372: How to Take the Work out of Networking with Karen Wickre

By November 26, 2018Podcasts

 

Karen Wickre shares ways both introverts and extroverts can grow their networks without that transactional feeling.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A pro-tip for how to build up your network despite social anxiety
  2. How to farm for contacts instead of hunting for them
  3. The strength of weak ties

About Karen

Karen Wickre is the former Editorial Director at Twitter, where she landed after a decade-long career at Google. She is a member of the Board of Visitors for the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University, and serves on the boards of the International Center for Journalists, the News Literacy Project, and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. She has been a featured columnist for Wired.com and is a cofounder of Newsgeist, an annual gathering conference fostering new approaches to news and information. She is the author of Taking the Work Out of Networking and lives in San Francisco.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Karen Wickre Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Karen, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Karen Wickre
Oh, thanks, Pete. I’m looking forward to this.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve been looking forward to this as well. I’d like to start by hearing the tale – I understand that you attended the first concert of The Beatles in the US. What’s the whole story here?

Karen Wickre
Well, the whole story is, I’m old enough to have attended the first concert of The Beatles in the US on February 19th, ’64. It is true. I’m I guess a classic Baby Boomer. I lived in Washington, DC. That’s where I grew up. The Washington concert was strangely enough, their first US concert. Then they went to New York. Then they went to Miami.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Karen Wickre
I was already a Beatles’ nut by the time they arrived here. I was getting British magazines and all the rest. So my poor dad drove a couple of us down into the city to this concert, which I know now was probably 40 minutes long. He waited for us. And so I don’t remember really hearing anything of the songs because there was a lot of screaming, to which I contributed.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Was this your first concert?

Karen Wickre
I think it was. I’m sure it was because I was 12 or 13. Kids in those days didn’t really just go off to concerts. I did later in high school, but this was earlier.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So plenty of screaming, a moment in history and you were there.

Karen Wickre
I was there. I’m still here, which is I guess ….

Pete Mockaitis
And you remain. Well done. Well, so let’s hear about your upcoming book. Will this also make history? It’s called Taking the Work out of Networking. What is the main idea here?

Karen Wickre
The main idea is maybe hidden in the subtitle, which is An Introverts Guide to Making Connections That Count. I don’t know about making history because frankly, I think it’s full of a lot of common sense, which isn’t often historical when we look back.

But the idea came to me for a couple of reasons. One, I have lived and worked in Silicon Valley in San Francisco for over 30 years. I’ve worked in technology businesses for all of that time. So I’m used to the ecosystem of that, which helped me kind of understand that, your connections are part of your currency professionally in a place that’s as fluid and fast moving as Silicon Valley. Today, it’s certainly not the only place that is that way.

But what I noticed is I do have a wonderful world of contacts of all kinds who I feel I can always turn to for any number of questions or needs I might have and so can other people. I’ve noticed over time that my way of staying in touch with people is almost all online, almost all digital.

In talking to other people, many of told me, whether they’re introverts or not, “I hate networking. I hate the idea of it. It seems phony and awkward, but I – so can you help me, introduce me to so-and-so.” Of course I always say yes, but I don’t have to be the only one who kind of has this ability.

I tried to document kind of all the ways that people can make better, more useful, and meaningful connections then trading the old business card while you’re looking past the other person.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So I’d love to get your take on a couple of the approaches in a moment, but first let’s dig into that subtitle a little bit. You talk about connections that count, could you maybe paint a clear picture for us in terms of what does it look like when you’ve made a connection that counts versus the alternative?

Karen Wickre
Right, one that doesn’t count.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Karen Wickre
Yeah, I think that to me if you dig a little more deeply into someone’s background and history and what they’re currently doing beyond the small talk of “What do you do? Where do you work? Here’s my card. Can I be in touch?”

If you get a little deeper than transactional, you find much more – sort of a richer person, a fuller person there – who may become a good friend, who may become a valuable business contact, but you don’t know that if you’re just doing the transactional things. I encourage more sort of conversational exchanges, more drawing out, being curious about the other person beyond that immediate identified work/job title, whatever it is.

And those to me, they can happen in person, but also can happen with a video chat. I have contacts I keep up with that way. And we have sort of virtual coffee. To me those are more – it’s not any particular skillset or field, it’s just you feel like you know them a little better and vice versa.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. Well, can you share a little bit in terms of some of the questions that you’re proposing or the key things that you find yourself saying often in conversations with new people that bring about some of that curiosity and that opening up and that sharing?

Karen Wickre
Yeah, well, for me, here’s where we play a little bit on the introvert part of this. I realized a few years ago something that had always been true for me. I’ve kind of throughout life made a game of getting other people to talk first. I think that as a kid I think I wanted some sort of reassurance that I could trust them or I could feel good around them or I was willing to reveal a little bit more about myself because introverts typically hold back.

Frankly, it works wonderfully to ask other people questions and get them going conversationally for the purposes of making a better connection, right? Or for the purposes of hearing and understanding more about someone else.

Questions to me to ask are not yes/no questions, but “Tell me a story,” questions. “How do you – are you enjoying the conference? What brought you here today?” if it’s that kind of meeting. “How did you get into your line of work? How do you like Company X? Do you enjoy this location? Are you thinking about somewhere else?”

Things like that that are sort of openers, where people generally – they’re safe enough to feel inclined to answer. They’re not terribly personal, but they’re personal enough. Then you obviously at some point have to take your turn and jump in, but you have a little more information there to sort of give context to the conversation.

Those kinds of questions, depending on how you read a person, there may be times to get a little more personal. If they’re wearing a team t-shirt and you know something about that team or they have wild eyeglasses on and you like those – there are ways to make people feel at ease and make them feel noticed and heard. You can do that by sort of making note of the fact that you’re paying attention to the other person with these kind of cues.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So, it’s just that simple in terms of “Hey, I noticed that you’ve got some cool glasses. Where did you get them?

Karen Wickre
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. Say, “Well, I got them at PhoneticEyewear.com,” or whatever.

Karen Wickre
That’s a little more fun than just sort of – even at a conference, “Where do you work? What do you do there?” That’s okay. Those are informational questions too, but sometimes it’s nice – it depends kind of how you can read the person.

My theory is that introverts are more observant of other people and perhaps more curious because we’re people watching and we’re kind of wanting to see other people kind of play out a little bit before we commit too much to speaking.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe you can help out us extroverts in terms of just going through numerous things that you can notice that maybe we might overlook. You talk about maybe glasses or apparel. Let her rip. Maybe just kind of reflecting back to the last few times you met new people and the things you noticed and struck up conversations about.

Karen Wickre
Yeah, I’ll make a caveat. This is a little bit outside of say a job interview, which I do talk about in the book. There are ways to do that too, but that takes a little more caution.

Any other setting – I have commented to people about their shoes or their bag or how did they like – if not their phone, because there are, precious few options there. Do they have any favorite apps, their carrying case for their phone, what their – if they look like they’re deep into technology, what do they like best, how are they liking that new app or something.

But sometimes it is sort of, “Those are great shoes. Those are great glasses.” Someone with fantastically dyed hair, I think is someone who wants some attention for that, so I think it’s okay to say, “I love your purple hair,” but to leave it sort of friendly and not too probing, but as sort of a positive, ‘I’m paying attention to you and I like what I see’ is the idea. I’m curious. You may want to tell me all about the purple hair or you may not. That’s okay. We’ll move on to your favorite apps.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. I’d love to get your take then for those who are experiencing some social anxiety, whether it’s all the time or just under certain contexts and scenarios. What are some of your pro tips for managing that and trying to be confident and calm and engage well?

Karen Wickre
Yeah, I’m a big believer in one-to-one exchanges as opposed to a group. If I do go to kind of a group party, I may be the one in the corner, deep in conversation with one person for the bulk of the evening because a good conversation to me is—it’s kind of the whole megillah. Where someone else may want to make the rounds and sort of, hop from one to another, if I like the conversation, I may want to stick with it.

I mean, I think you can just come away with a good feeling from a one-to-one exchange. It might be as simple as starting with people you’re somewhat familiar with as opposed to strangers. You may have work colleagues, who you don’t directly work with or you don’t see that often, but they seem interesting or they do – they’re in a team that you’d like to know more about or you want to understand what their work is. Have coffee with them.

I actually kind of repeat a saying in my book a few times, which is, “It’s just coffee,” which is to say, it’s not an interrogation or a job interview or something scary. But one-to-one, you begin to feel confident, even if you’re in a room then of mostly strangers but here’s this one person you kind of know. That’s a good thing.

But the other thing is, to not start with “I don’t know these mythical people out there, who are strangers to me, who have answers to all my problems,” but instead “I’ve always liked the contractor in our office and I thought maybe I’d get to know them a little bit better,” or a vendor or —the summer intern. Or you’re the summer intern and you want to get to know someone in an interesting role.

Start with people who are familiar-ish to you and break that down into sort of these one-to-one conversations. Then you build up new contacts and you have them among people that you consider safer perhaps less daunting.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well so we dug into a bit of the how and maybe we should zoom out a touch for the why. I think some folks would say, “I just don’t like networking and I don’t need to network, so I’m not going to network.” What’s your response to that? You’ve referred to networking as a necessary evil. What makes it necessary? What makes it evil?

Karen Wickre
Well, the idea of this networking where you’re conducting transactions or hoping to, I think that’s how people think of – that word networking even, I think they think it’s trying to get something when I need a lead for a job or I’m forced to go to this thing by work or it’s a conference or something  and I have to do this meaningless small talk and trade business cards or worse yet, I’m desperate for a job and I really – I have to go through these motions.

That’s what seems both necessary and evil I think to people, but it doesn’t have to be that way if you’re constantly maintaining the contacts you do have and continuing to extend them. The reason why this is important – or, there are a few reasons actually.

One is that more of us are going to work longer and that is going to be in more jobs. The days of having a single job through your career are long passed. You’re going to be going into new fields. You might be changing direction. You might be moving to a new area. You’re going to need to continue to make connections for yourself over time.

Similarly, younger people are taking more jobs from the get-go. One study I saw said that new-ish college grads have 5 jobs within the first 5 years of their getting out of school. We’re all familiar with the gig economy. There are more people doing independent work, piecing together contracting and project work and freelance this and that. That all requires more contacts to keep the pipeline going.

In addition, Americans actually move around geographically more than ten times as adults on average. So there’s a lot of reasons, that we need to continue to have new contacts and be able to reach out to new people with questions and our needs.

And we all have that need, by the way. We all have turns where we need to do this. It’s not like everyone else has it all sewn up and I’m the only one that needs to meet someone new to get some new ideas. Everyone needs to.

I’ve only met one person in my travels who admitted to me she had a nice, secure job for eight or nine years. When I met her, she said, “I realized I want to look for another job. It’s time for me to move on and I’ve let my network go because I’ve been in my pleasant comfortable job.” Well, guess what? Now she had to sort of create a new network of contacts to reach out to for her search. Rather than scrambling at that point, better that you just have people to turn to all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Okay, we’ve got the necessary, we’ve got the evil. Let’s talk a little bit about the “Oh, but I’m just scared,” or “Ah, that’s so uncomfortable. It’s just not me.” How do you reframe that such that maybe it can be all the more manageable and approachable?

Karen Wickre
Well, as we were saying before, as we were talking about before, the idea that you actually know more people than you think you know. Start with familiar people. Don’t make it a faceless mass out there.

Think about – let’s say you’re interested in moving on from your current company and you want to sort of move up with the next role. You know the kind of company or you know the specific company. It’s quite possible you might know someone who works there or is in a similar role. How did they get there? This is the sort of thing LinkedIn obviously was designed for and is useful for but there are other ways in addition.

It’s really just sort of just getting away from the general scariness to the specific “Let me talk to this person and let me talk to that person.” Just as you would not maybe want one opinion from one doctor, it’s sort of like get second opinions from other people who have different experiences and can help you along the way.

I don’t know how to make it more or, less scary than that other than to say, one-to-one coffees and one-to-one sort of email and phone call exchanges are pretty safe compared to that scary mass of strangers.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I also want to get a little bit of your take, we talk about coffees, that’s making me think about Keith Ferrazzi’s book, Never Eat Alone and his kind of mentality of kind of just going for it, all the time. How do you think about that premise of never eating alone and just really going after network building with gusto?

Karen Wickre
Or a vengeance.

Pete Mockaitis
Or if – your words, not mine.

Karen Wickre
I have to say, I feel like I’m at the other end of this than Keith. I know his work and his energy I’m impressed by. But I want to have meals alone sometimes. I don’t want to be talking to people all the time.

Again, for me, the game is not building a network so that there’s more contacts in it. The game for me really is making the connections between people. That’s what I do naturally. That’s what I like to do.

For people who don’t necessarily want to be the connector, simply having more resources to draw on and to give back to – because as I say this is all sort of mutual and reciprocal – over time. It’s very cumulative. There’s a quote I like very much that I came across when I was writing the book, which is from a guy named Ivan Misner, who created-

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve had him on the show.

Karen Wickre
Oh really?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Karen Wickre
Okay, so Mr. Business Network International, right? His line that is so great is “Networking is more like farming than it is like hunting.” What I love about that, even though he uses the networking word, instead of connecting, it really is true.

If you think of farming or gardening, either one, you’re planting, you’re weeding, you’re replanting, you’re nurturing throughout the bad weather as well as harvesting and the good weather, all that kind of stuff. As opposed to hunting, which is really transactional when you think about it. You’re going in for the kill and you kill or you fail, but that’s it.

I find thinking about it that way, that really gets my point across is it’s more like the cyclical, kind of long-term, long-game process of farming or gardening.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I dig it. I also want to get your take on – you’ve got a fun turn of a phrase that you suggest we embrace our quiet side. What does that look like in practice?

Karen Wickre
Well, I think for those who aren’t glad handers and don’t want to work the room and don’t want to go out there, as I say, I probably spend 20 or 30 minutes maybe in the morning when I’m first sort of warming up for the day – I read the news. I’m kind of a news junkie. I follow lots of things.

Someone will come to mind when I see one story or another if I know – as just happened – a Red Sox fan, and I find some quirky story about their recent World Series win, I just send off the link to my friend and say, “Hey, thinking of you. Enjoy this.”
I do that probably 10 or 15 times to people I know well, old friends, people I don’t know as well, where I see something of interest that just makes me think of them or I might have a specific question. That’s like 20 – 30 minutes in the morning. That is sort of my sort of outreach for the day maybe.

People come back in their own time. It’s very asynchronous. But we’ve had a moment of being top of mind for each other in that. That actually is maintaining your connections. That’s maintaining your network right there. That’s why I say you can do so much behind the screen as opposed to having to go to events and having to make small talk.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Well, tell me Karen, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Karen Wickre
Let me think. I think the only other thing I’d say, and I do have a chapter in the book about this, is the power of weak ties. Weak ties are the people you know less well and often are the ones who – especially in a professional or in a job context – may be the key to unlocking an opportunity for you.

This is why I encourage people to think more broadly about who they know. It could be a colleague they had 10 or 15 years ago, they haven’t been in touch with. It turns out when you say, “Oh I’m interested – I’m glad to be back in touch. The reason I just want to tell you what I’m up to. I’m doing this and I’m looking to do this,” and they say, “Oh my God, my next-door neighbor, my best friend is so-and-so. I’ll introduce you.”

You wouldn’t know that unless you had made that sort of friendly agenda-less contact with a weak tie or even a stranger. I guess I can’t say enough, people should think broadly about who they know and not be afraid to reach out in a way that is kind of friendly and open and with a specific need if you have it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Very good. Thank you. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Karen Wickre
Gosh, I’m such a quote fan. I love this one from Susan Cain, who of course wrote Quiet, which is the bible for introverts that came out in 2012, so much work has come out of that. She said something like, “Some people require the bright lights of Broadway and others thrive at the lamp-lit desk.”

I love that because not only does it sort of encompass these different styles, but it’s like it’s okay to be either. It’s okay and fine and there’s a good quality to if you must have the Broadway lights, perhaps that’s Keith Ferrazzi, or if you thrive in a different way. Both are fine and all points in between.

I really think that’s to me is a sort of broader idea than just for introverts and extroverts. I think it’s a good way to think about living and other people.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Karen Wickre
Let me think. Well, at the risk of repeating myself, when I looked into this idea about your weak ties, it all goes back to one Stanford sociologist in the 1970s, who made a study of people who were then looking for jobs. Remember they didn’t have digital means for looking and scouting. It was all sort of human face-to-face.

The experiment that he set up had to do with where people got the best leads for the jobs they had. They came from this characteristic – this group of people he called weak ties.

I just thought especially for going back to – I think it’s ’73 is when he published this study – it’s so interesting to think about how that – first of all how it’s resonated in all the years since and been cited for all kinds of things, but also how it was conducted then and how he found out that people in fact did get the best job leads and the best opportunities and landed them through people they knew less well.

Since we live in a digital age where we do so much outreach to people we don’t know well online, it’s – I love that that study has had legs.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Karen Wickre
Favorite book. I am so torn on this. I’m so torn on this because I’m still attached to print and I have so many at home. I think one that I have liked very much recently is called – is by Olivia Laing, it’s called The Lonely City. It’s a little bit of a memoir and a little bit of a sort of meditation on being alone in a city and all the feelings that come up as you walk around and explore it. I’m a bit of a city walker myself. I’ve just been – it takes me to another place than the workday does.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Karen Wickre
A favorite tool. If you could see my phone – immediately I go to the phone as opposed to my hardware drawer.

I think for me something like WhatsApp provides a lot of interesting utility when I travel overseas. As you know, it’s not as – hardly used in the US, but it has given me such utility in places where everyone uses it and where it’s very easy to either talk by voice or text people and reach them instantly. I had never heard about it until Facebook bought it. I use it with my non-US friends. It’s an intriguing tool I wouldn’t have thought of.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Karen Wickre
Favorite habit. Now I must ask you how you define habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s something that you do regularly that helps you to be awesome at your job. Common answers include exercise, meditation, visualization. Those are the ones that kind of frequently – reading, journaling. Sometimes it gets super specific, so it’s always fun to learn.

Karen Wickre
Yeah. Well, for me it is art museums. Whatever city I’m in, I make an effort to go to an art museum. Some cities I always go to my favorites. I don’t – sometimes, I’ll look at a big show, but other times I want to be through the quiet rooms that are not crowded or go at an off time and just stop and look and see what grabs me, see what speaks to me. I find that very restorative.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me, when you’re teaching this stuff, is there a particular nugget, a thing that you share that seems to connect and get retweeted and sort of frequently mentioned back to you?

Karen Wickre
I’m just at the start of talking about this in relation to the book, so I would say I may not have a – I don’t know if I have a full set yet, but one thing that people seem to pick up on – in the book I talk about there is a value to small talk.

I’m not by nature a small talk fan, but when I talk about the utility of it for sort of breaking the ice and making people feel comfortable and included, a little bit what I said here earlier about conversation starters, people seem taken by that because here again I think we all say we don’t like small talk, but in fact there are times that it’s a great value.

Pete Mockaitis
If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Karen Wickre
My own – I’m very active on Twitter. I guess that’s the first place. My handle is KVox, V-O-X, V as in Victor, KVOX. I have my own website, which is just my name, KarenWickre.com. Then of course there’s the book itself, which is available in all the usual spots where books are sold or will be on November 27th.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Do you have a favorite call to action you’d issue to folks here seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Karen Wickre
I would say curiosity. Being curious about – it’s sometimes a hard thing to fight against the routine and the tasks in front of you and the silos that we’re often in. I would say fight that to the extent you can to be curious.

How did something get to be that way?  Why are we doing it this way? What are people doing in other teams? What else is going on that I don’t know about around the company? That can really benefit your current job, but also kind of shake up your thinking and make the whole scene a lot richer for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Karen, thanks so much for taking this time. I wish you tons of luck with the book and all you’re up to.

Karen Wickre
Oh, thank you so much, Pete. I enjoyed it.

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