(Social) Networking 101

It has been such a privilege to spend the last two weeks working here as an intern at SSE. I had an interesting conversation with Alastair Wilson, the chief executive officer at SSE yesterday afternoon, focusing on how to effectively network. According to Alastair, most often, the key to successful networking is to create a deep connection with the individual who you are working towards building a relationship with. He finds that he is most successful making connections with others when he works to create a safe environment in which they feel comfortable engage in open conversation. That dialogue can take the shape of finding common interests and hobbies, or sharing hopes and fears. By creating a safe and comfortable space, you can effectively open up meaningful dialogue and understand one another’s motivations and aspirations as well as identify your similarities. It is valuable to ask meaningful and probing questions, and then engage in active listening. Often you can glean new pieces of information through hints as subtle as someone’s tone of voice or body language.

Simply through our conversation, I gained a sense of the energy, excitement, and satisfaction that Alastair drew from his work. His stories about individual entrepreneurs and the language he uses makes it easy to connect with what he is saying on a personal level. His excitement is contagious. I think that it is natural for us to want to be a part of a movement that provides us with an opportunity to stretch our selves and explore new ways to collaborate with others. Another important aspect of networking is the ability to bring in the human element. All too often the emotive response that binds us together as humans is lost behind professional walls of rationalism and pragmatism. When building a relationship with someone it is vital too see past these walls, and attempt to connect on a more fundamental level.

One of the joys that Ali finds, particularly working in the social sector and advocating on behalf of social entrepreneurs, is that nearly everyone can identify with the need for social entrepreneurs. The current social and political climate has created conditions that require more and more people to think and act creatively in order to address the needs and growing disparities in communities. Often times people will have personal stories, whether it was a friend or a family member who suffered significant financial or social loss, or experienced abuse, neglect, or illness, and they can identify a need that filled by a social organization. Networking involves inviting others to reflect on the role they play in their professional, communal, and personal lives and creating opportunities to find new and innovative means of engagement and collaboration.

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