When Lynda Whitaker sends her husband, Scott Whitaker, to the supermarket for a quick trip, five minutes turns into an hour. He’s the friendly guy who will share a laugh with the cashier or lament with you about the weather. Eye contact, a firm handshake and a warm smile. Whitaker does what the business world calls networking, but he doesn’t even know it.
“Other people use the term networking, but I don’t view it that way,” Whitaker said. “I don’t view that I’m doing that. I just view that this is someone new in my life.”
For some, networking can feel forced, a chore even, but as the true and tried saying goes, it’s not what you know, but who you know. Networking is vital to a business, and it’s these relationships that can truly propel a business forward.
Forging connections with others can bring more exposure to a business and open doors to new opportunities that can help it expand, merge and innovate. However, people get tangled in a flurry of business cards and every conversation follows the same, dry rubric. When it comes to networking, people are wary of it, but maybe it’s time to redefine what that means to a company.
“There are some folks that just network to increase business. They don’t ever get to know the person, but maybe for the short-term,” Whitaker said. “At some point in time, if you don’t get beyond that, I don’t think you’re serving that client by not getting to know them.”
Whitaker is different in that he builds relationships for the intrinsic value of making a connection. True to the archetype, Whitaker is a prime example of a connector, defined as an individual who knows a wide range of people. In a corporate setting, they are walking networkers – introductions are second-nature to them and strangers are simply potential friends.
Relationship building comes so natural to connectors because they wipe away the agenda. They enter a conversation without a motive, rather they have a genuine need to learn from others. Connectors are resourceful, consistent and curious. This sincerity produces a much more successful and fruitful relationship. As a minister for Impact For Living and a former attorney, Whitaker comes across countless people of the congregation, but he takes the time to make personal connections with them.
“At the end of the day, the reality is that if you minister to them … build that relationship … often they will want to invest in your cause as well, but that’s not why you want to do it,” Whitaker said.
Companies must ask themselves: what is the purpose of the company? What are you trying to accomplish? Why do you want to make connections? Is there a part of your business that can impact people’s lives and make a difference? If reaching a gross revenue is the bottom line, refocus the bottom line. Whitaker emphasizes that creating a positive impact in the lives of others through a company is the top priority, and you’ll find that having passion and drive for a cause will naturally attract people.
In an age of technology, the method of networking has changed substantially. Social media breaks down communication barriers and now it’s more efficient and instantaneous. The new business card is a LinkedIn page. Facebook profiles are a form of branding and when an e-mail fails, there’s now Skyping, FaceTime, Twitter and a plethora of other platforms. Networking by far is easier, but depending on how it’s used, relationships can be just like the platforms their built on, impersonal and somewhat superficial. Technology tries to mimic life, but nothing beats face-to-face communication when it’s hard to gauge one’s countenance, tone, gesticulations behind a glowing screen.
“I think it’s neat that we have social media to connect, but I think to say it is the right way and the only way we ought to know folks would be a mistake,” Whitaker said.
For Whitaker he still tries to make meaningful connections even with a phone. Whitaker will lead a call in devotional each week for around 80 people, and the night before the devotional, he will remind them via text. However, he makes a point to remind each person individually, avoiding mass texting.
“The reason I do that is because it makes me think about you for a minute,” he said.
Making time to get to know people and give full attention to an individual goes a long way. Networking should stop meaning passing around contact info, instead it should focus back to the core of every relationship: communication. Whitaker for example, jots down the names of people who he meets, and he makes a point to follow up with them. Latching onto those common connections and seeking out details outside of work personalizes communications.
Behind every company, there are people with unique stories. The idea is to stop limiting networking as a business method, but as way to enrich your life. It doesn’t matter whether Whitaker has a chance meeting that lasts 30 minutes or 20 seconds, he is touched by every person he meets, because there is no such thing as a coincidence for Whitaker. He believes that God has a hand and purpose in every meeting. If there’s anything to learn from connectors like him, it’s that they find the value in every single individual. Ultimately, people want to know someone who cares – someone genuine – and that can be hard to find.
“At the end of the day, I’ve been blessed with hundreds and thousands of folks that I’ve gotten to know over the years,” Whitaker said. “Almost every connection I make, I come away feeling better, and my only hope is that they went away feeling better.”
ALYSSA RAMOS is a second year Journalism major at the University of Florida with a minor in French. She is an aspiring magazine journalist, a fashion enthusiast, and a Netflix binger with hopes of telling people’s stories through all forms of media. For now, she is still honing her writing skills, but she’s always in search of a good book and a strong cup of coffee.