I recently spent 15 minutes listening to a person ramble on about her awesomeness. She filled every second of those 15 minutes detailing her great work, her executive status and all the reasons why she was amazing. She had just delivered a compelling talk at a conference I attended. In an effort to strike up a good conversation with someone who seemed interesting, I asked her, “You mentioned in your talk you hoped to crack the code, so tell me, what do you think the code is?”
She launched into her answer all the while driving her awesome narrative forward. Soon, there were a few more women surrounding her. I stepped back and watched while she held court. She never once asked me my name, where I stem from, what I do and why I had such an interest in this “code.” She never once inquired about the people around her. I walked away and thought, “Damn, she was annoying!” Even though I loved the points she made in her session, I had no interest in building a professional relationship with her. Her “awesomeness” had gotten in the way of her humanity.
Networking is not the process of articulating your awesome narrative to everyone you meet. Networking is about asking great questions, listening to the nuances in conversation that tease at what part of the work life fit brings your colleague joy, and seeding conversations that build on those nuances. Networking is about stripping away the work, the outcomes and functions of our individual responsibilities and getting to the passion and the person that is behind the work. Ask thoughtful, compelling questions. Answer questions with generosity. Be aware of the space you take up in the conversation. Listen to ensure you ask the questions that will inspire engagement and dialogue. I’m certain, when you foster a real conversation, you keep the “awesomeness” monologues at bay, and by doing so, elevate the whole conversation.
I always think those awesome people are really just shy people who don’t like to network. So rather than be present, be still, they fill a space they find uncomfortable with their personal brand noise. When intimidated, it’s easier to talk at people and establish your expertise than it is to talk with people and expose your vulnerability. Think about the executives you have met recently. Who stands out? I guarantee it’s the person who revealed his or her humanity and humility over the one who shared his or her greatness.
Leave your awesomeness at the door. Grab a drink and be present with the people you meet. Trust me, with that as your focus, you will find yourself meeting people in meaningful ways that will enable you to build genuine professional relationships.