The Social Butterfly

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Random Observation/Comment #240: Every event is a networking event.  I’m not the typical engineer with pocket protectors, protractors, and graphing calculators available in my utility belt (although my phone, can do all of those).  I rather wear a smile and chit-chat about random things to work on a closer relationship (Relater on StrengthFinder!).  Some people say it’s a waste of time and I’m spreading myself too thin with people and hobbies, but I’m genuinely interested in what I can learn from both.

I network with the purpose of understanding stories.  To me, these stories are all data statistics of how to live life.  If I hear something cool or badass, I may very well change my path to include it.  It may start off with career options, but this concept mostly applies with experiences, such as studying abroad and climbing mountains.  There were so many goals that I added to my list simply because I heard someone talk about it at a mixer – “Wow, you went skydiving last week? Where do I sign up?”  The rest of the conversation basically lets me uncover the subtle issues of reaching that goal.  I don’t think I’m using people for their experiences, but I do take interest in some of the weirdest stories.  I am not good enough to do everything, but at least I can live vicariously and pick the important things that I’d like to see with my own eyes.

There is no formula on how to network, but if it is to become engaged in an interesting conversation, I usually have to relate it back to something in my life or honestly take interest in doing these things for myself in the future.  This is the typical workflow of my brain during a conversation:

  1. Small talk about conventional topics and share random things on my mind/fits the situation (e.g. current events, culture, traveling, etc)
  2. Stay aware of person’s interest and try to give broad examples to fish around for person to engage (i.e. include little bits of information off topic to see if they latch on. Common topics include technology interests, career plans, video games, etc).
  3. If an interesting topic is found, let the person lead at his comfort and pace.  Absorb relevant opinions and make observations along the way.
    1. When appropriate, relate to the topic with own stories.
    2. Show understanding of the topic by recapping or giving another example from personal experiences.
  4. If the story relates to the person’s career or path, then let him/her explain the details of his current title and ask for some methodology to his mentality of success.
    1. In terms of career, always keep in mind that people take different approaches to success.  Some people really know what they want (or at least they think they do), while others just go with the flow. Adjust accordingly with your crowd.
  5. Usually, I step back and evaluate other people’s experiences with two questions: A) Is it cool enough and B) Is it possible?
  6. Once those priorities fit, I dive deeper in the research to find the process and the shortcuts that can be taken based on his/her mistake.

I’ve found this methodology of approaching people quite useful for casual bar conversations, but within a business networking setting, I more closely focus on my outside hobbies, past education, and interests within news that relates to the business.  In most cases, I only use this to get the ball rolling.  If the person is already spewing relevant advice, I wouldn’t need to change the subject.  It is difficult to pick a person’s brain in a short period of time if you don’t provide them with a short background though. Although we’re not talking about our day-to-day mess, it’s all relevant to show your attitude towards life.  I would expect someone aiming for higher positions to not only be interested in the business, but to have the will to learn about new aspects of the world in current events and culture.

In a very short amount of time, it is essential to continuously reinforce your character, personality, perspective of life, and values while keeping the conversation fluent.  Without explicitly saying that you’re a well-rounded person, you could speak of your hobbies with passion and have people make their own conclusions.

After a large number of conversations with random people, I’ve learned that people (including myself) love to impart advice on others. If they know something well, they would not mind giving you their personal experiences in those areas.  To me, I feel like I wish I knew the things that I know now back then, so when I see someone in one of my similar situations, it’s just common courtesy to give them the opinion.  What the person does with this data is outside of my responsibility, but if I didn’t offer it to them, to me it’s like sitting in a dirty seat on a train and then not warning someone else about to sit in it that it’s dirty.

Many times, I’ve heard forced conversations that aim for that comfort level and common theme because they treat these networking events like interviews.  Why? Why even think of interviews as their own separate category?  Are dates interviews? Is it an interview because you have a more defined purpose to the conversation?  Instead, I’d like to think of all interviews and dates as just casual conversations to form people’s characters in my mind.  Once you take away those obvious ploys to aim for the position (e.g. analyst or bf), there’s no reason to pretend or purposefully sell yourself.

On top of that, even if you get the position, it’s the interviewer’s responsibility (e.g. girl) to know whether or not you’re doing it in the long term or short term.  If you’re hired and you fool him/her with some false expectations, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.  In the extreme case where you are actually under-qualified for the position, but you got it from selling yourself, you’ll probably suffer playing catch-up later on.

I guess I composed all of this because I can’t definitively say that I know what I want to do.  I’ve kept my options open by joining groups and getting all these random hobbies, but I’m still looking for more possibilities.  That’s where networking comes in – and not just to get connections in a sneaky way; it’s actually much more straight-forward: Tell me your story and share your experiences and conclusions with me.  I’m just taking life in every word, to the extent that it’s absurd.

~See Lemons Network