Last week I attended a Connecticut Bar Association YLS event about networking. The event was held at a restaurant that I’ve never been to (oh! an opportunity to be at a swanky bar!) and looked to be an opportunity to learn more about effective ways to network and meet other attorneys(social interaction for the solo!) , and it was just that. Did I learn anything new? A few things about taking time everyday to network, keeping in contact with people even if I haven’t heard from them, touching base and reaching out. Were these ideas revolutionary? No, not really– more a common sense approach to how to develop and cultivate relationships in this increasingly fast paced and demanding life we all live. But one thing struck me — all along I have been thinking of networking as selling– and for me, that’s just not in my comfort zone. It’s not like I don’t think I have something to offer, because I know I do. It’s just that I was raised to be a little more humble about tooting my horn. To me, sales has always seemed to be high pressure and intense; I know how I’ve felt when someone told me that what they had to offer( products/goods/services) was the best my reaction was to take a step back (envision the “close talker” scenario) but it really doesn’t have to be that. Networking, I learned, is an opportunity to make connections and build relationships. I don’t really have to do the hard sell, but just make myself available so that when I need someone (or someone I know needs someone) or when another person has a need for someone like me, I am the name that pops up– the person people think of– and trust. And a lot of that is based on just being present and personable in someone else’s cache of relationships. So it’s more than an advertisement or a sales pitch, it’s about working together, and this I can do. It’s one of my favorite things about some of the work I do– working together to solve a problem. Sometimes I can solve someone else’s problem or need by referring someone; sometimes another person can do that for me. But that can’t happen if I live in a vacuum and don’t make the time.
One of the perks of having a blog is that I can comment on what I thought of the event overall. At a minimum it was a good use of two hours on a weeknight, and it was inexpensive. Most everyone was chatty and fun, interesting in connecting and learning about everyone else. Aside from feeling like the old maid in the room (ah, the perils of returning to the law after 20+ years of teaching!) I met a lot of enthusiastic attorneys that were willing to learn and meet new people. It was a little noisy (we were in a bar, after all!) but what didn’t help was one very chatty person at our table. This person clearly disagreed with the speaker, had her own (perhaps valid, who knows?) opinions on how to network (she told us, after all, she’d been practicing for some time and was only there to accompany her associates) but the grumbling, the grousing, and her overall tone was nothing but rude. While it’s easy to say she could have ruined the event for me (and the others in attendance) she did teach me a few things. First, I know now to avoid her at future events(okay, harsh, but true!) Second, everyone has an opinion about what works for them for networking; and that’s the point, IT’S PERSONAL. So while I might disagree with her behavior, she certainly made the point that networking might have some ground rules, but successful networking is a lot about what works for you (or me!)