How do you know x*?
What, you had a 1-1 lunch with x*??!
HOW is it possible that you have x*'s email address??!
X* sent you a text message?!?
*Insert name of hard-to-reach person
"Well-connected" is a description that I have often heard about myself. Following various permutations of the exclamations I've enumerated above, people would comment, "Wow, you must be an excellent networker. You must know how to totally work the room!"
But this could not be further from the truth. My closest friends know that as a child, I was so painfully shy that my classmates thought I was a handicapped deaf-mute. I have vivid memories of one particular day in kindergarten when the teacher instructed us to answer a written exercise in our workbooks. All of a sudden, the only pencil that I had rolled off my desk, slid across the classroom and disappeared. I was far too shy to ask anyone in the classroom to give me another pencil, so I simply sat there for half an hour, stared at the blank page and did not complete the exercise. (Just last year, I learned that this condition is called selective mutism).
As a professional, I often have to go to conferences and big events where the whole idea is to meet people. I get myself to show up, but still find myself spending an inordinate amount of time in the ladies room where I would find solace amidst the chaos, and look at myself in the mirror while silently telling myself to go back out there because it will be okay.
So how does a person like me end up being so "well-connected," a description I earned because I am occasionally seen in the company of VIP types - powerful entrepreneurs, A-list celebrities, CEOs, and others who magazines like to feature in articles on "movers and shakers"? My guess is that the following principles have helped:
(1) Politeness goes a long way. I was brought up to think that politeness is one of the most important virtues. In fact, I don't recall ever being scolded for anything other than impoliteness. My parents didn't seem to get as angry about coming home late or crashing my mother's car - but if I failed to greet a guest, yikes - I'd be in big trouble.
In the business world, this translates to treating everyone with respect, no matter what their rank is. For one, that means not sending emails that start with "Hey" - even if it's just the assistant I'm talking to. (See point #4!)
(2) Don't be obsequious. This seems to run counter to point #1, but there is a huge difference between being polite and being obsequious. People don't like empty flattery, those who are seemingly inaccessible - whether by virtue of their great fortune or fame - are simply tired of that.
(3) Admit to your discomfort. If I'm nervous or star struck over meeting someone, I usually just tell them and get it out of the way. They are usually very kind about it and try to make me feel more comfortable.
(4) Never underestimate the role of the gatekeeper. There's no such thing as "just the assistant." For years my mother worked as the executive assistant to a top-ranking official within a very large organization, and I knew how much she was relied upon to make judgments on whom to squeeze into his very busy schedule. As a college student, one of the most important bits of advice I ever got from any professor was that whatever we do, we should always, always, always be extremely nice to the assistant. As a professional, I have often heard my bosses half-jokingly refer to their assistants as their "boss." So don't screw up your chances of meeting the boss by being condescending to the real boss.
This rule applies not just to assistants, but to all other gatekeepers. For celebs, that means their talent managers. For high net worth individuals, that means their private bankers and the people who manage their family offices. Treat everyone as though they are the VIP.
(5) An interdisciplinary background helps. Having worked in various industries, with people with backgrounds in finance, the arts, media, fashion, journalism has definitely made my network more diverse and interesting.
(6) Realize that philanthropy is a door-opener. I would have never met the amazing, inspiring, brilliant people I've had the privilege to meet if I were not involved in the philanthropy world. Other people have told me that it has also been through their involvement in various causes that they have made their most important contacts as well as their closest friends. Just one of the many reasons why it's good to give your time, your talents or your treasures to something you care about!
(7) Focus on quality, not quantity. Whenever I go to a conference, my goal is to make one meaningful connection. And go home. I do not aim to collect as many business cards as possible, rather just have a genuine conversation with someone with whom I fully intend to stay in touch.
(8) Be the host. I have found hosting parties, events and meetings to be far, far more comfortable than being a guest. Interestingly, other friends who are also introverts have told me that they feel exactly the same way. As a host I know that my role is to take care of people, to make sure they are properly introduced, and to see to it that they are having a good time.
(9) Trust the law of attraction. Years ago I told Deepak Chopra, who has become a spiritual mentor to me, that I was enormously frustrated with the hackneyed bit of advice that we so often hear, which is to "surround yourself with good people." I asked him, how can I possibly surround myself with good people when I don't do the networking thing, and it would be very strange, embarrassing and downright ridiculous to approach someone and say, 'You're a good person, I would like to be surrounded by you!'
He told me to trust the law of attraction: like attracts like. And that whether we realize it or not, we are responsible for bringing both positive and negative influences into our lives.
(10) Have something to give. The unspoken reason why people want to be "well-connected" is that we want to use those relationships for our personal gain. But if we approach every relationship in such a way that we want to give, in time people realize that. And there develops a circle of reciprocity and trust.