By Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD
Making meaningful connections with other women can change your life (not to mention the world). Problem is, many of us don’t know how—or where—to do it. Here, I offer 11 tips to help you improve your connecting skills.
Competing with other women is out. Connecting with other women to share ideas, work together on projects, and offer support is in. The changes brought about by the global economy have made collaboration and innovation “must-have” skills, and the great news is that women tend to be naturals at them. And that is why the women-helping-women movement is really picking up steam.
We’re making a shift to what I call “Connecting 2.0.” 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 we are creating an ever-expanding network of resources offering expertise and support to women 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.
This is more than a trend; it’s a movement—and women are loving it. More and more smart, amazing women are connecting to help their “sisters” live their very best lives. These likeminded women are passionate about making the world a better place—so they are finding one another and building strong, supportive communities.
The women-helping-women movement is nothing like the phony, self-serving, let’s-exchange-cards-and-move-on networking that most of us hate. Sure, connecting with other women does pay off in amazing ways, but the rewards flow organically from our “feminine strengths” and 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 all women with passion, enthusiasm, and a yearning to live a richer, more fulfilling life and maybe even change the world. But I know you may not be used to thinking this way. That’s why I offer 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 women 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 women-helping-women 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. Tell her you’d love to meet her for lunch the next time she’s 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 women 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. 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 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 women you don’t know on projects you’re unfamiliar with, you will learn, grow, and often discover vital new talents and interests.
• Get involved in a philanthropic cause that speaks to your heart. Women who care enough about others to volunteer their time, talents, and treasure are the kinds of women 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 new book Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life, through my Women Connect4Good, Inc., foundation. In fact, the book is living proof of the kind of collaboration that happens when women make connections based on their desire to serve.
• 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.
You’re not asking for something for free. You’re also bringing something to the table. Who knows: Her clients may love your fresh approach, and it could result in the two of you starting a whole new venture.
• Likewise, give back to women who need your expertise. In other words, don’t just seek out mentors. Be a mentor to women 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 women into your life—women 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 women 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 women 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 women won’t have time for you.
Remember, women love sharing stories, best practices, and ideas. 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. 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 women 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 women this month, and it’s the last day of the month and you have two to go. 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 women and introduce yourself. Voilà! You’ve met your goal!
While women are naturally good at connecting, it doesn’t happen automatically. We really do 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 women. We really do have to be deliberately purposeful about it. The benefits of connecting with other women are incredible, so we owe it to ourselves—and each other—to make it happen.
A Connecting Cheat Sheet: 10 Easy Hints to Help You Move Beyond “Surface” Networking and Make Deep Connections
If you want to join the women-helping-women movement, you’re already looking for opportunities to make deeper, more meaningful connections, support each other, and make the world a better place. But just going to the conference or fundraiser or team meeting isn’t enough. You have to know what comes next—what to say or do to connect with other women in ways that yield real relationships and change lives (including yours) for the better.
Here, excerpted from my book, Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life, I offer 10 tips to help you supercharge your new connections:
• Make the mental shift from “What can I get from you?” to “What can we create together?” Simple as it sounds, this really is the first step and the key to successful connections. When we think of networking as a self-serving exercise, we really don’t want to do it. It feels bad. But when we infuse sharing and giving into the process, suddenly it feels good. And it works.
• Go to functions alone. This will force you to meet people rather than spending the whole time chatting with friends and colleagues. At first, it’s really hard for some women to do this (probably most of us), but we are hardwired to connect. When you get over your initial anxiety, you will see how natural (and fun) it feels.
• Sit beside a woman you don’t know. Like showing up alone (though perhaps a bit less scary), this will force you to get to know someone new. Be friendly: Introduce yourself, introduce her to others, find something in common.
• Have three or four good “go-to” questions in the bag. This will be a huge help in case a conversation grinds to a halt. (Awkward!) It doesn’t matter what the questions are, but you might consider thought-provokers like “If time and money were no object, what would you be doing right now?” or “What is one goal you’d like to accomplish before you die?” or “What have you done lately that was fun?”
• Practice being interested rather than interesting. The old style of networking involved a lot of “selling” your skills and showcasing your knowledge. Resist the urge. Instead, when you’re talking to someone new, ask her about herself and really listen to her answers.
• Probe for people’s passions. Then stick to that topic for a while. You can tell when someone is excited about a subject. Her eyes light up. Her voice gets animated. When this happens—whether it happens when she mentions snow skiing, Civil War history, or helping African women support their villages—keep the conversation going along these lines. Passion is a powerful energy source for making connections.
• Read three relevant articles before the event. If you are at, say, a business convention, you might want to scour the trades for new trends, products, and processes. This gives you fodder for discussion. The idea isn’t to use it to “show off” or impress the other person but to bolster your own confidence, which makes you comfortable enough to connect.
• Gravitate toward women who are smarter than you. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to be the smartest, most interesting, most successful person in the group. Try not to feel threatened by other amazing women—instead, ask yourself what you can learn from them.
• Ask, “What can I do to help you?” (Then follow through.) This may catch people off guard. They probably expect you to ask for an interview or a chance to pitch your product. When you ask a woman if you can, say, introduce her to an influential colleague or bring your therapy dog to the children’s hospital she runs, she will be delighted.
• Avoid phoniness at all costs. Be real. Don’t hide or downplay your true nature or your beliefs to fit in or to make sure the person you’re connecting with likes you. Healthy relationships are built on transparency, and people respect this…even if you don’t agree on everything.
About the Author:
Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, is an author of Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life and urges women to connect to help each other create a better world. As a clinical psychologist, motivational speaker, and women empowerment expert, O’Reilly helps women create the satisfying and purposeful lives they want to benefit themselves, their families, and their communities. To accomplish this, she devotes her energies to fulfilling the mission of the Women Connect4Good, Inc., foundation, which benefits from her writing and speaking services. O’Reilly is the founder of Women Connect4Good, Inc., and for seven years she has interviewed inspiring women for online podcasts available on her website.
About the Book:
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) is available at bookstores nationwide and from online booksellers.