This is the sixth of sixteen parts of a “book club” reading and discussion of Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz’s Never Eat Alone, where this book on building a lifelong community of colleagues, contacts, friends, and mentors is teased apart and looked at in detail. This entry covers the eleventh and twelfth chapters, “Never Eat Alone” and “Share Your Passions,” which appear on pages 94 through 104.
One interesting aspect of making connections for me is that my career is pretty solitary. I stay at home most days, working from my office, without meeting people face to face.
Thus, quite often, my “networking” occurs online. That’s a big reason why I’ve signed up for so many social networks, like FriendFeed and GoodReads and Twitter and even BoardGameGeek – they serve as my “virtual” watercooler during the day. I dig into topics of interest, seek out local people (particularly those interested in the same things I am), and just talk.
Have I met people face to face because of those services? Yes, quite a few. I’ve even built some long-term friendships thanks to them.
The end result is that I use online social networking in part to build and continue offline face-to-face relationships. For me, as a person in a career without a strong inherent social component, this is invaluable in helping me build an ever-bigger circle of friends and associates, locally and otherwise.
A Full Calendar
On page 94, Ferrazzi advocates for a really full social calendar:
The dynamics of a network are similar to those of a would-be celebrity in Hollywood: Invisibility is a fate far worse than failure. It means that you should always be reaching out to others, over breakfast, lunch, whatever. It means that if one meeting happens to go sour, you have six other engagements lined up just like it the rest of the week.
In building a network, remember: Above all, never, ever disappear.
The key, I think, is to “never, ever disappear.”
We all have different ways of connecting with people, interacting and sharing ideas and experiences. Ferrazzi’s call really is just to keep up with it – don’t let it slide.
This means keep in contact with people. Call people. Send messages to people. Do things with people. Do it consistently.
“Never, ever disappear” is a powerful reminder to use to keep yourself from letting friendships and other relationships slack off. In fact, reading it just now convinced me to place two phone calls and send several emails just to touch base with people important to me.
Always Invite People Along
On page 96, Ferrazzi talks about inviting people along on things you’re doing:
I’m constantly looking to include others in whatever I’m doing. It’s good for them, good for me, and good for everyone to broaden their circle of friends.
My basic philosophy is this: if it’s something I enjoy doing, then I’m going to be enthusiastic about it and it’s likely going to rub off on others, so I don’t hesitate to invite others along with me to do it if there’s such an opportunity.
Take board games, something I’m really passionate about. My passion is such that I can take out a simple-to-play board game – like, say, Ticket to Ride – and get pretty much anyone enthusiastic about playing and enjoying themselves while playing. Enthusiasm is infectious.
Thus, if you want to invite people to do something with you in order to build a friendship, choose things you know you enjoy – and things that you’re suspicious that they will enjoy. If you do that, right there, you’ve got the foundation of a good time, no matter what the activity is.
Who Should I Mix?
Later, on page 97, Ferrazzi talks about mixing people together. Obviously, one of the best ways to build lots of relationships is to have events with several people at them (i.e., a small party), but how can you know people will interact well?
When you try this sort of thing, pay special attention to the chemistry between people. Do you have a sense of who will get on well with each other? It doesn’t mean that everyone has to have the same background and sensibility. In fact, a nice mix of different professions and personalities can be the perfect recipe for a terrific gathering. Trust your instincts. One litmus test I often use is to ask myself if I think I’ll have fun. If the answer is yes, that is usually a good sign that the dynamic will work.
That rule of thumb is really useful, especially if you expand it out.
Try this. Imagine four people you know fairly well who don’t know each other well or at all. Now, imagine if you’d be comfortable with all of those people in the same room with you. Does it seem fun or painful?
If it seems fun, it’d probably be a great idea to invite all of them to do something together – a meal or some other social event. Not only is it a great opportunity for you to touch base with several people you know at once, it’s also a chance to introduce interesting people to each other, possibly forming the foundation for some interesting relationships.
My wife and I are slowly starting to do these kinds of things, looking for different groups that we can invite over for dinner. I’ll confess that having kids makes this more difficult, but it’s still quite possible – and quite fun. It’s also incredibly valuable for building great relationships with a lot of people, which, again, can really help later on in our lives.
Where Not to Find People
Where can you go to meet new people? Ferrazzi talks about what doesn’t work on page 99:
I have a confession to make. I’ve never been to a so-called “networking event” in my life.
If properly organized, these get-togethers in theory could work. Most, however, are for the desperate and uninformed. The average attendees are often unemployed and too quick to pass on their resumes to anyone with a free hand – usually the hand of someone else who is unemployed looking to pass on his resume. Imagine a congregation of people with nothing in common except joblessness. That’s not exactly a recipe for facilitating close bonds.
When it comes to meeting people, it’s not only whom you get to know but also how and where you get to know them.
In other words, you should be looking for positive things you have in common, not negative things. If you can’t come up with a good reason to meet people, then don’t go.
One example I always think of is when I see parents forcing their teenage children or spouses forcing their partners to go to things that they obviously don’t want to go to. How does it help anyone to stick someone in a place where they don’t want to be? It’s a waste of the person’s time (they don’t want to be there) and wastes the time of the people there (the entire mood of the event goes down).
In other words, instead of going to things you don’t want to go to, focus your energy on things you DO want to go to. If there are activities in your life that just drain you, drop them. They’re not helping you and they’re not helping the people you’re participating with.
Where to Find People
So where should you go? The place to start is with shared interests and demographics, as mentioned on page 100:
Shared interests are the basic building blocks of any relationship. Race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or business, professional, and personal interests are relational glue. It makes sense, then, that events and activities where you’ll thrive are those built around interests that you’re most passionate about.
Friendship is created out of the quality of time spent between two people, not the quantity.
In other words, the most quality time you can spend building relationships with others are when you’re spending time doing things you’re passionate about.
This advice matches well with what I always suggest that people do when they feel that their life is aimless but overflowing with stuff to do: pare down. Cut out activities that aren’t doing much for you, even if the thought of it makes you feel guilty. Instead, focus on the activities that get your motor going.
One thing I notice people often doing is sticking with things far past their sell-by date. They’re no longer passionate about the thing they’re doing, but they feel “committed” to participating all the time, going to meetings and other things, even though their heart isn’t in it.
My advice? Cut it out. Then, replace that time with an activity that you’re passionate about. You’ll win in every way by doing this.
On page 102, Ferrazzi offers some detailed advice on how to fill that found time:
Make a list of the things you’re passionate about. Use your passions as a guide to which activities and events you should be seeking out. Use them to engage new and old contacts. If you love baseball, for example, take potential and current clients to a ballgame. It doesn’t matter what you do, only that it’s something you love doing.
So what do you like to do? What do you identify with? From there, what sort of social structures are available along those lines?
For me, my passions are reading, writing, my family, games, technology, and my faith. That means I look for writer’s circles, book clubs, other parents (and parenting groups), gaming groups, Tweetups, and other such meetings. I also look around for general community meetings that allow me to meet others in my community.
That alone can really fill my social calendar, let alone inviting others over to do things. I actually have to be careful about what I choose to do, but I avoid things I don’t want to do. If I want to do it, I can be rest assured that other things will follow – building relationships and so forth.
On Wednesday, we’ll tackle the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters – “Follow Up or Fail” and “Be a Conference Commando.”