One of the biggest perks of networking is the wide variety of people you will meet. They will have different personalities and styles, and will represent different cultures and generations. As you encounter new people, it is important to keep an open mind and to keep preconceived notions and the tendency to judge others firmly in check. You may be more comfortable spending your time with people just like you. But the contacts that you need to achieve your networking goals may be, in fact, quite different.
Today we live and work in a global economy and a mobile society, and you will likely cross paths with people from many different backgrounds in your career and social life. We certainly can’t be experts about all cultures within the United States, let alone those from across the world. But we can look at each interaction as an opportunity to learn about a new way of thinking, working and living.
It can be difficult to feel like you are really connecting with someone whose language, appearance and traditions are so unlike your own. But it is critical to be respectful of their culture. For important relationships, such as a customer or partner, take the time to educate yourself about these differences and adjust your own style accordingly.
As a professional woman, you must also be aware that working with men from some countries and cultures can present a whole new set of challenges. Do your research ahead of time so you are prepared to deal with any issues that arise.
Differences can occur between generations just as easily as they occur between different cultures. Again, the key is to keep your mind open and your attitude respectful, while learning to communicate (and connect) with some whose experiences are not the same as yours’. Try to focus on the commonalities that will lead you toward the desired results, rather than getting bogged down in your differences.
Consider the following example:
Diane has been in the interior design business for 25 years, and she and her partner have decided to grow the firm beyond their three long-time employees. During the process of interviewing designers with five years of experience, she is surprised by the requested starting salary of these professionals. She is also put off by how many of them asked her about flex time, bonuses for bringing on new clients, and becoming an equity partner in the firm. Diane expressed her discomfort to her partner, stating "I can’t believe the expectations these young women have today. What ever happened to proving your worth and paying your dues? An employee should earn rewards instead of asking about perks upfront."
As hard as it may be to for Diane to accept, times have changed and today’s employees have different expectations. We work in a day and age where flexible schedules, performance-based compensation and a defined partner track are quite common. While it is true that the older generation did pay their dues and "pave the way" they should also take pride in how far women in business have come. Young women today are more confident in business settings than past generations, and are more comfortable asking for what they want. Diane should not hold this generation gap against the designers she is interviewing, or she may miss the chance to hire an outstanding employee and gain access to a new generation of clientele.
It is easy to see the differences as something that keeps us apart. In fact, some of the most successful and enjoyable relationships are between people from different backgrounds or who are in different stages of life. One of the best ways to grow is by learning from those whose experiences and viewpoints are not like your own. So open your mind fill your network with a diversity of interesting people!
Written originally for w2wlink by Marny Lifshen.
is an independent marketing communications and PR consultant, as well as a speaker and author. She provides comprehensive strategy, management, implementation and evaluation of marketing communications and public relations initiatives to wide variety of clients. Marny is the author of Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Women, the business category winner for the 2009 Eric Hoffer Awards for Independent Books, released by New Year Publishing in August of 2008. An experienced speaker, she has been speaking specifically to women's organizations for more than ten years, including Women in Technology International, Women in Communications and the Young Women's Alliance. Marny can be reached at www.marnylifshen.com.