#61 Networking Without Fitting In: Making Connections By Being Yourself

I suck at fitting in. Which, I assume, is why I've always despised networking. It feels fake, gross, unnatural.

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And I’m not alone. Here’s a quote from the May 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review

“”I hate networking.” We hear this all the time from executives, other professionals, and MBA students. They tell us that networking makes them feel uncomfortable and phony—even dirty. Although some people have a natural passion for it—namely, the extroverts who love and thrive on social interaction—many understandably see it as brown-nosing, exploitative, and inauthentic.”

Bingo. Networking, in the traditional sense, sucks.

ON THE OTHER HAND

Business owners, especially those focused on growth, must network. Building and nurturing a collection of connections is critical to your business success.

And even beyond the business, there's this nagging quote from psychologist Brené Brown. One that I've shared several times before...

“Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.”

So networking and connection are important business-wise and to avoid personal suffering. But knowing this doesn’t help me much because these skills aren't in my wheelhouse.

What I need is a more sincere and less distasteful way of connecting and networking. And I'm going to search for that by drawing a picture. Just like I promised in my last post where I said...

“Stop by next time as I try to draw a diagram of how all this stuff - Maps, friends, connections, vulnerability - works together.”

So let's get to it.

WORKING IN REVERSE

Let's start with the end state in mind - a slew of healthy, lasting, solid connections.

And let's work backward from this point to create a quick outline of our path. Here goes.

To achieve a real, lasting, solid connection I must earn your trust. So I must commit myself to being trustworthy in your eyes.

Or should I? Who the hell are you? And who decided that you're the judge and jury as to my trustworthiness? Shouldn't I start inside the firewall so to speak?

Aren't I the most important person I need to establish trust with? Think about it this way. If I don’t have Self Trust how can I expect someone else to place their trust in me?

Good point, but Self Trust feels squishy. I can’t just tell myself to trust me. How do I establish it and hold onto it? 

Alignment, of course.

All I have to do is bring my thoughts words and actions together in an aligned consistent way. A way that's a transparent representation of the real me. No faking, acting, or self branding.

But how do I get to this magical state of being aligned? I look inside. I do the hard work of figuring out what drives me.

And that self-analysis is all about a word that I hit pretty hard in post #58 - A Zero Connection Interview.

That word is VULNERABILITY. And here’s our psychologist of the day, Brené Brown, to expand on it a bit… 

“The intention and outcome of vulnerability is trust, intimacy and connection.”

Shit! 

Exactly the word that you the powerful business owner didn’t want to hear. You’re a strong, invincible leader. Not a vulnerable, fallible, self-doubting human being.

Oh well, it doesn't matter that we hate this stuff. And it doesn’t matter that this Brené Brown lady bugs the shit out of me - because I can’t find any better alternatives. 

So based on her influence and my real life experience, here's my rough draft of how to achieve connection.

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We get vulnerable. Then we get aligned. This gives us self trust, which makes us trustworthy. And at that point we become connectable.

Piece of cake.

VULNERABILITY COMES FIRST

Nobody wants to be vulnerable - it sucks.

It’s all about dealing with this sometimes uncomfortable stuff.

Insecurities
Inconsistencies
Contradictions
Preferences
Priorities
Motivators
Defining Traits
Strengths
Weaknesses
Blind Spots
Quirks

We have to face all this gunk, cross-examine it, and throw most of it away.

Distill, Declutter, Simplify.

For me, the process boiled down to these terms / questions.

WHY - Why do I get out of bed in the morning?
ME - What values, behaviors, traits most define me?
IF - What theories or ideas underly my curiosities?
CAN - What, more specifically, do I want to get done?

So I took these questions and answers and created what I called my SELF Map. Then I answered the same questions about my work, and I called this my WORK Map.

Here are my two Maps for reference.

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As a reminder, I'm not telling you this map stuff is magic. It's not. It's something that works for my brain, but you aren't me. You might choose a different design paradigm. You might use words like Purpose, Calling, Mission, Vision, Values, Beliefs, Traits, Goals... 

All that matters is that you find a way to get vulnerable. Here's another Brené Brown quote to drive that point home.

“Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”

So yes, vulnerability sounds soft and wimpy and it sucks - but do it anyway. Find a way to strip away the layers of ego and protection and look inside. And while you're at it, pay special attention to the relationship between your self and your work.

ALIGNED

I required that my WORK and SELF Maps be damn neared identical. I was especially vigilant in two areas - the WHY and ME that I mentioned above.

SELF WHY - To learn and share
WORK WHY - To learn and share stuff about business and personal growth.

SELF ME - Know, Distill, beDirect
WORK WE - Know, Distill, beDirect

Point being, why the hell would I want to run a business that doesn’t stoke my WHY? That doesn’t match my reason for getting out of bed in the morning? 

And since I only have one personality, why would I want to run a business that doesn’t reflect my ME? Why would I want to pretend I'm someone else all day?

So my path to vulnerability and alignment was all about building Maps. The SELF map was especially hard. I struggled to put down my ego and remove traces of Keith the victim. And my progress was slow and imperfect, but I finally got something on paper that I liked. And once I had the SELF Map, the WORK Map was way easier.

That's the beauty of alignment. If I'm living a healthy existence my work life has to be a pretty close approximation of my self life. 

It's like a buy one get one free deal. Do the hard work to better understand your self, and get an improved work life at a steep discount.

NEXT COMES SELF TRUST

Things are about to get even easier. You’ve gotten naked and vulnerable and aligned. Now all you have to do is live it.

As you learn to let the aligned you shine through, you're days get simpler.

Less self-deception.
Less focus on others imperfections.
Less frustration.
Less wasted time and effort.
Less hiding behind WRONG STORIES.

More focus.
More drive.
More confidence.
More resilience.
More SELF TRUST.

Bottom line, the more you expose and live the real you - warts and all -  the more likely you are to trust you. And that's critical because no one in the whole world should trust you until you trust yourself. 

TRUSTWORTHY

I have almost nothing to say here. It’s damn neared a freebie. If you trust you and act in a consistent, aligned fashion, people that get you will find you worthy of their trust. 

Others may or may not, but you can't waste your time worrying about catering to them.

CONNECTABLE

Another freebie. 

You’re now officially a walking talking billboard of what both you and your business stand for. Which means you're also a connection magnet for folks in your wheelhouse. Folks that FIT with the vulnerable, aligned, self trusting, trustworthy you. 

So here's my final diagram of this connection process.

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And as you now know, most of the work is on the left side. Getting vulnerable and aligned is the key to self trust and connectability. Which then leads to all the good stuff I added on the far right. Suppliers, partners, friends, employees, and customers that FIT with the real you.

And you don't have to do any of the gross, fake, game playing crap that the networking experts suggest you do to fit in. In fact, you want to do the opposite of "fit in".

Here's more from Brené Brown on the topic...

“One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is one of the greatest barriers to belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

So go forward and network the right way. Be who you are. Refuse to fit in. Connect with friends, employees, suppliers, partners, and customers that belong with you. 

I'm guessing the results will be amazing.

That's all for today. Stay tuned for next time when I try to apply all this connection stuff to the topic of sales.

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