Avoid Networking Tunnel Vision
It’s commonly understood that there are many reasons to network with professionals in your field. What is not as widely recognized is the need to network with others outside of your field of interest and the benefits that can be gained. Networking outside of your comfort zone can lead to unexpected learning opportunities that can add to your development as a responsible citizen, employee or emerging leader.
To start thinking more broadly, it is helpful to reaffirm some of the obvious reasons for networking inside of your industry/profession. You may already network within your field to learn about technical innovations, your current marketability and new opportunities for advancement or to identify new areas to build skills and build your visibility to industry leaders. All of these reasons are widely accepted and practiced in many industries. But the downside of associating only with people having the same career interests is that it can close off opportunities to view the landscape from different perspectives.
The problem with having networking tunnel vision or a silo mentality is that the singlemindedness of both approaches tends to make things stay the same. Things might be good, might be bad, but they are very unlikely to change without a fresh viewpoint. Hearing a new perspective can be like choosing to listen to music based on your mood. New or different ideas can be brought together like a melody of notes played on different instruments. Valuing and leveraging differences can ultimately produce something greater than only one person or people with siloed interests can.
Speaking with people outside of your area of interest can lead to personal growth, tolerance and a greater understanding of those around you.
Speaking with people outside of your area of interest can lead to personal growth, tolerance and a greater understanding of those around you. Moving out of your comfort zone and associating with the general population can help you see important issues through a variety of lenses. It is easier to understand business decisions when you hear and learn about the experiences of people who work outside of your known arena. Talking to people who are unfamiliar with the commonly used acronyms in your field can force you to speak more clearly and precisely. Practicing the use of a different or broader vocabulary can improve your communication skills. Along the same lines, getting more comfortable with diverse groups or audiences will help your presentation skills.
Just as restaurants have created food fusions to produce fabulous new dining experiences and multicultural neighborhoods can create communities united by new traditions, networking with people with different interests can expand thinking and create new solutions to tough problems. Someone else’s naïve position on a current topic can often offer an unbiased view on some issues. Sometimes that naïveté can actually provide the opportunity to take a second look at what might have become your knee-jerk response. And asking and responding to questions from people unlike you can start entirely new and different dialogues. You just never know.
The more we all can learn to embrace differences and listen to new ideas, the more likely we are to produce truly new and fabulous results. Networking outside of your comfort zone with professionals who may seem to be completely different from you may stretch your brain and bring you unexpected results. Why not try it?