Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.
The best networker I ever met was a woman who owned her own business in a very competitive field and managed to stay afloat and bill very respectable numbers most years, through all types of economic conditions. She had perfected the skill of making a friend of everyone she met.
Her warmth and interest in you were intense and genuine. She quickly confided her professional challenges and her personal issues. She elicited both sympathy for her struggles and admiration for her success in developing her business. You were immediately taken into the fold and made to feel important, your contribution vital to her business. We quickly became collaborators and close friends. Her skills were invaluable for the development of the business and essential for effective networking. She attracted clients with the same skills she used to make me an ally.
For me, having just come from management positions in corporations, the encounter with the woman entrepreneur was a shock. My stance had always been to keep a distance between myself and most of my co-workers — you never knew who would be managing who in the next few months. It was a competitive environment and too much closeness could result in…what? Exposing weaknesses that could threaten your promotion opportunities? Who knows?
But socializing is a natural thing. We are social beings, and we naturally seek social interaction, whether at work or in our free time. Corporate management does not encourage socialization, even though there is a pervasive emphasis on so-called teamwork. The concept of teamwork in a corporate setting is a tool to keep people working together for the benefit of the enterprise and has little to do with satisfying employees’ need for socialization.
Now, as an attorney, I socialize freely with many colleagues. We go to events, have dinner and drinks, we share personal stories and concerns. Most of us practice in different areas of the law, and even if we don’t, we feel free to talk about our work, within the boundaries of required confidentiality, of course. There is a camaraderie and sense of the importance of our work that I did not experience in my business relationships in the past.
We freely share information about job opportunities and are able to help one another in many ways. This is networking at its best, where friendships result in mutual professional advantage. And it is one more reason why I enjoy being a lawyer.
I have noticed that some attorneys can overstep. In any work/social situation you have to be aware of interactions, of non-verbal indications, and refrain from inserting yourself into a social situation where you are not wanted. Sounds rough, but it is true. There will be other groups where you are welcomed, look for those.
If you can make a friend with whom you have common interests, move your career along and have fun in the process, that is the ultimate networking experience.