Whenever someone sends me an invite to a family function I’m quick to reply: I don’t do weddings and I don’t do funerals. This is not entirely true. I have done plenty of both. However, I am selective because the amount of socializing at family affairs often overwhelms me. This struck me funny since I could easily walk into a room filled with total strangers and spend a few minutes with each one.
At a recent family function, my sister-in-law commented on this. We had returned to small town of Libby, MT where my husband grew up, and I have always marveled at the extensive conversations they had with people they hadn’t seen in years. My sister-in-law commented that a lot of time was spent keeping strong relationships with the neighbors. She had noticed that relationships were extremely important in places like Libby where the economy struggled to recover. She contrasted this to Middle Class America were people focus less on building deep relationship and more on getting ahead.
This observation seemed to explain a lot about my social habits. Despite my inner city birthplace in Compton, CA; and a long list of relatives spread out through the Los Angeles area, my father moved us to the northwest U.S. while he worked up and down the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Whenever I went back to L.A. it took me a long time to settle in socially. At most, I would only chat a few minutes with each family member, much like a networking conference. Only a few family members would get hours or days of my attentions, a behavior that carries on today.
I considered my networking habits. Sure the purpose is to meet new people, but I’ve never found networking events as effective as going to an event with an established purpose such as a gallery opening, group ride or run, or class. At networking events, there is no guarantee people will have anything in common, as with the other cases. This leads me to only spend a couple minutes talking with someone much like relatives at a family reunion. I am preoccupied with assessing them instead of really getting to know them. Of course, this might be the purpose of networking events, as many others also seem eager to move on only after a few minutes. Unfortunately, I am left with a shallow feeling that makes me wonder if my time isn’t better spent at other events that focus on something other than networking.
Not to say networking events aren’t useful. They are great for developing business etiquette, identifying the players, and catch up on industry gossip. But much like family, there should be a point where you settle in socially and start building more in-depth relationships that last a lifetime.