This may seem like a strange concept, but read on! What I want to offer for your consideration is the idea that networking can be a wonderful way to improve the health and well-being of your mind, body, and spirit.
What do I mean by networking?
At its most basic level, networking simply means the act of intentionally reaching out to connect with others. To be pure networking, the purpose of the outreach is simply to get to know another or a group of others with the goal of finding out who they are, what they think/do, and to establish commonalities that can lead to the mutual exchange of support, information, and other things of value. Networking is NOT outreach for the primary purpose of selling YOUR ideas, products, or values to others. A “sale” may eventually result from a relationship and the meeting of the needs of the OTHER person, but it is never the initial and most important basis for true networking. This attitude alone contributes greatly to your health: find out what others want and need and serve them in whatever ways you can.
When and where can networking happen?
It can happen all day long, on any day, and in any place. When you are open to meeting new people or getting to know acquaintances (and long-time friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow volunteers, anyone) at a deeper level and are willing to take the initiative to introduce a new level in the relationship, fruitful networking can happen. Getting out of your comfort zone and taking the risk of increased transparency decreases defensiveness and increases healthy growth and confidence.
Even if you have not tried to be an intentional networker in the past, here are some simple ways to get started:
- Shop local – when you frequent businesses owned/staffed by locals, it is more likely that you can find shared interests. The more you frequent a local business, the more likely it is that the store staff will remember who you are and what you do and – if the subject comes up – may refer other locals to you. “Shopping” can include where you worship, the post office, bank, gym, and so forth. The better you know your neighbors – and they know you – the more you are helping to build a healthy, connected, and mutually supportive community. In this age of isolation, be the one who remembers to ask questions about what you discussed the last time – remembering names and important facts about someone you will see over and over is healthy for you (builds memory and context) and a huge blessing to others.
- Volunteer – volunteering is a bedrock value in the U.S., and many worthy causes would never succeed in reaching the sought-after goals without the help of volunteers. Shared attainment of goals builds teamwork and a sense of belonging. A huge benefit of volunteering is the ease with which you can get to know others. Finding a pre-assembled group of like-minded people (especially when they are local and you can be with them physically) is an incredible gift for you and for those you choose to join. As you decide on goals, plan strategies, celebrate successes along the way, and then reach for new goals, you can get to know each of those you work with in ways that might not be possible otherwise. For example, my church has bake sales a few times a year. The hours I have spent side by side with them helping to prepare the food in our church hall and then working on sale days has led me to know the other parishioners in ways that greeting them only at services in church never could have. Volunteering also exposes you to new people, places, and experiences that you might not have encountered on your own. This can build knowledge and confidence in the context of a safety net.
- Carry a contact card – you might think that this is odd, especially if you are networking as yourself and not for business purposes. But I can tell you that I have always had a card – and sometimes more than one – to give to someone new when I want to stay in touch. If the other person doesn’t have a card, I give them one of mine and ask them to write their contact information on it for me to keep. Yes, you can trade phones and enter information in each other’s phones. I love the cards, though, especially when design allows space for you to write a few notes to yourself after you part company. I think that the very act of offering a card and asking for one is like an exchange of gifts – it is the physical affirmation that you desire to know the other person. And who doesn’t like to feel special enough to receive a gift and a promise of more to come?
- Be known as a connector – this is where it gets amazing. As you get to know more and more people and you serve them with the information, connections, and ideas that they are seeking, you will begin to be known as someone who “knows” and can give support. If you have met someone who has that reputation, you understand what I mean: the person who is liked and trusted and who has a heart to facilitate success in others. When you are known as a connector, your network expands effortlessly. People come to you for answers, or at least for resources and direction. In order to be an excellent connector, it’s best to keep actively growing your network yourself as well, of course. This can be done by outreach to strangers as well as by outreach to friends of friends who have suggested that you help someone else as you have helped them (this is a win-win-win both emotionally and – if you are building a business – financially).
Does networking work online as well as in person? Is online networking as healthy as live?
I believe with all my heart that connecting in person is the best, especially when the relationship is being established. You get to observe body language, sense the “vibe” of the other, and can take advantage of an infinite number of small visual cues that can help you with the best possible delivery of your message and receipt/understanding of the message of the other person. You can also sense how the person is receiving you at the beginning of the conversation and how the relationship has developed as a result of the conversation (think, handshake to hug). Once you have met the person physically – or, in the case of someone far away, through a live video chat – you can certainly keep in touch in a number of different ways.
If you are set up to connect with others online through a website or social media, it’s important to develop the online relationship in a way that is as close as possible to how you would develop it in real life. Make sure that you are connecting on the basis of shared interests and that you have something to offer that is meant to support the expressed wants and needs of the others you contact. Online networking, like live networking, is only healthy when you are seeking to serve others first.
Each of the above points is only a springboard for developing what works best for your personality, schedule, and interests. Wellness Made Simple can help you to work through this process and to understand networking as a healthy way to discover your gifts and purpose. Let’s simplify the way you do well…for life!