Monday, 14 February 2011

Knitting 21st Century Style

First published in 2008

- About the Importance of Networking -

Ladies, I have it officially now! Please tell your husbands and boyfriends: We need to meet more often!

I was at a workshop. Yep! Me! Usually not the workshop kind of person, but this one I took… and it was – GOOD! 
At my workplace there is a women’s network and they do great stuff. Their invitations kept coming to my mailbox since I work there, but I never got round to actually attend one of these events. All these new people, and would the time be worthwhile it, and well, … everything, really. 

Now came this new invitation, red it, thought it was interesting, and dropped it into the bin. Habitual behaviour! Thank God that Iwona came to the rescue, dropping a line and asking if we should go together. I can’t propagate the slogan ‘Get the bums up, girls’, and then chicken out myself, can I?
So we went to attend the ‘Magic of Networking’!

A knot in the thread!
In we went, workshop started, and then the usual: 28 ladies introducing themselves, one after the other. I’m telling you: I can walk into a room with 200 casually chatting people and starting to take it over – no probs whatsoever. Here: knot in the throat, sweat breaking out…thinking… thinking … who am I? ah, Rika! … should I say my surname? Is it important that I’m German? They can hear that anyway… What is my job?... Oooof, my turn. Panic! 

Oh! My! God! Can you imagine: Me shutting up for once? I didn’t get a single of the other introductions due to thinking through my text, which then wouldn’t want to get past that damn knot, making me stutter.
Well, and then Heather, the speaker – what do I say – performer, took off! She is brilliant, and if you ever would have the opportunity to attend one of her workshops: Go for it!

Learning the pattern!
We were told that this was one of the calmer presentations. Nevertheless, I have to admit that most of the time I was observing Heather rather then paying attention to what she said. However, now that I have been mulling it over for a while, her message is coming back to my mind. That is what I call a good advertisement for a subject – the presentation is easy on the eye and the ear, but the information sticks nonetheless.
And one can tell that she is enthusiastic about ‘Networking’. Ladies, we are on the right track with what we are doing!

One of the messages:
There is nothing dubious or shifty about networking.
It is not about sneaking into other peoples lives to take advantage of them. It is about fun, and it is – most importantly – about building resources. It is absolutely OK to gather people around you, who might come handy for the one or the other reason. It actually is the only way to create win-win situations. 

An Example:
Take our Race for Life. We are still small, but we are building our team as big as we can to raise as much money as we can. As a side effect I intend to create as much fun for us as possible - nothing wrong about that, is there? As a second side effect I'm hoping to get recognised by the event organisers and probably even by the local press. Well, that could be misinterpreted as exploitation - however, I'm hoping to be able to expand our network of ladies, get known by local businesses and deepen contact to the press in order to get a bigger team next year, to extend our sponsorship base and to get even more publicity... 

We can grow, charity gets more and more money through us, businesses can use us as advertising platform when sponsoring, and press has something to tell. That is a quadruplet-win and I can't see anything wrong with that.

Heather compared networking with ‘throwing a stone into water, causing ripples’. When others do that as well, the ripples mingle and in the end some of the ripples come flowing back to you.

Another message:
One doesn’t have to be an outgoing person to be a good networker.
Be honest: When you think about someone who has a reputation for networking you usually think of an extroverted person, who is ‘everywhere and nowhere’ at the same time and has a loud voice. That at least is the cliché that jumps into my mind. But that is not true! A good networker has the skill to listen, and to be genuine. And actually this is something one will find rather often in the calmer fellow women.

Another Example:
Iwona and I are two ladies of the different ends of the spectrum of networking, each of us using her character to achieve the best she can. Iwona usually a bit shy and the body language a bit tied back, and me… well, you know me… more the ‘barging in’ type. When we walked over to the workshop, Iwona confirmed this saying: ‘I’m not good in networking so I thought I should take that chance.’ C’mon girl: who started this whole thing of attending. OK, she might have wanted me to be a bit of a backup, but that is exactly what networking is about.

You have your collection of friends and acquaintances and if you would feel that somebody boisterous could come handy at times, well then you will click and it will work. For me Iwona is ‘good’ because she is a perfectionist by heart. I’m chaotic and had to learn being organised. So once in a while, she is my wall to lean on. 

We are both rather good networkers, only that due to her shyness she thinks she is not, while I tend to indulge in a bit of overconfidence, and probably am not as good as I might think.

Don't drop that stitch!
However, the important thing for both of us was to acknowledge that networking is important, and that it doesn’t have anything to do with exploiting each other. Friendships, work relations, any relations would be so boring if only very similar people would group together. It is about benefiting from each other rather than exploiting the relationship.

So, what do we take from all of that?

‘Do get your bums up, and go out there!’
Building your network
My habit of throwing invitations into the bin didn’t do me any good. If something catches your eye: Give it a second thought … and then think it through, for crying out loud!

Last weekend I had such a lovely experience. The Ipswich Ladies went to the movies. Some of them know each other well and some only met once. One new lady with whom I only had exchanged two emails joined us. She is Japanese and all of a sudden one of my close friends started talking Japanese with her. I was flabbergasted. It needed only one daring lady approaching a group of strangers, to give us a great time by making us giggle a lot, and telling stories. She opened a door for exchanging information that never got triggered before. I’m very grateful that she braced herself and joined our colourful bunch.

Work your network!
Saving time and reducing stress levels
You don't have to do things all by yourself. There are people out there who know much better how to do it. The time you are spending for networking and having fun in the meantime, will be saved - if not more - when using your network to find the right person for the task. All you have to do is to pick up that phone! Networkers first words could be:
  • Hello, my name is ... we met at... and we talked about ... Now I was wondering if you could help me out with something. ...
  • Hello, my name is ... we were introduced by ... at ... and she told me that you know about ... May I ask you a huge favour, I'm entirely stuck in that matter...
  • ...
You will get a 'Yes' or a 'No'. Be happy about the 'Yes' and mentally move that person a bit closer into your network. If it is a 'No' it could be a polite one in which case you would leave the person where it is and probably just amend her/his set of skills. If it is an impolite one - most importantly: Don't take it personally! All you do is to cross this person off your list.

And then you go on networking and having fun with it, and sometimes it might occur that those people somehow trickle back into your life, and it may turn out out that they only had a bad day. As you didn't take it personally, it is easy to take them back in and they may even become friends.

‘Trust yourself!’ and ‘Stay true to yourself!’
Genuineness works best
Don’t believe anybody telling you that you have to change your character to become a good networker. ‘Girl you shouldn’t be so outgoing!’ ‘Girl you should open up more!’ ‘Girl do this...’ Girl do that…’
There is only one thing that I learned and found beneficial, and that you only can learn by putting yourself out there: To let it trickle off your back when somebody is hurting you! In getting in contact with people, you always will bump into some who will hurt you, intentionally or unintentionally. You won’t be able to avoid that by trying to change what is 'your inner self' and adapting to the needs of those people. Tried that, and it almost killed my creativity and hunger for experience. However, what you can do is to top up ‘your inner self’ with a bit of confidence!

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