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3 Truths From a Book About Networking That Made Me a Better Muslim

June 9, 2011

309 pp. Crown Business.

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time is a book about networking for people who hate networking. It converted me, the most pathological introvert you’ll probably ever know.

At first I wasn’t sure what to expect when I read this book, which was over a year ago. I was at the stage of my life when I felt that my introversion was costing me dearly in terms of personal and social development. I had to break out of my shell. What better book to read than a guide by Keith Ferrazzi, one of the most heavily networked individuals in the business world?

Enlightening as it was, some parts in the book were very difficult for me to relate to. Only a brazen extrovert–someone who gets charged by being around and talking to people–can has as many connections as Ferrazzi does. But, ever so gradually, I realized that the message in this book is much deeper than most business books out there.

Although I no longer remember the specific techniques Ferazzi shares when it comes to building relationships, there are from this book three truths, three gems of wisdom, that have completely embedded themselves into my psyche. They have either manifested themselves to me in my life, or are so in tune with Islamic principles that I cannot help but adopt them. Without a doubt, these realizations have helped me start becoming the best social being I can be.

1. There is no such thing as a separation between the personal and the professional.

Ferrazzi shares a beautiful anecdote where he was sitting at a business dinner, struggling to act happy while his insides were in turmoil. He had recently gotten divorced and his misery was almost too much to bear. He tried making small talk with a woman sitting next to him, with poor results. His depression made the situation even more uncomfortable. Finally, he admitted to the woman what he was going through and apologized for not being himself. He thought the woman would find this level of openness disconcerting. To his surprise, however, she met his revelation with compassion and empathy; she had also been through a divorce. Their conversation became so animated and interesting that others caught on and started sharing their own experiences. In allowing a part of himself to be vulnerable, Ferazzi created a scenario where everyone let their guard down just a little and began to be at ease with one another.

Of course, qualifiers abound. Be prepared for those who don’t care about your personal side. Don’t over share. Respect other people’s privacy.

But the general principle remains the same. Networking is not about throwing your business cards around like confetti. It’s about nurturing meaningful relationships that have some level of trust. Each and every one of Ferrazzi’s connections is somehow personal. You can’t expect your relationships to be meaningful or to withstand the test of time if there isn’t a strong personal element to them.  Also, be interesting. Of the two people who are equally qualified to the letter, Ferrazzi shares, professional recruiters will ask themselves: “Which one would I rather be stuck at an airport with?” And they will go with the person who comes to mind.

This made me stop being scared of talking about my beliefs or being myself around non-Muslims or even other Muslims. Now, with non-Muslims I talk about growing up in Saudi Arabia, joke about the fact that I don’t drink, make an emphatic point of my prayer timings. With Muslims, I talk about listening to rock music, discuss variations in interpretations of the divine law, and make smart-alecky, quirky comments without worrying that my jokes will fall flat. Because I’ve always been such an introverted loner, I’ve always been paranoid that people don’t really want to know the real me. But most of the time, they are very, very receptive to me–as a whole.

2. It’s better to give than to receive. 

We as Muslims should take this at face value, but the reality is that we don’t. Ferazzi shares an anecdote of Person A who asked Person B to introduce him to Person C in regards to a career prospect. Person B complied. Person A asked again for another introduction to Person D. Person B became skeptical. “I don’t know, I already asked them for two favors, and I’ll be honest, I might be calling in those favors for something else.” Ferrazzi thinks Person B is nuts. It’s not even a matter of being unkind. It’s a matter of understanding that networking is not a zero-sum game.  There is always enough to go around, and that we should never hesitate in making our social resources available to others out of fear that they’ll get depleted somehow.

Ferrazzi doesn’t even attribute this to some higher being or spiritual power, although that may well be a part of his personal beliefs. This is something he’s seen in practice. Those who think that there are limited “favors” to be called in end up losing in the long run. They fail to make connections or play matchmaker to potentially successful relationships, and hence fail themselves.

There should be one word screaming in Muslims’ heads as they read all this.

Baraka.

We tend to attribute baraka too much to matters of food and money and not enough to matters of spiritual wealth, knowledge, and relationships. We must always remember that it’s better to give than to receive, not only because it benefits us in this world, but because it does in the afterlife as well. Hell, we should trump even people like Ferrazzi in slaying the zero-sum game outlook on relationships.

Reading about this has given me an even stronger urge to help facilitate growth and relationships whenever I can. The best part is, even though I’m doing it as a Muslim, I find that my efforts are always ultimately channeled back to me by manifold. F’reals.

3. The ideal work/play balance is relative to each individual.

This dude’s insane. He’s pings people across the globe on his Blackberry as he rides his limo to work, exchanges air kisses with Arianna Huffington at cocktail parties, writes, makes appearances, and gets consulted as a relationship expert. And he’s loving it. It doesn’t drain him. It nourishes him.

And that is what Ferazzi says as he closes this book. Some are terribly daunted by the level of social engagement he is involved in and how he is working all the time, and Ferazzi responds by saying that balance is not some magic formula that works for everyone. The idea of balance is completely different for every person, and while you have to be the best social being you can be, no one says that you have to do so in a specific way, or that your idea of balance has to coincide to someone else’s idea in order for you to succeed.

Upon realizing this, I stopped wondering why some people could work all the time and others could socialize all the time, why some people could be so frantically busy and be so happy and why others could be in the same situation and completely unhappy. Each one of us must listen to ourselves and must realize what balance is for us. That’s how Allah made us so beautiful and intricately complex. By making us so different from one another.

Because of the cultural baggage Muslims have to lug around, we end up being confined to expectations of ourselves and others that may not be true to our beings at all. And just like you shouldn’t impose black-and-white definitions on your relationships, don’t divide your life into work-and-play components. Balance means being happy in giving time to all kinds of goals. Ferrazzi’s very comprehensive categories of goals are:

Spirituality
Intellectual stimulation
Physical wellness
Financial success
Professional growth
Giving back
Deep relationships

So. Apparently, networking doesn’t suck. Especially if it makes one more of a person of faith, and helps her celebrate and rejoice in the fact that Allah has made people as social animals.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 9, 2011 9:13 pm

    While I was reading the book, I also made a few notes on specific things to do when one wants to consciously build their social network. I haven’t really implemented those methods in the way I have implemented the lessons above. But if you would like to see the notes, do let me know by e-mailing me at amuslimahwrites {at} gmail {dot} com, and I’ll send ‘em right over. Cheers!

  2. June 27, 2011 5:01 pm

    Salam sister. I think #2 is interesting. The thing about giving introductions is how responsible should you be for introducing one party to another? This might range from the business opportunity to the delicate business of potential matrimonials!
    A brother taught me to think twice before even giving out a phone number (“Get his permission first!”) – and then there’s the possible awkwardness of – IF I introduce one person to another in a given context (i.e. more like the opportunist “Salam Br. A; Br. B would like to talk to you about publishing…” instead of the entirely sociable “Salam A, this is B!”) – to what extent should I be able to vouch for the brother?
    Above all, what is Ferazzi’s rationale for these social etiquettes? His title (“Never eat alone”) in itself is good advice, but what better reason to do this than seeking the barakah of Allah by following this sunnah?
    I’m not suggesting that these are (all) valid considerations, but they are my considerations!
    Wa jazak Allah khayr for the typically thoughtful article.

    • June 30, 2011 11:51 am

      Jazak Allah khayr for your interest and your comment!

      I understand what you mean and that’s an important consideration even while one is being generous with their social resources. I by no means am an expert and I don’t think Ferrazzi talks about this directly, but I think what is implied is that you are not responsible for the person you are introducing. The person you are referring someone to should also have a good head on his shoulders and be able to see for himself whether that person is good for them. If the relationship you have helped create turns sour, that’s not your fault as the connector, as it was up to the two people to see whether things could work well between them. They’re adults, after all! So that is my immediate, knee-jerk response.

      On the other hand, sometimes being able to give a strong recommendation is also important. For example, If a writer would like to be introduced to an editor I have worked with, I have to be able to vouch for the work so that I can convincingly ‘sell’ the manuscript and convince my contact to take it up.

      So I am guessing it varies from situation to situation? I have no definite thing to say either…I can see it working both ways!

      As for Ferrazzi’s rationale…well there’s no end to the worldly reasons one should be good at networking. Business opportunities, possible friendships, possible jobs, possible business partnerships…the list is endless. But the heart of the reason, I honestly believe, is that man truly is a social animal. That’s humanity functions–by connecting. And as as Muslims we must fulfill this need with dignity, grace, and conscientiousness, just as we should with all our other worldly needs.

      Thank you again for your thoughts!

  3. June 29, 2011 10:58 am

    Salaams.

    I am trying to think of the book’s title – “never eat alone”. Carrying that book would give one an automatic “entry” at a restaurant where you see someone IS eating alone, and you want to network!

    On the other hand, if I go to a restaurant and eat alone, I pretty much want to be left alone (and enjoy me meal)! 🙂

    • June 30, 2011 11:51 am

      Wsalaam. Good points! The title is definitely very catchy and it makes one wonder how he talks about this specifically in the book. He doesn’t, actually. He just says at one point “Never eat alone” and explains that every ‘meal’ or occasion as such should be turned into an opportunity to get to know someone better. And that was pretty much it.

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