In the Netherlands, we have this saying "Doe maar normaal, dan doe je gek genoeg", which roughly translates as "If you act normal, you're acting crazy enough as it is."
It has to do with the fact that the Dutchies don't like show-offs and people that brag about how wonderful they are.
When we encounter such an individual in the Netherlands, we just drop that saying to put them in their place. I was brought up this way: be modest and humble about your accomplishments, work hard, and people will eventually find out from their own experience how great of a person you are.
Nothing wrong with being humble and modest and I believe that more people should exercise that trait once in a while. But it can be to your disadvantage if you are too meek-- especially here in the United States!
Ok, this might be an exaggeration and stereotyping Americans, but many people in Europe believe that Americans are raised to be proud of their country without questioning it too much-- that the first and foremost important tool to get somewhere in life is to, well, sell yourself and especially be loud and noticed. A total contradiction with "Doe maar normaal .....", I would say.
I would have to do some more research to get a bit more subtlety on how people are actually raised here and whether there is a correlation between upbringing and how loud someone is, but my impression is that Americans are better at pitching themselves and more comfortable in connecting with strangers to get ahead.
I for example suck at that. I abhor small talk and especially with the purpose of getting something done from someone -- also referred to as networking. I feel at a disadvantage. I don't know how to do it and I don't like it (these two reasons are probably related). An example:
Stranger: Hello, how are you? My name is such and such.
Me (elated that someone approached me): Hi, doing great here! I'm Yako.
Stranger: Cool. So, what brings you here?
Me: Uhm, the free food?
Stranger: Ha, that's funny.
Me (so far so good): And what about you?
Stranger: Well, I work for company A and we have this exciting project that I am going to present on in a few minutes.
Me (here it comes): Cool [........ long awkward silence ........]
Stranger: Ok, was great meeting you. See you around.
What went wrong here? Well, let me tell you. I know that I should have asked what the project was about. I probably could have found a connection between the project and something that I did or know something about in order to continue conversing. But the moment the stranger says "exciting project," I'm thinking "boring project" and I'm scared that I cannot feign interest in whatever comes next.
This is just one example. Sometimes I simply don't know what to say other than: "The weather is so nice today, isn't it?" -- who's boring now?!? Or I am too literal. For example someone asking me "What's going on?" and I answer by actually telling the person what is going on. Or I did not eat enough throughout the day and that glass of wine, to give me a bit of courage, went to my head and makes me a bit too bold.
One thing I did discover recently though is that network conversations do not have to be in depth, contrary to what I always believed. It is just about establishing a first connection to a point where you feel comfortable to exchange phone number or email, so that you have an opportunity to contact the person later on.
I tried it out the other day and it works! These are the steps:
- Smile friendly at someone to create a space where you can start a conversation.
- Be purposeful in approaching him or her, so that there is no way to avoid you.
- Tell a lie that is a compliment at the same time. For example: "I love those shoes, where did you get those?!"
- Now go into small talk about something meaningless (even the weather is ok), but only a sentence or two! This is really so that you can sense the mood that someone is in and adjust the remainder of your conversation accordingly.
- Increase the level of meaning and bring it to a commonality: "I was very impressed by that speaker, what do you think?" Make sure that this a safe bet and that you are not referring to a speaker that just declared war on Canada.
- Find out something about the person that might help you achieve a goal you have in mind. For example if you are looking for a job, ask what he or she does for work. If you like what you hear and you think that the person can help you find work, you ask whether it would be ok to contact the person later on to learn more about that type of work. Do not ask for a job though -- you don't want to be too obvious and it immediately makes the other person loose interest.
- After exchanging contact information, thank your newly made acquaintance for the conversation and make up some excuse to leave. "It was so nice meeting you! I will definitely contact you in the next couple of days. Let me find out what the buffet table has to offer. See ya!"
That's all there is to it. Now, why am I sharing this with you since you are American and supposedly already know of all of this? Well, secretly, I think that there are many Americans out there who also struggle with networking, whether it is for the purpose of finding work, to start a new business venture, or simply to make a friend.