It's All About Connecting
Santa Barbara, CA (March 2015)—In case you haven't already gotten the memo, competing with others is out. However, connecting with others to share ideas, work together on projects, and offer support is most definitely in.
The changes brought about by the global economy have made collaboration and innovation "must-have" skills, and according to clinical psychologist Dr. Nancy D. O'Reilly, taking your own connections to the next level doesn't have to be as difficult as you may think. (In fact, it may even be fun!) "The world is making a shift to what I call 'Connecting 2.0,'" says O'Reilly, who along with 19 other women, cowrote the new book Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life.
"It's more meaningful than the 'mile-wide and inch-deep' type of connecting we associate with social media. It's based on sharing and co-creating, not self-interest. It's authentic, it feels good, and it works." This deeper approach to connecting works so well, in fact, that individuals all over the country (and across the world!) are creating an ever-expanding network of resources offering expertise and support to people in business, government, education, philanthropy, and other fields.
The idea is not just to advance our careers and make money, but to make life itself richer, more exciting, and more creative. "The Connecting 2.0 movement is nothing like the phony, self-serving, let's-exchange-cards-and-move-on networking that most of us hate," O'Reilly comments. "Sure, connecting with other people does pay off in amazing ways, but the rewards flow organically from a genuine desire to make a difference in the lives of others."
You may be wondering, Where do I sign up? The answer is "everywhere." This is not some exclusive club—it's open to anyone with passion, enthusiasm, and a yearning to live a richer, more fulfilling life and maybe even change the world. But O'Reilly knows you may not be used to thinking this way. That's why she offers the following tips:
- First things first: Aim for a good mix of online and face-to-face connecting
It's easy to send an email message, and it's really easy to like, to share, to follow in the world of social media. That's why so many people do it. (It's easy to push a key or click a mouse after all.) And while there is nothing wrong with social media, it's also no substitute for real-world human interaction. The Connecting 2.0 movement depends on both types of connecting: virtual and face-to-face. "If you're burning up social media, consider taking an online contact offline," O'Reilly advises. "Tell that person you'd love to meet up for lunch the next time he or she is in town. Conversely, if you're proudly 'old school' and are neglecting your social media presence, dive in. You really need a foot in both worlds."
- Join a new group that interests you and really attend the meetings
Make them a priority. It doesn't matter what activity it's based on. This may be a book circle or a kayaking club or a community cause. What's important is that you're getting together with other people who share a common interest—and that you go to meetings and events often enough to let these strong connections develop. "It's the shared passion for the activity that generates the connections," notes O'Reilly. "And those connections take on a life of their own. You may end up forging alliances, finding jobs, winning clients—even though that's not the 'purpose' for the group."
- Get involved in a philanthropic cause that speaks to your heart
Women and men who care enough about others to volunteer their time, talents, and treasure are the kinds of people you want to meet. They tend to be "other-oriented" and want to make new connections, too. So whether your "cause" is homeless animals, kids with cancer, adult literacy, or clean oceans, get involved. "I actually met the 19 women who cowrote my book through my Women Connect4Good, Inc., foundation," she adds. "In fact, the book is living proof of the kind of collaboration that happens when people make connections based on their desire to serve."
- Get on a different team at work
We tend to stick to our comfort zone. But shaking things up from time to time keeps you sharp and puts you in the path of exciting new people. When you work with people you don't know on projects you're unfamiliar with, you will learn, grow, and often discover vital new talents and interests.
- Think about what you need to learn
Seek out mentors who can help you learn it. Let's say you have a small catering company specializing in weddings, parties, and family reunions. You'd like to expand into the healthcare conference arena but know nothing about the field. You might reach out to someone who plans such conferences and offer to trade services—perhaps cater an upcoming event for free or for a greatly reduced price—in exchange for the chance to learn and get a foot in the door.It's more meaningful than the 'mile-wide and inch-deep' type of connecting we associate with social media
"You're not asking for something for free," notes O'Reilly. "You're also bringing something to the table. Who knows: The other entrepreneur's clients may love your fresh approach, and it could result in the two of you starting a whole new venture."
- Likewise, give back to men and women who need your expertise
In other words, don't just seek out mentors. Be a mentor to people who can benefit from your knowledge and experience. It's "good karma" and it can pay off in unexpected ways.
- Take a class. (And don't just sit there; talk to your neighbor)
Whether it's continuing education for your job, a creative writing class at the local community college, or even a martial arts training session, actively pursue new knowledge and skills. This will bring new and interesting people into your life—women and men who, just by being there, show that they have a zest for life and learning.
- Volunteer your speaking services
Yes, yes, you hate public speaking. Many of us do. But taking to the podium is a powerful way to get your voice heard, to build up your confidence, and of course to make new connections with those who hear you speak. And there are many civic and service organizations—like the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club—that need speakers.
- Handpick five to ten powerful individuals in your community and ask them to participate in an event
This might be a roundtable discussion that takes place at an industry conference or a community fundraiser, for example. And don't think that busy, important men and women won't have time for you, says O'Reilly. "Many successful people love sharing stories, best practices, and ideas," she says. "You might be surprised by how many will say yes."
- If you're invited, go
When someone invites you to an event or gathering—whether it's an industry trade show, a party, or a hiking trip—go if you can. Yes, even if you're tired, out-of-sorts, and feeling blah. "Say yes if it's remotely possible," advises O'Reilly. "There are always reasons to say no and some of them are good reasons. But overall, life rewards action. Life rewards yes. The more times you say yes, the more connections you will make. The more connections you make, the richer and more creative your life will be."
- Set a goal to meet "X" new people per month
Insert your own number, depending on your circumstances and personality. Hold yourself to this number (it will help greatly to keep track in a journal or calendar). If you take this metric seriously, you'll figure out how to make it happen. And while meeting isn't the same as connecting, it's the essential first step. "Let's say your goal is to meet five new people this month, and it's the last day of the month and you have two to go," says O'Reilly "You can always pop into the spin class at your gym, or maybe go to an open house or political rally. While you're there, of course, strike up conversations with at least two individuals and introduce yourself." Voilà! You've met your goal! While many people are naturally good at connecting, it still doesn't happen automatically, notes O'Reilly.
We all have to make an effort. "Most of us are so busy and overwhelmed that we just don't make it a priority to connect with other people," she says. "We really do have to be deliberately purposeful about it. The benefits of connecting with other women and men are incredible, so we owe it to ourselves—and each other—to make it happen."
Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life (Adams Media, 2015, ISBN: 978-1-440-58417-6, $16.99, www.drnancyoreilly.com