I remember my first day of kindergarten like it was yesterday. I dramatically fell to my knees when my mother left the classroom because I was well aware that she’d thrown me to the sharks. Unfortunately, I did not have preschool refinement which meant that I had little to no daily interactions with children my own age. Sharing was a foreign concept to me and carrying small talk was below my level. I spent the first four years of my life, the only child, at an in-home daycare with an elderly lady. I called her “Maw” and she spoke to me like a fully functioning human being, not a kid.
On the first day of school, a classmate asked me to share my favorite cartoon. At 5 years old, cartoons weren’t exactly my cup of tea. I could bear to stomach Barney & Friends. Power Rangers and after school specials were more my thing. These were the thoughts going through my head because these shows aren’t categorized as animated series. Already I was making this simple question, a complex one. I finally recall answering, “I don’t really like cartoons. Me and my Maw watch ‘In the ‘Heat of the Night’. Bubba Skinner is my favorite. Which cop do you like best?” The girl called me “stupid” and walked away.
That one encounter set the tone for future interactions with my peers, which have gone about as well.
Think back to your first day of school. You’re thrown into a room full of strangers and expected to make nice with them. You must be on your best behavior while trying to find out which students are likely to present some type of quality or asset worth your while. Let’s be honest, the playground was brutal territory. You needed as many allies as possible to successfully navigate throughout the time allocated by your teacher or else it was time wasted.
Same deal with networking in adulthood minus 12 years of school with people you won’t see for another decade. You have a small amount of time to get to know their interests and skills, showcase your own and of course find out how both parties can benefit.
Networking can be agonizing for me. I often find it tough establishing common ground with strangers. While they want to talk business I prefer discussing my lunch or why I think Beyonce is overrated. This is a bit of an extreme example but the point that I’m trying to make is that I find certain social interactions to be forced just like kindergarten.
Because I work in TV, most of my networking involves people asking “what I gotta do to be on your show” and from there I have lost any ounce of initial interest. At this point, I deem these people as beggars. The goal is to create a network as a pipeline to achieve your professional goals and also help others. Everyone is out to get something. I understand the fundamentals but must the conversation be so selfish? I prefer focusing on building the professional relationship first, and expressing my needs, later.
For the longest, I figured that I was going about establishing connections the WRONG way because I wasn’t following suit and making initial requests. A segment I produced today on successful networking, gave me better insight on how to become a better resource to others.
While networking can establish vital connections, it also requires service and creating a balanced relationship. Be a resource, don’t make up front demands. I understand that everyone has a goal to accomplish but your requests should carry some form of reciprocity and less eagerness to showcase personal gain. As you learned in the cafeteria, be ready to trade something from your lunchbox before staking your claim in your classmates treats. Same deal for building professional relations, have something to offer.