April 30, 2018
When was the last time you walked into a crowded room and sought out a stranger to talk to instead of making a beeline toward a familiar face? Not lately, huh? It seems we fear what we don’t know, and as creatures of habit, we tend to enjoy our comfortably lined security nests, and don’t veer easily toward what is foreign to us.
When it comes to business networking, many of us wince.
We immediately think about a pushy salesperson with a sweaty stack of business cards, but that’s not what it should be about. It should be about getting to know people. New people. And that can be scary stuff.
This week, however, I pushed the boundaries of my comfort level. Jacqueline Holm, Assistant General Manager for the Quad Cities River Bandits, gave a presentation at the PR Network Half Day Workshop on networking, and her words resonated with me.
Here’s the thing about walking up to a perfect stranger and introducing yourself—it’s a little scary for everyone. But there’s a good chance we’ll have something in common with that person, because at our core, we’re all just people. And those similarities? They make new people less scary because once we learn we have something in common, we feel as if we know them—at least a little—because they are like us.
Jacqueline had us break into groups of two (yes, groups of two strangers!), gave us a list of icebreaker questions and within a few minutes, we all knew something—and had things in common with—a perfect stranger.
It’s likely that we all had anxiety to some degree, but no one fled the room, no one cried, and no one was exiled from the village. I’d say it was a success.
All of this got me to thinking about the Quad Cities Big Table event that took place the week before. Over 5000 people participated in over 500 tables throughout the Quad Cities, giving residents and businesses a chance to voice their opinions on how they would like to see the area grow. The table I participated in discussed how to foster diversity and inclusion. The consensus was that we tend to gravitate toward people we know and shy away from people we don’t, and if we can overcome that, we’ll be a more inclusive society.
This leads me back to that issue of fear and comfort. If we don’t get out of our comfort zones—if we don’t meet new people and go new places—we’ll do little to foster diversity and inclusion. We—all of us—need to be willing to strike up a conversation with someone who doesn’t look like us or think like us. We need to be willing to listen to an opinion that is different from our own, and we need to be willing to hear it. We need to be willing to experience things that force us to shed our security blankets.
For the Quad Cities Big Table group I participated in, this means choosing to frequent locally owned businesses owned by people whose backgrounds are different than our own and intentionally saying hello to new people.
We may feel uncomfortable at first, but that’s just the fear of the unknown whispering in our ear.
And let’s face it—our best memories are not usually created doing those humdrum things that are part of our everyday routine. They’re usually created doing new things that challenged us, surprised us or inspired us. People are much the same way. It can be those new people who will challenge, surprise or inspire us.
I think it’s time we go meet them.
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