Networking 101: It’s not tennis

Posted on Jan 6, 2015 in Career/Life and News

Tennis balls
During a recent campus panel discussion, one KU administrator reminded everyone that good dialogue begins when we listen with the intent of understanding, rather than listening simply to respond. Perhaps you’ve been in a conversation that felt more like a tennis match, with each side trying to one-up the other, contesting and challenging each point, or searching for that unreturnable one-liner. Nobody wins these conversations. More importantly, the opportunity to make a meaningful connection is often lost.

Baseball offers a better metaphor for one-to-one networking. Anyone who has played a game of catch knows how satisfying it can be to find a rhythm. When both participants are on equal footing, each throw, catch and return seems to add balance. Actions and reactions become more fluid and natural. When one suddenly throws harder, it disrupts the balance, and it is immediately noticed (usually accompanied by a stinging glove hand). In tennis, this is expected, as we chase down points and fire off zingers in an attempt to gain the upper hand. A satisfying game of catch, however, requires balance and harmony, as do good conversations.

I think the key difference is catching the ball rather than hitting it, or as my KU colleague put it, listening with the intent of understanding. When we pause to understand and grasp the point our partner is trying to make, we can contribute in a more meaningful way, add balance to the conversation and ultimately strengthen the relationship.

–David Johnnston

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