Have you ever signed up for a networking event and felt a creeping dread just minutes after hitting “register,” knowing that you now have to attend it?
Or have you left an event, feeling empty and guilty, having spent $30 on cheap wine and a bag of peanuts, knowing you missed the kids’ bedtime?
You are not alone. And until recently, “networking” was the accepted way to “get ahead.” On the golf course, at cramped, stinky coffee shops, at events – some of which were well-curated, but mostly were professional moshpits of business cards and elevator pitches.
In the last few years, the idea of “community” has visibly taken off with the growing realization that the world needs massive change, and that people are craving meaning. Even President Barack Obama urged this year’s graduates to “build a community. No one does big things by themselves.”
This isn’t to say that networks are Evil. They are necessary and sometimes helpful. Knowing the difference between a network and a community can save you from that feeling of dread and give you space to be intentional about your interactions and how you invest your time.
Peter Shepherd and Jen Waldman talk about the concept of community on their excellent podcast, The Long and the Short of It. Their explanations nail it – a network is a group of individuals we are connected to. We may have many networks – work, neighborhood, the gym, university alumni, etc.
Networks are helpful because they connect us to things we need. Ironically, that’s why they feel transactional (and often “icky” when you go to a poorly set-up networking event.)
Communities are something you BELONG to. More than just the people or the connection level in LinkedIn, a community is bonded by a set of shared values:
- I believe what you believe, so therefore we are in this together.
- You want this to change, so do I; therefore, I will help.
- I see the future the same way as you; let’s do this together.
A community is something that you have to nurture for it to work. You have to participate with your full heart and head to feel the benefit. And, that benefit cannot merely be self-advancement.
Both require the building of trust and a gentle hand. In particular, networking can be effective when it’s done with respect and thought.
For example, instead of:
- Thinking of what you will gain from the new connection, plan how you will help them first.
- Telling the other person how you too can “connect to my large network” (yes, this was a real-life LinkedIn pick-up line received in my inbox by someone who called me his “second-level connection” …to quote Samantha Irby, “wow, no thank you”), be truthful about why you want to connect.
- Emailing someone asking to “pick their brain,” research their business and give them a suggestion or idea about something that could help them advance.
- “Introducing” someone to one of your connections via an unsolicited email, ask your connection if they’re open to an intro before you act. Yes, it’s double the work. But, it’s respectful.
If you’re craving community, first:
- Revisit (or define) your values. What change do you want to see happen in the world? What do you love spending your time doing? What do you want more of? Find communities that sync with those desires and intentions.
- Decide what your strengths are and how you can give them to others (this is harder than it sounds, especially if we’ve been conditioned to be “humble”.)
- Commit to your participation. Joining events, sharing posts, writing blogs, mentoring, physical labor – they all count.
- Prepare to open up – yes, this means being more vulnerable than you may feel comfortable being at first. You will be surprised at how you can positively influence others by sharing just 10% of your inner dialogue…
We need both networks and communities, as business leaders and humans. Both require investment, the difference is the level of vulnerability we choose to offer and how much we are willing to give without expecting return.
Laura Best is the founder of Passion Collective, a community of women who are making positive change happen. “Passionados” are seeking to rediscover the things that light them up, a clarified purpose, and more meaningful friendships. Learn more at www.passioncollective.co.
Photo above article captured by Lauren Engfer