Updated on 08.12.09

Never Eat Alone: The Genius of Audacity

Trent Hamm

This is the third of sixteen parts of a “book club” reading and discussion of Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz’s Never Eat Alone, where this book on building a lifelong community of colleagues, contacts, friends, and mentors is teased apart and looked at in detail. This entry covers the fifth and sixth chapters, “The Genius of Audacity” and “The Networking Jerk,” which appear on pages 48 through 66.

neaLet’s face it, I’m an introvert.

The idea of interacting with people, particularly people I don’t know well, makes me uneasy. My natural disposition is to just get quiet in a room full of people and just wait for people I know well or wait for the situation to be over.

It took me a long time to learn that such behavior is a fast route to failure.

It takes a lot of courage for me to do anything else. I have to focus on it carefully. I have to psychologically prepare myself. But, every time I do it, I find myself building relationships. And I also find that it becomes just a little bit easier to do it.

Be Gutsy
On page 49, Ferrazzi tells an awesome story about a childhood experience centered around poverty and audacity:

My father simply couldn’t be embarrassed when it came to fulfilling his family’s needs. I remember once we were driving down the road to our home when Dad spotted a broken Big Wheel tricycle in someone’s trash. He stopped the car, picked it up, and knocked on the door of the home where the discarded toy lay waiting to be picked up.

“I spotted this Big Wheel in your trash,” he told the owner. “Do you mind if I take it? I think I can fix it. It would make me feel wonderful to give my son something like this.”

What guts! Can you imagine such a proud, working-class guy approaching that woman and, essentially, admitting he’s so poor that he’d like to have her garbage?

Oh, but that’s not the half of it. Imagine how that woman felt, having been given an opportunity to give such a gift to another person. It surely made her day.

“Of course,” she gushed, explaining that her children were grown and that years had passed since the toy had been used. “You’re welcome to the bicycle I have, too. It’s nice enough that I just couldn’t throw it away…”

So we drove on. I had a “new” Big Wheel to ride on and a bike to grow into. She had a smile and a fluttering heart that only benevolence breeds. And Dad had taught me that there is genius, even kindness, in being bold.

I couldn’t help but think of my own childhood when I read this story. I grew up poor, probably at a level similar to Ferrazzi. I saw my father do similar things, picking through other’s junk to find things that were usable for us.

For a long time in my life, I saw it as sad. I saw it as something I should be trying to escape from. I didn’t want to be a parent that scavenged through junk for stuff for my kids.

Now, I see it as smart and resourceful and audacious and courageous. I’m perfectly happy to do that sort of digging if there’s something worth digging for.

What changed? I think the biggest switch was actually courage. It takes courage to do the unexpected.

Find a Role Model
Often, your friends are quite a bit like you – and that can be a disadvantage. On page 52:

We’re predisposed to seek out people like us – shy people tend to congregate with other shy people, and outgoing people congregate with outgoing people – because they unconsciously affirm our own behaviors. But everyone knows that one person in their group of friends and associates who seems to engage others with little or no fear. If you’re not yet ready to take the big leap of addressing new people on your own, let these people help you and show you the way. Take them with you, when appropriate, to social outings and observe their behaviors. Pay attention to their actions. Over time, you’ll adopt some of their techniques. Slowly, you’ll build up the courage to reach out by yourself.

A while ago, I used to think that I had little to say to other people. I didn’t think I had much in common with them, that my interests were very different.

What I found, actually, is that my lifetime history of reading almost everything I could get my hands on really paid off. I can converse about anything, allowing others to more or less choose the topic. I can talk about sports, art, popular culture, politics, or anything else that comes up. I might not be an expert, but I know something about it.

Sure, I have key interests, things that really light my fire. But when I realized that I could just hone in on what interests other people and at least be able to follow the conversation, it made it much easier to get to know people at least a little. Even better, I often would find that I had more in common with people than I would have thought, because everyone has a diversity of interests (even if they don’t come out at first).

This makes it easier for me to approach people that I don’t know. I usually just go up to them and try to figure out (as quickly as I can) something they’re passionate about. If I don’t know, I ask them to tell me about their hobbies and how they spend their free time, then I just hone in on the most promising thing. This almost always works.

A Modest Goal
How can you get started building relationships with others? On page 53, Ferrazzi suggests making it a goal:

Set a goal for yourself of initiating a meeting with one new person a week. It doesn’t matter where or with whom. Introduce yourself to someone on the bus. Slide up next to someone at the bar and say hello. Hang out at the company water cooler and force yourself to talk to a fellow employee you’ve never spoken with. You’ll find that it gets easier and easier with practice. Best of all, you’ll get comfortable with the idea of rejection. With that perspective, even failure becomes a step forward. Embrace it as learning. As the playwright Samuel Beckett wrote, “Fail, fail again. Fail better.”

This is a great habit to get into, actually. If you make it your goal to talk to someone new every week – or, even better, every day – you’re forcing yourself to at least attempt to build new relationships.

Sure, some of these will amount to nothing. I’d argue that most will amount to nothing. But that’s fine. Even if they don’t, you’ve become a little bit more comfortable approaching people and striking up conversations.

And, every once in a while, you’ll connect really well with someone, enough to exchange contact info with them. Those connections you do make will make the courage to try and the failures well worth it.

The Networking Jerk
On page 56, Ferrazzi looks at the negative impression that networking often has:

He is the man or she is the woman with a martini in one hand, business cards in the other, and a prerehearsed elevator pitch always at the ready. He or she is a schmooze artist, eyes darting at every event in a constant search for a bigger fish to fry. He or she is the insincere, ruthlessly ambitious glad-handler you don’t want to become.

The networking jerk is the image that many people have when they hear the word “networking.” But in my book, this breed of hyper-Rolodex-builder and card-counte fails to grasp the nuance of authentic connecting. Their shtick doesn’t work because they don’t know the first thing about creating meaningful relationships.

When Never Eat Alone was first recommended to me, I had an extremely negative view of networking. I had attended several meetings and conferences where a handful of people spent all their time “networking,” which meant that they just went from person to person, made pointless small talk, pushed their business cards into your hand, slapped you on the back, and moved on.

Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed. Those people came off as complete losers and the entire idea of “networking” left a really bad taste in my mouth. I pretty much resolved, right then and there, to never “network.”

Though my opinion on the behavior that those people exhibited hasn’t changed at all, over time, I have started to “network” – just not in their way.

For example, if I go to a meeting, I make a conscious effort to have as many worthwhile conversations as possible. I talk to speakers if I’m interested in what they’re talking about. I talk to people who are asking interesting questions.

Sometimes, I click with the people I talk to – sometimes I don’t. When I do click, I make sure to exchange contact info with them and often I’ll try to have dinner or lunch or breakfast or a drink with them during the conference later on. Then, when I get home, I follow up by Googling them, finding out more about them, and continuing the conversation over email.

The last thing I want to do is be the kind of sleazebag that goes from person to person, jamming unwanted business cards in their hands.

Don’t Schmooze
So how can you avoid being that kind of schmoozer that no one likes? Ferrazzi’s best tip is on page 58:

Have something to say, and say it with passion. Make sure you have something to offer when you speak, and offer it with sincerity. Most people haven’t figured out that it’s better to spend more time with fewer people at a one-hour get together and have one or two meaningful dialogues than engage in the wandering-eye routine and lose the respect of most of the people you meet.

If you have nothing to say to a person, don’t say anything at all. Don’t even bother unless you have something of value to contribute or to ask.

I think this is where most of the networking “sliminess” comes from. People attempt to make small talk out of the blue, just walking up to you and saying words that really have no value in an effort to just get a business card shoved in your hand.

That’s terrible. It’s not useful to either person. The person schmoozing wastes time and a business card. The person schmoozed wastes time and has to throw away a business card.

Instead, just focus on talking to people to which you actually have something useful to say. Have a question in mind that you’d actually like to know the answer to, or have some sort of information in mind that the person will obviously find useful. Without that, what are you doing, really? Just schmoozing.

On page 60, Ferrazzi points out something really bad that people do all the time online:

Nothing comes off as less sincere than receiving a mass e-mail addressed to a long list of recipients. Reaching out to others is not a numbers game. Your goal is to make genuine connections with people you can count on.

Unless I’ve opted in for that email (like a mailing list I’ve chosen myself to sign up for), I find mass emails and auto-responses to be a massive turnoff. Nothing says “you’re just another entry in my address book” like an automatic email or an email with fifty recipients.

If you have a message you want to communicate to a lot of people, use a service where people have chosen to follow you, like Twitter or Facebook, or write individual emails. Otherwise, you’re just sending them spam, and most of the time, they won’t like it.

Even worse are automatic responses, like when I send an email to someone and I get an automatic response telling me that they may or may not actually respond to my email. You know, I expect that already. All your auto-reply did is waste my time and tell me that you’re likely far too busy to bother with me.

On Saturday, we’ll tackle the seventh and eighth chapters – “Do Your Homework” and “Take Names.”

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  1. The advice in this post is solid. No one can get much done operating in a coccoon, so the sooner we move out of it the better. And I think most of us wrestle with some degree of shyness.

    I’m not normally a big fan of “fake it til you make it” strategies, but in regard to spreading your wings socially, it’s probably the only way. You have to get out and DO until you’re ready to BE.

    Yeah, it’ll be kind of crappy if it isn’t your style, but the rewards are enormous.

  2. I have such a hard time with all of this it’s almost sad. I’ve always been shy, but I eventually learned that being shy isn’t the best way to be… Sure, I’m fairly intelligent, but it surprises a lot of people because I just don’t open my mouth a lot. (Of course, there are times I hardly shut up… When I’m around people I’m comfortable with.)

    Funny about the like-attracting-like part, I married my social opposite. Where I loathe my lack of social skills (such irony for a gemini, surely) my husband has the gift to befriend just about anyone he pleases. Because of him, we’ve got friends who drive everything from 20 year old Nissan Silvias all the way up to a guy who has his own fleet of exotics. (Ferrari F430, Audi R8, Nissan GT-R for example, all his cars are black.) Slowly, I’m becoming more like him socially… But my shyness is definitely holding me back. Of course, I have had one or two victories that I can easily recall, instances where I have struck up conversation with strangers and it’s turned out okay.

    One quick question — how would one initiate an exchange of contact info without coming off weird? Or is it not as weird as I think it is? I’ve often run into people who I want to get to know better or see again, but I never know how I’d go about exchanging phone numbers or email addresses or anything like that without sounding creepy.

  3. Tahlia42 says:

    I find it strange that professionally I have no problem approaching people I don’t know … I was a recruiter for 9 years, and it comes with the territory …. but in my personal life I’m terrible at it. What I discovered is I can give myself a “job” – learn the name of 1 person you’ve seen before, talk to 3 new people, compliment an article of clothing, etc. – and then I totally relax into it.

  4. I like that you put emphasis on having quality relationships vs having a vast quantity of relationships. Strictly for networking purposes it may seem like knowing a huge number of people is great, but if those people aren’t willing to vouch for you or go the extra mile and help you out then the relationship isn’t that beneficial.

    -Gen Y Investor

  5. Rachel says:

    I am rather shy, but I consider myself to be friendly. A few years ago I made a comment to a friend at church that I was an introvert. She laughed and said “OH, I would have never figured that out.” I’m not sure why, but it hurt my feelings. I felt as though she was criticizing me. I am friendly and say hello to people at church, and I do ask specific questions of people, How is your husband feeling?, what grade is your son in this year?. But I do not hang around after services and gab for thirty minutes. There tends to be folks who do, and I guess it goes back to the high school clique thing. Did she make that comment because I was not “one of them”? I have always wondered. Friendships have always perplexed me. Once I recieved a very chatty letter from a woman I barely knew, along with pictures of her child. But my cousin who was my best friend growing up has not contacted me in over 20 years. I called her when my son was born 16 years ago, hoping to renew our relationship, but I never heard from her again. She has actually been in town, and even stayed at my dad’s house once. So all I can think, is what did I do? The thing that bothers me the most is that Satan uses this about me to keep me from telling others about Christ. I have to be willing to get out there and risk being hurt to share God’s word. It is something I need to pray about and work to overcome.

  6. bethany says:

    I loved this post. I’m an introvert too, but I’ve also learned the benefits of having meaningful interactions with people, especially in a professional environment. Even though I have had these good experiences, I still feel anxious when I’m entering a social situation where I want to meet new people. This post helps me remember that it’s not that painful.

  7. Heather says:

    There’s a lot that extroverts can take from this too. I joke that I make friends for a living, but I really feel a passion for connections. I can certainly use the advice on quality networking- having something to share is a key I will keep in mind.

  8. kk says:

    Foxie #2 — how about just saying, “I really enjoyed our conversation (or activity, etc). I’d love to do it again. May I have your contact info so I can give you a ring sometime?” I think complement, then request usually works great.

    I apologize that I have not read the book. Did the author give any tips for disengaging with one of the networking jerk/schmoozer types?

    Lastly, I disagree with you on your very last point regarding the automatic responses. While I understand how you feel, there doesn’t seem to be another way for someone to let you what is happening. Sometimes I am faced with sending a work request to someone, and if I do not have the autoreply, I would be expecting a result. After the autoreply, I can ask someone else to do the task.

  9. How about as an addendum to the “networking jerk”, one could add the “online networking jerk”?

    Online networking should have the same guidelines. Instead of racing towards 10000 followers on Twitter or getting a million friends on Facebook, why not effectively choose who you’d like to have a professional relationship with and cultivate it?

    Its not hard to spot “online networking jerks”, and honestly they just clog up a lot of the useful networking sites that are out there.

  10. Kim says:

    I connected with a lot of what you said here, as I am mildly introverted myself, but I really lit up when you talked about mass email. I have been known to do that a few times, but I carefully select the particular friends I want to tell what is going on with me or who I want to share a blogpost with.

    Unfortunately, my family is in the habit of email exchanges that include the entire clan. So two people sparring over a political or religious issue is sent to the whole family, the respondent hits “reply all” and we’re off to the races. I hate to say it, but this means I ignore a good portion of my mother’s emails because of this. Once I figure out there is an electronic sparring match, I opt out, with a sigh.

    This includes forwards, those “cute”, “sweet”, “touching” stories that get sent on and on, or the warnings, or the religious teachings tied up in a story with the warning at the end basically saying you don’t love God if you don’t forward it.

    Such crap I find terribly annoying, and I will admit that I give a mental black mark to the sender. This might mean that when they want to send me something really important that I am predisposed to deleting their emails unread.

    Such is the network jerk. They are verbal spam, except that it is difficult to find the delete key.

  11. Ellen says:

    This is sound advice. I think that what is really important here is pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to get somewhere. I am guilty myself of being one of those people to wait for someone else to start the conversation – sometimes it can be hard to approach new people, but just getting out there and communicating with people can really earn you connections to all sorts of avenues.

    Excellent post! I will be buying this book.

  12. Most of us are introverts to one degree or another, and that’s OK. We need quiet time to accomplish in life, and to nurture the few relationships we do have. Numbers aren’t always the answer, certainly not with friends. Better a small number of deep friendships than a boatload of shallow ones.

    The important thing, I think, is to find and develop those close friendships. Even if you don’t have a lot of friends, life is so much richer with the ones you have. It’s worth risking some discomfort and embarrassment for.

    With business contacts though…more might truly be better.

  13. Carol says:

    I love the big wheel/bike story….My DH and I have 6 children, and although not poor I love to “treasure hunt” with our kids and shop 2nd hand. Now that 2 are in college it’s amazing to watch how they handle getting what they need…not too shy to ask, or too proud to shop at Goodwill (actually quite proud of their creativity!). I know the skills they learned growing up will serve them well when the umbilical cord is cut!

  14. Sara says:

    This is an area I struggle with and especially now that I have retired and moved to a new city. It’s so helpful to hear that I’m not alone and to be reminded that there are things I need to do.

    BTW, in another lifetime I worked on a magazine and since you are a writer I want to just point out that hone and home are often mixed because they sound alike,but hone means to sharpen, as a razor or skills, while home means to focus in on something. Just an fyi.

  15. Sounds like a good book– solid advice.

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