides insight, tools and support to female entrepreneurs and leaders.