How sad that poor Kelly has so few lunch dates that he has to share it with the world when he gets one!
Well, my personal social life aside, I want to share a very basic and old-fashioned idea with readers today, and that is sitting down with a colleague and networking over a meal. It may seem far too little to write a blog about, but it’s a key element of networking and it should be done much more often in my opinion.
Look back to the not-so-distant past, before social media was available and you’ll discover that people used to get together much more regularly to converse, catch-up, check-in, and network. Lunch meetings were far more regular. People would multi-task by eating and chatting about work issues, projects, career paths, new initiatives etc. Now however, that face-to-face interpersonal interaction is happening less and less.
Oh sure you might go out regularly with other people you know at your workplace. That however is not networking that broadens your knowledge, reaches out to people you wouldn’t talk to otherwise.
Eight years ago; yes eight long years – I met a woman a few times who worked at another agency when I visited the agency on a fact-finding mission of mine. I wanted to know more about them, get a flavour for the atmosphere, ask some questions about how we could interact and benefit from one another and work together. As that agency shut down, this contact moved on to other employment, but I found her on LinkedIn and we connected some time ago.
In one of my, ‘reaching out’ moments recently, I suggested that it would be nice to sit down over lunch and catch up with each other. I was delighted to get a positive reply and today is the day.
Now some readers get suspicious of meeting one to one with someone else. I made an offer once to another colleague about ten years ago; and this was a person that worked for the same employer, but in another department. While we chatted every now and then when our paths crossed, we never really sat down, it was just passing in the halls. She however declined to meet over lunch unless there was a third person present, because she said she and her husband agreed they wouldn’t meet 1:1 with someone of the opposite sex over lunch. While I found that odd, I have no background as to why they struck this arrangement so I accepted it and didn’t take it personally. After all, it’s not like I was looking for some dessert with my lunch!
But back to today. Networking behind the relative safety of the monitor and keyboard is a wonderful advancement in technology, but there is still enormous value in meeting in person with others. As it turns out, I have a good idea already via our emails what we will talk about once we get past the initial, “So what have you been up to?” chat; career moves.
You can benefit a great deal from personal interaction. For example, you might learn better what an agency does, how you might improve the referral process of your clientele, learn about new programs or services just on the cusp of being released. And of course personally, you can find out what the other person is doing, wants to do in the future, and in so learning, may be of service by keeping your own eyes open for opportunities to share.
Now you might be looking at exploring career moves yourself. If this is the case, you can get inside information on what it would be like to work for the employer your colleague works at. This could in-turn, give you that edge you need if an opportunity is there to apply.
Meeting with a colleague is also a good way to practice listening skills, demonstrate your interest in them as a person, learn new things, improve your own worth to your present employer by being connected. This isn’t about filing a business expense for lunch either; this should be paid out-of-pocket unless you’re there primarily on business for your company. In my case, it’s me the individual reaching out to stay informed and see what a person I once saw face-to-face in the past has been up to.
It’s not practical to have lunch with all your LinkedIn connections; first of all I’ve got over 1,100 and many are far to distant to even consider meeting in-person. The value of meeting however is immense; strengthening connections, building working relationships, increasing awareness and hopefully benefitting our mutual clients as well.
If you don’t have well-developed people skills, meeting someone you don’t really know all that well is a good way to grow those skills. After all, factoring in driving time, you may only meet for 40 minutes let say, and you don’t have to do all the talking. The best conversations are an ebb and flow anyhow, and you’ll want to respond to what the other person is talking about and go where they lead too. This means you don’t have to plan out a 40 minute presentation in your head!
So think about those LinkedIn connections you have; call a few up and suggest a meeting to introduce yourselves and network face-to-face. Your initiative might be very much appreciated.
Oh, and I almost forgot; don’t order anything you have to eat with your hands – it’s just too messy!