Turn Strangers into Friends!

Turn Strangers into Friends!

You’ve polished up your appearance, dusted off your business cards and perfected your breezy, totally-natural-sounding ice-breakers. Now you’re ready to network. Go get ‘em! But remember: even the most perfect preparation can be undone by a single careless gesture or comment. Don’t let that happen to you!

Here are three simple things to remember to successfully complete the new-person-shuffle.

Don’t try to sell me something. At all. Ever.

This one might seem obvious. Yet, somehow, it isn’t. I like to think I’m a good conversationalist. Active listener. Good follow up questions — “oohs” and “aahs” in all the right places. This is me being polite. It is the same courtesy I hope you will extend me when I eventually tell you a dud of a story. It happens to the best of us.

But do not mistake my being well-mannered with a desire to invest in your latest backpack that converts into a pair of water-proof hiking boots prototype. Or to come to a no-obligation trial at your traditional healing therapy studio. Don’t put me in a position where I have to smile, and promise “I’ll think about it — sounds interesting”. When I actually mean: “No. And I really wish you hadn’t painted me into this awkward corner of feigned interest and moderately subverted resentment.”

Don’t ask me to do things based on attributes I have no control over.

Being a black African in Vienna is interesting. I get to be “the only…” at pretty much every activity I am part of. If being the star of the show is your thing, I highly recommend it.

When you meet someone who might be slightly unusual in a specific context, do not assume they are adept at a certain skill based on a characteristic they did not choose. Would you ask someone who was missing a leg for help perfecting your tree pose?

No, I won’t run a drumming workshop for you. And no, I can’t recommend someone who can. Nor will I help you sell LED lighting strips in Africa (maybe you want to be more specific about which of the 54 countries you mean?). I’m a communications professional. A skill I chose and one I work very hard to develop. Yes, I’m black. And yes, I’m African. But I am just as likely to be an intellectual as I am to be a twerking expert. A. B. C. D. Examine your assumptions. Please.

DO Make the Circle Bigger

All the best networkers do this. The person who gives something while demanding nothing is remarkable and someone everyone wants to stay connected to.

If you pay attention, people will always reveal what matters to them. That guy who mentions how, deep down, they’ve always wanted to become a writer, and you know someone who runs a publishing platform, connect them. That woman who is nervously considering establishing her own company, and you know a guru in start-up coaching, connect them. There might not be anything in it for you right away, but the effort you put into that introductory email and your generosity of spirit will be greatly appreciated. And, most likely, eventually returned.

The universe loves to balance things out like that.

So, to sum up:

  • No to your hiking boot-bag. While I appreciate the hustle, this is not the time, nor the place.
  • No to defining people by lazy geographical stereotypes. It’s 2018. The bar is so much higher now.
  • Yes to opening doors of opportunity to people who might not be able to return the favor immediately. Or, perhaps, ever.

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Iris Jumbe is Founder and Managing Director of Philstem Communications GmbH, a strategic consultancy based in Vienna, Austria. Philstem works with organizations and individuals to optimize professional performance and push persuasive messages front of mind.

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