Monday, November 15, 2010

Why Weaving Trumps Networking for Women Entrepreneurs

by Jean Brittingham 

Last Tuesday, The Glass Hammer hosted an event on career management. The primary focus of the event was negotiating and networking—a skill that women entrepreneurs seem to have a stronger handle on than women in corporate settings.

Through my personal experience and interviews with women in corporate and entrepreneurial settings, the primary difference that sets women entrepreneurs apart is a sense of control over their own destiny. In the corporate world, even women who know how to play the game are often tired, tired, tired of playing it. As the Glass Hammer post explains—men never get tired of it. They know the game and they keep score. Even when women learn to do that, most of us don’t enjoy it —the feminine perspective on winning, and therefore our approach to competitive situations at work, is collaborative and seeks successful outcomes for all rather than winners and losers.

Further, as I discussed in "Pride, Power and Prejudice," what is seen as strength in men is often interpreted as aggressiveness in women.

While learning how to navigate tricky office politics and walking what Glass Hammer refers to as “the thin pink line” is appropriate for women professionals, when you have made the jump from working for others to leading your own company, there are many things about negotiating and networking that are unique.

For women entrepreneurs, our ability to use highly refined social sensitivity and engage with a broad range of people to effectively build networks and mature relationships is critical. We have to be committed and passionate about our ideas. We have to get our core concepts across quickly and succinctly to turn listeners and interested parties into potential supporters/collaborators and investors/customers.

This is where weaving comes in; it is a skill beyond networking. While networking puts you at the hub of a wheel in relationships with others, weaving happens when you listen to and connect the needs, desires and skills of others and begin to form new tapestries of relationships that create positive outcomes for many in the process.  In order to do this advanced networking effectively, you must listen to and understand what others need, want and are looking for beyond your business service, product offering or methodology.

A distinct differences between women and men entrepreneurs is the ability to stay engaged with people beyond the point that it is clear they are not going to help you with your business and build value added relationships where you didn’t think any would form.

The ability that women have to connect multiple ideas and concepts and not get overly distracted from it may have developed in the same way that other core female strengths have—through the necessity to understand a broad landscape of problems and issues, quickly prioritize and get everything done as needed, all while building a resilient community that is safe for children and future generations.

Here are some practical tips to help you increase your weaving skills.
  • Take notes of people’s ideas, dreams and the connections they need.
  •  If you can help, do it as soon as you can, especially if it is an introduction.
  • Whatever you are using to track relationships—even if it’s just a regular address book; make a few notes about what your new contact is working on.
  • As often as possible, follow-up with a short phone call rather than an e-mail. It’s more personal and even if you just leave a voice message, it will create a longer lasting impression
  • Don’t expect anything in return; do it because it’s the right thing to do and you can.
  • When it comes back, as it often will, be grateful and call again.
As an entrepreneur you are always setting the goals and standards for your organization. Creating positive connections for others is a great way to model commitment to customer service and strong partnership development. 

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