How to expand your network

Rabbit year is a good time to build friendships

Greetings to Chinese Student and Scholar Associations (CSSAs) everywhere as you host your New Year galas this week. I loved the UCLA CSSA event last Sunday, and am delighted to be invited to the USC CSSA this weekend. What a joyous opportunity these events provide to revel in our common heritage. Here’s a photo from the spectacular 2011 Ivy League Spring Festival Gala, shared with me by its convenor, Harvard CSSA President Haifei Zhang.

The reason I’m so supportive of the leadership of Haifei and CSSA officials everywhere is that their service to our community enables what will become lifelong friendships.

4 out of 5 Job Referrals Are From Weak Ties

Social organizations are great for forming “weak ties,” a subject I write about in my essay titled “成功的社交就是拥有更多的泛泛之交” (“An insider’s guide to networking your way to success and power”) in this month’s February 2011 issue of 《时尚伊人》Cosmo Trends (China’s #1 fashion magazine).

In his book The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell writes:

In his classic 1974 study Getting a Job, Granovetter looked at several hundred professional and technical workers… He found that 56 percent of those he talked to found their job through a personal connection. Another 18.8 percent used formal means…This much is not surprising; the best way to get in the door is through a personal contact. But, curiously, Granovetter found that those personal connections, the majority were “weak ties.” Of those who used a contact to find a job, only 16.7 percent saw that contact “often”…People weren’t getting their jobs through their friends. They were getting them through their acquaintances. In other words, your next job will most likely come not from a close friend, but someone you don’t know well.

While CSSAs are a part of our social fabric, I hope that you do also take advantage of your time here in the States to strengthen your cross-cultural skills and create ties with Americans.

That’s not always easy, I know. Back when I was just learning English, there were almost no Chinese kids at my school, and I became painfully shy. When the American kids were joking around, it seemed that on the rare occasions that I came up with the right thing to say, it was always 60 seconds too late.

I don’t know if you ever felt that way yourself.

Little by little, though, I crept of my shell, so much so that a recent Los Angeles Times profile refers to me simply as “The Networker.”

Networking is less about performing than about listening

The best thing I did to overcome my social performance anxiety was to realize that it’s better to listen than to talk. And to observe, since so much of our communication takes place in body language. This type of active listening is the key to empathy, which is the key to working across cultures, as I’ve blogged about here. Asking questions is a great way to get people to open up, and I blogged about how to do that here.

Meet people with shared interests

Sometimes one of you will say to me, “But I get so bored with Americans! All they do is stand around at fraternity parties and get drunk.”

Well, that’s not my idea of fun, either.

Try to meet people with shared interest. I’m sure you can find the on-campus opportunities. Here are some off-campus ideas:

  • Volunteer:  Working alongside people provides a fantastic way to get to know them. In the 1990s, I served on the Board of L.A. Works, where you can sign up for daylong projects throughout Los Angeles, such as sorting food at a food bank, coaching special-needs children, or riding tandem bicycles with the blind. I’m sure there are similar organizations in other cities. A great thing about a group like L.A. Works is that there are no long-term commitments – you can volunteer anytime you have a few hours. Volunteering is a wonderful way to see more of American society, and you’ll feel great at the end of the day.
  • Attend an event: Check out an event which offer a fun activity in a social setting, such as a wine-tasting, nature hike, or ski trip.
  • Join a club: Check out local groups which offer recurring meetings in an area of your interest. Meetup.com hosts many groups ranging from business to social. If you go to one on Chinese cooking, or Chinese culture or business, you may become an instant celebrity, with all the Americans crowding around to meet you!

To old friends and new friends

As you spend more time with Americans, I think you’ll find that we all share a lot in common, and that socializing with them does get easier each time.

That said, I think it’s natural that many of us feel most comfortable with others who share our native language and culture. And so, on the eve of the Year of the Rabbit, I salute and thank CSSA officials everywhere for your leadership. I’m inspired by the vision of all you global young China talent working hand in hand to build our world’s next great companies and to provide societal leadership for the future of China and the world.

For all of you my dear readers, I send my warmest wishes for the new year.  As my dear friend and mentor Maureen likes to toast, “To old friends for continuity, to new friends for possibilities!”

I welcome your comments, in Chinese or English, on the Chinese version of this blog post, which is here.