The Power of Crossing Paths
By Kathleen Quinn Votaw
Loneliness is a serious health risk; and people with open networks are significantly more successful in their careers. These two disparate facts featured in recent articles in Slate and Forbes, respectively, are reason enough to expand your connections and nurture your relationships. If you need another incentive to connect besides health and success, it’s a fact that crossing paths with diverse people brings more fulfillment, joy and fun to your life.
Unless you’re a sales professional, connecting can be a personal challenge. One-third to one-half of us are introverts, making it even more difficult. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve seen CEOs of large companies walk into networking events with eyes wide like deer in headlights, absolutely terrified. Although making connections usually brings to mind the dreaded walk into a room full of strangers, there are many ways to reach out to others, fostering your business and personal growth and your overall well-being.
No one has ever become a success alone.
From family and friends to colleagues and mentors, we’ve had help getting to where we are. We continue to need help in getting to where we want to be. At some point, maybe now, we need to become more strategic about who we choose to spend precious time with and how we do it.
Our tendency is to surround ourselves with people like us, making us feel comfortable and safe. If that’s the path you choose, you’ll find yourself outside of the loop, both internally and externally. And you certainly won’t be among the most successful 20 percent of executives who have diverse, but select networks, as described in the Harvard Business Review article, “Managing Yourself,” by Cross and Thomas.
Think about what you’ll gain by connecting with diverse people who both challenge and support you, who tell you what you need to hear versus what you want to hear. Or as Entrepreneur columnist Jeff Boss says, surround yourself with people who enable you to “C” new perspectives by being:
- Contrary--helping to redefine “right”
- Curious--offering greater insight and self-reflection
- Critical—(politely) challenging your thinking
- Candid—helping you reflect and grow
- Competitive—keeping you from being complacent and drawing out your best
- Confidant—a person providing space to share insights
- Collaborative—making everyone in the room smarter
Diverse business and social connections fill in the gaps of your knowledge and skills and broaden your understanding and perspective—optimizing your effectiveness at every level, up and down the hierarchy and in the marketplace. Robust networks help you gather information, scope out trends, spot potential problems, talk to your competitors, and make better decisions. They also connect you with the best resources and talent. They enable you to receive help and to give it, continually strengthening your relationships.
Isolating yourself in your office is a bad choice.
Despite all of the benefits, it’s easy to avoid people by telling yourself that you need to focus on getting your work done so you can get home to your family; or dismissing networking as insincere, a luxury you can’t afford, or a way to trade useless favors with people you don’t want to know.
The solution to this negative thinking is to begin by connecting with targeted people who can support your specific needs and goals. This won’t happen overnight or by itself. You’ll have to work on it by attending certain events, joining particular groups. and reaching out to likely individuals by phone or email.
As you benefit from the dividends, it will be easier to allow serendipity into your networking by seeking out people and groups that are not directly connected to your targeted interests. Don’t just look for business connections. Expand your network wherever your interests are, for example, in sports, music, spirituality and volunteering. It’s this kind of diversity that expands influence, broadens expertise, and brings more purpose and balance to your life. Choose to associate with people who offer positive energy, enthusiasm, authenticity and generosity—people who listen and offer honest feedback.
Connecting isn’t second nature to everyone, but it is a skill that anyone can develop. Cross paths with interesting or influential people you find everywhere, whether or not you see immediate benefits, and your network will begin to grow in powerful and unimagined ways.