Networking begins with being selfish. For a successful career in social entrepreneurship, social change work and life itself, become a selfish listener.
That's the key lesson from the new executive leadership video How-To Network Yourself Like A Pro. What makes a good listener? I'm not sure that I really know, but I like what I learned from the social entrepreneurs I interviewed for Café Impact:
Jessamyn Lau, Program Leader for the Peery Foundation, approaches every conversation with an open-minded, inquisitive, "What can I learn from this person?" What makes her ungenerous is "when people are unwilling to have a real conversation."
She is not alone! All of us are repelled by the overly-talkative salesperson, the elevator speech, the pitch man, the talking points expert, etc. The person who only hears the sound of his or her own voice. The individual who is talking at you, not with you.
That's not networking. That's not even pleasant or personable.
"Networking is about being authentic. It takes introspection," says Saul Garlick, CEO, ThinkImpact which trains budding young social entrepreneurs. "You can't sell something you don't believe in."
Or, in the smiling words of Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself, everyone else is already taken."
As Whitney Smith, CEO of Girls For A Change, clarifies, "Networking is really about human beings. It's less about what we're doing."
"I see each interaction as a web of opportunity. It's very much about understanding, not just the subject matter, but the people matter," adds Anne-Marie Burgoyne, Portfolio Director of the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation.
Good listening is the foundational bedrock for good networking. And, good networking is the quintessential first action step for community organizing, mobilizing political movements, wooing donors or impact investors, building a strong social enterprise and converting a good idea into a force for change.
Listening and networking are manifestations of the same human dynamic: the desire to be heard and the need to belong. They are the fulcrums upon which you will lift up the world.