I’ve been asked “Table for one?” a few times as I approach the hostess stand. Reading Never eat alone: and other secrets to success, one relationship at a time was appealing because I wanted to learn what I might gain from the practice. How could I stop eating alone? I was disappointed. I thought there’d be more about eating alone vs. eating with a group of people. As though, perhaps there was some huge theory at the core of the title, and somehow learning that secret knowledge could make all the difference in the aim for world peace, or more funding for libraries. As if emerging scholarship in gastronomy and personal/professional development was possible.
What was I thinking?
Anyway, the book is good. And at first I found it exciting. I jotted lots of notes. But basically, all of Ferrazzi’s tips, or secrets to his success, were things that my mother taught me.
- Be a giver not a taker. This is the biggest one. I give way more than I take, professionally speaking. I give my time to my colleagues. I help them out with switching desk times and instruction times. I keep up with their research interests and send them links on those topics. I inspire them to write, or present, their work nationally. While I’ve mostly been a giver, last year, I turned into a taker. I was pregnant with my daughter (we waited to learn her sex until she was born, ’cause, we’re just that way), I had weekly appointments with my OB group, and I regularly asked my colleagues to switch their reference desk times with me. I worked up until four days before my daughter was born. My boss/dean was amazed that I kept on giving to the library, to the university despite my very swollen feet, ankles, legs. I used to remember my colleagues’ birthdays with cards and holiday gifts, but I’ve stopped. Becoming a mother shorted my short-term memory and changed my values. And there are only one or two special people with whom I work that I constantly cultivate close relationships with now.
- Just ask nicely, people want to help you (help them). Audacity is one of those traits I never had until I was after 30. Nope, I take that back, I have asked boys out on dates. That takes audacity. One of my favorite monologues from Hope Floats is when Harry Connick, Jr. tells Sandra Bullock:
You know, Birdee…
You used to be so…
I don’t know…
People would stop to watch you come down the street.
that Birdee Calvert.”
Their eyes would light up.
You could see it on their faces.
Look at me.
You think you’ve lost that.
I can still see it.
If you ask nicely, people will help you. They want to help you. If you don’t ask, well, you’re stuck. Examples of asking: I asked my Dean for a digital audio recorder so that I could interview my colleagues for the library history I’m writing. I shouldn’t have to pony up hundreds of dollars for a piece of equipment that should be available to everyone. She said no. After she retired, I asked her replacement. She said yes. What else? At least twice I’ve contacted editors of reference volumes and asked “Why is there no entry on academic librarians? May I write it?” or “You’re lacking a broad entry on food, may I write it?”
- Connect with others by finding a common interest. Don’t all children learn how to do this when they play together? It seems rather obvious. Maybe it’s not. If you talk to someone long enough, are genuinely curious about them, then you can ask enough questions to find at least one common interest. I used to get emails from the public library letting me know a book I reserved was waiting for me to pick it up. They were personalized by one of the clerks with whom I was acquainted. As a total aside, when she was hospitalized a few months back because she got cat scratch fever, I sent her a perk up soon note –snail mail–to her home, because I missed her smiling face and was genuinely worried about her. In the meantime, her duties were given over to another clerk. That clerk addresses me as “Dear Patron,” and I simply cannot stand it. I’ve had a relationship with this library for over thirty years and suddenly I’m “dear patron”? I responded to the email asking if she was the red haired woman who knitted (hair color and gentle art changed to protect her identity), with whom I’d chatted about the differences between knitting and crocheting after asking her if she was reading anything good and she held up a Debbie Stoller book. Received another “Dear Patron” notice this week too. I’m perplexed. I’ve got to court whomever the email author is and get her to relate to me as a real person, not a generic patron. I am not a generic patron. Neither are you. We should each be treated personally.
- Take a bread & butter gift. I don’t know how she learned it, but my mom is a quick study. She was upwardly mobile and after digging her way out of working class, and pulling me along too, she learned a great deal about etiquette, comportment, and manners. While she never expressly told me to take a bread & butter gift when I went to stay at someones house, I watched and learned. Basically a bread & butter gift is an item you bring for your hostess to thank her ahead of time for her generosity and hospitality. Years ago Dolores and I traveled to Oklahoma to be in Veronica’s wedding. I brought Veronica’s dad and step-mom a gift basket containing a sampling of local jams as a thank you for letting me/us bunk at their home one night out of the three or four that we stayed for the festivities. Dolores was stunned, and a bit chastened, to learn this small gesture. She felt bad she didn’t bring anything, either. Actually, I don’t think this was one of the strategies employed by Ferrazzi. Sorry, got a bit confused there with all that I learned from Mom.
- Follow up. Seriously. So. Easy. It’s just a thank you. A phone call, or maybe an email. But a real, hand-written-on-your-nice-stationery-note always impresses. I prefer the latter. Like when we visited Gatlinburg last week, remember? I mailed a note to the director thanking her for her time, her insights, and her sharing a great restaurant with me.
- Don’t keep count. Your good deeds are not finite. You won’t be all tapped out. Don’t keep a running balance in your head of all the things you’ve done for others and what little they’ve done for you. I’m the wrong person to advise this. And giving advice in this area is the librarian calling the book banned. If you remember, up in “be a giver, not a taker,” I wrote how I don’t give as much anymore to colleagues. And a big part of that is because I get nothing back. I don’t give because I expect anything from it. Giving makes my day. I live to give. But after a few years of give, give, give, and then…nothing–indeed, that well is dry. I’ve encountered the “keeping count” analogy as applied to marital relationships. You keep a running balance of all your sacrifices and all your partner’s sacrifices in hope that the withdrawals don’t outweigh the deposits. Negative balances can ruin a credit report, a marriage, and a professional career. Don’t keep count. Believe in karma.
But back to the book: His suggestions seemed like givens, to me. They’re things I normally do. Because that’s how I was raised. It made me wonder if it’s a sex/gender thing, or a regional thing. Perhaps, it is a class thing, even. I know it’s a class thing, for sure, but those things can be gotten around, with knowledge and practice. Ferrazzi’s audience is likely those in the business world. I can’t imagine that “those people” are known for their kindness, generosity, or manners. My assumption is that most are men in grey suits. I may be wrong, but operating from my personal experience, most men in sales are narcissistic, condescending, and repellent.
And some of his tactics were smarmy. Like when he mentions clotheslining a contact just as the contact is about to go on stage. F. stands in the wings and manipulates the presenter into telling F. to give him a call next week. I suppose those are typical sales/business strategies that they teach in MBA programs? Probably nothing I’d try in the name of networking.
The bit about eating alone is this: When you go down to Atlanta (or wherever) on a business trip and you’re pressed for time, invite all eight of your Atlanta contacts in to dinner. Kill eight birds with one stone. Introducing your friends to each other is fabulous because they may be of some use to one another.
Yeah, well. Who can see beyond this tactic? Ferrazzi prides himself on personally connecting with his clients/colleagues, but I’d never do this. I relish the time I have with my friends, and I’d make time to spend 45-60 minutes with each one whilst in Atlanta because my friends are just that important to me. Lumping everyone together, even in the name of “networking” is lame and impersonal.
Actually, I only read through chapter 18. The book was overdue and I needed to return it to the public library. I’d like to read the rest of it someday, but I got the gist of it. Methinks.