Practicing Presence while Networking

I previously wrote a post about practicing presence in relationships, and in this post I want to focus on a particular piece of that pie – practicing presence in networking.

I’ve been doing a lot of networking for my business lately, and noticing two different ways I can be a dick about it:

  • Talking about what I want without listening for what the other person might want. For example, recently I was connecting with someone over the phone for the first time about possibly teaching some workshops for his organization. I dove straight into what I had to offer without connecting to what he was wanting. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t invited to offer a workshop for this organization.
  • Not talking about what I want. For example, I used to call up old friends “Just to re-connect,” when in reality I was hoping they might be able to introduce me to some possible clients. I can’t recall this ever working.  It also makes me want to puke.

Though these seem like opposite types of behaviors, both of them are motivated by attachment to a specific outcome which benefits me, with no consideration for the person with whom I’m connecting.

Realizing this, I am setting a new goal for networking, which I stole from Nonviolent Communication. That new goal “is to create a quality of empathic connection that allows everyone’s needs to be met.” Business needs, emotional needs, or whatever – all the needs.

From a moral perspective, this makes clear sense – my needs are not more important than other people’s needs. It also makes sense from a business perspective – if I repeatedly place my needs above others’, eventually nobody will be willing to work with me.

How will I do this? First, when connecting with someone for the first time, I need to be upfront about my motives. If they’re not willing to connect for that reason, then I won’t waste their time – or mine.  If it seems like they don’t want to talk, I’ll thank them for their time and leave them alone.

If they do want to talk, I’ll usually try to schedule a time to have a more in depth conversation. If I want to create a meaningful business relationship with someone, I find that it’s usually not so convenient to do it on that spot.

Whenever that deeper conversation happens, instead of steamrolling the other person with questions, first I’ll take some time to connect “Is now still a good time to talk? How was your day? How do you know so-and-so?” The key here is that these questions come from a place of genuinely caring about the other person, not from a manipulative desire to make them feel comfortable so they’ll be more likely to help me.

Another key is to allow space between my questions – space for them to think, to respond, and to ask questions of their own. I want to be sensitive to what the other person might be wanting, and if I don’t give them space to voice that, I’ll never know.

Even if they only want to help me, I still want to think of and offer other ways I might be able to help them – in the same way I might offer my friend a cup of water when she comes to my apartment. If she says no, I won’t be offended – it’s simply an offering of care. Whether or not she accepts is irrelevant.

It’s my hope that by practicing networking in these ways, two things will happen: 1 – I will be slightly less of a dick. 2 – Authentic connections will get created, and both the person I’m connecting to and myself will benefit from that.


How I don’t want to network:

  • Goal – get what I want
  • Be sneaky about my motives
  • Ignore the other person’s wants
  • Steam roll the people I’m networking with questions or pitches
  • Offer my help (and get butt-hurt if they decline)

How I want to (and am learning to) network:

  • Goal – create quality of connection that facilitates mutual benefit
  • Be clear about motives
  • Genuinely care about the other person
  • Allow space for them to talk
  • Listen for what they’re wanting
  • Offer my help (without any attachment to them accepting the offer)

Having Fun Being Serious

In a recent post I mentioned how simultaneously not taking my goal seriously while taking it really seriously was one of the keys to living out my dream as a stunt man. I want to expound on that a bit because I’m hoping to apply it to more things in my life, so hopefully writing about it will make it more of a tangible practice.

First, I want to share what seems to be true for me about when it’s useful to be serious and when it isn’t:

When it’s useful to be more serious:

  • Whenever I want to begin and complete an action which is already clearly defined, but I am averse to doing it. Example – I’m doing my taxes

When it’s useful to be less serious:

  • When I’m connecting with others. Example – I’m meeting someone for the first time
  • When I want to be creative. Example – I’m trying to think of an idea for a new blog post
  • When I want to have fun. Example – It’s Friday night

I need seriousness and its opposite – I’ll call it fun. For example, in my pursuit of becoming a stunt man, I had to be serious about practicing kung fu consistently. I had to be serious about cold calling assistant directors to ask them if their production was looking for white dudes. If I wasn’t serious, I wouldn’t have done these things.

But in the back of my mind, there was always a little snickering boy, giddy about the prospect of being on a movie set. It was that deeper sense of fun that drove me forward and kept me going through the excruciating uncertainty of my time as an actor.

This is what I mean by being simultaneously serious and not serious – having the sense that the big picture of what I’m doing is fun, even if the specific task I’m currently working on might not be.

This came naturally to me in my pursuit of being a stuntman. But when I stopped my career in the film industry to become a coach, I killed my sense of fun. My life became very serious. Now I’m a business man, and need to make money, I’ve got bills to pay – this is the narrative that is on repeat in my brain. It is not fun, and also sets me up for failure.

Just recognizing that I’m telling myself this story is liberating. I also want to replace it with another narrative, one that has the little boy in the back of my mind snickering about how liberating it is to not have to work a 9 to 5, and to get paid help others grow while also growing myself.  Giddy about the tapping into the freedom that I already have, and that my clients have as well.