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Networking Secret #7: Never Eat Alone

Networking Secret #7: Never Eat Alone

By Keith Ferrazzi

Friendship grows from the quality of time two people spend together, not the quantity. There is a common misconception that to build a bond, two people need to meet often and for long stretches. This is not the case. Outside your family and work, you probably can count the people you see frequently in the course of a month on two hands. Yet surely you have more than 10 friends. It is what you do together that matters, not how often you meet. That’s why you have to pay special attention to where you’re most comfortable and what activities you most enjoy.

Share Your Passions

I have always loved throwing dinner parties, even back in business school when it meant everyone had to sit in folding chairs and hold their plates in their laps. The companionable effects of breaking bread make it so easy to bring people together. This is what the phrase never eat alone really means: Just doing things you love and inviting others to share in your passions. Although I believe anyone can throw a great dinner party, there are plenty more ways to never eat alone. I also love to exercise, for instance. Others may like to collect stamps or baseball cards, talk politics or go skydiving.

When we are truly passionate about something, it’s contagious. Our passion draws other people to who we are and what we care about. They respond by letting their guard down, which is why sharing your passions is important in business. I can tell more about how someone is likely to react in a business situation from my experience with him at an intimate dinner or after just one strenuous workout than I can from any number of in-office meetings. We just naturally loosen up outside work. Perhaps it’s the venue itself, not to mention the wine over dinner. It’s astonishing how much more you can learn about someone when you are both doing something you enjoy.

Dinner, the YMCA or Church

I have a friend who is the executive vice president of a large bank in Charlotte, North Carolina. His networking hot spot is, of all places, the YMCA. He tells me that at 5 and 6 in the morning, the place is buzzing with exercise fanatics like him getting a workout before they go to the office. He scouts the place for entrepreneurs, current customers and prospects. Then, as he’s huffing and puffing on the StairMaster, he answers their questions about investments and loans.

Keith Ferazzi's Networking Secrets

Besides food and exercise, I sometimes take people to church. That’s right, church. I attend a mostly African American and Hispanic/Latino Catholic church in Los Angeles — St. Agatha’s. It’s wonderfully unorthodox. Instead of “passing the peace” in the form of a simple handshake, a gospel choir belts out uplifting tunes while the congregants walk around the church hugging each other for 10 minutes. I don’t try to foist my beliefs on anyone; the people I bring along — whether an actor or lawyer or an atheist or Orthodox Jew — tend to see my invitation as a kind of personalized gift. It shows them that I think so highly of them I’m willing to share a deeply personal part of my life.

Strong Relationships Help Careers

Contrary to popular business wisdom, I don’t believe there has to be a rigid line between our private and public lives. Old-school business views the expression of emotions and compassion as vulnerability; today’s new businesspeople see such attributes as the glue that binds us. When our relationships are stronger, our businesses and careers are more successful.

Obviously, this never eat alone rule isn’t one you can follow 100 percent, but it’s a great way to remember to invite others into the activities you already enjoy doing. Just make a list of the things you’ll be doing in the next couple of weeks, and invite people you’d like to know better to join you. Building relationships this way takes no more time than you already devote to your favorite activities. You’ll be energized and have fun while doing things you love so others will see you in the best light, not those nasty office fluorescents.

Get more tips in Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone and by subscribing to Keith’s free tip of the week.

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