I walked into class on Saturday with a giant cup of caffeine. We were supposed to be there at 8 a.m. and some of those brown-nosers known as my classmates got there at 7:30. Actually, that was a really smart move, especially if they wanted to talk with Muller one-on-one, and I’m jealous because I thought of it, but…Saturday. Don’t ask for miracles.
The first thing we were tasked to do was to reflect on the previous day’s session and our thoughts about networking. I had a mental image of networking as a gray-suited transaction, with a power element involved. Kind of hard and cold. Or like that one scene in Jerry MacGuire. Not THAT scene. The one where Tom Cruise is networking. Eh. Perhaps I need to watch that again.
But Alana Muller stressed that networking was just the opposite of my impression. She stressed that the idea was to create opportunities to connect with interesting people and have interesting conversations. The connection may lead to opportunities, or it may not, but no connection was wasted.
And looking at it this way, I actually do an amazing amount of networking, I just never realized it. I called it having friends. I called it reaching out to my professional community. I called it coaching or mentoring, something I’m very passionate about. Connecting with my university community- students, faculty and staff. Building community. Caring about people. Reciprocity. Being nice. I called it anything but but that horrible “networking” word.
The weirdest part? I’m really of good at it. I think meeting strangers is always intimidating, but I don’t meet strangers at work. I don’t meet strangers at library conferences. I don’t meet strangers while taking classes. I meet library users (or potential library users), colleagues and classmates.
During this workshop there were panel discussions, which I thought were helpful because even though there was a lot of agreement with Muller about the idea of networking, there were also distinct differences in how individuals approached networking. The differences had to do with age, personality, and what industry each person was involved in, and so I was able to see how approaches vary. As in so many things, there is no one right way.
One of the panelists, said that when you are meeting with someone, especially when you have an “ask”, or are going to ask them to provide you with something (help, contacts, what-have-you), you should first ask the question, “How can I help you?” This one phrase encapsulates my new understanding of networking.
And when I think of networking like that, it’s easy. It is in keeping with my personal values, with a core tenant of my teaching philosophy, with my experience and inclination as a librarian (we LOVE to help people), and even with the Jesuit values of the institution where I work (cura personalis, anyone?). I do it every day, and it is so simple and easy to extend that out to other aspects of my life.
The practical components in this course were great. I know that incorporating some of these ideas into my life will shine up the rough spots, and help me to find connections with people in a natural way. But taking my worldview and subverting the dominant paradigm of “networking is horrible” into “networking is about real connections and real people?” That is just badass.