Throughout my time with STOPS to Violence this summer, I have had the opportunity to connect with many of the wonderful partners and people from different organizations and communities. Through this, I learned a good amount about relationship building and engagement, especially involving the personal responsibility that attributes to healthy and beneficial communication, and how important relationship building and engagement is to the network mindset.
I believe much of my learning about relationship building and engagement came directly from exploring what a network mindset is. A network mindset is relationship oriented and excels and grows from the webs and ties of the relationships within the network. A network will only be as strong as its relationships and connections are. You can achieve much more through collaboration, and this requires the consistent cultivation of relationships and connections. Through my learning and exploration of these concepts, I’ve found imagining a network as one big spider web has helped create a strong mental image for myself. The structural integrity of the web improves more and more as new threads are added, just as the structural integrity of a network improves more as new relationships and connections are made.
Exploring the process of outreach and engagement has caused some major self-reflection and thoughts about what engagement is, and how to adjust our approaches to be more accommodating to the people you want to connect with. It requires effort towards trust building, which needs focus on improving ourselves to be able to demonstrate consideration and respect, be open and transparent with the way we speak and to work on how we listen and process information that’s being presented to us. These are just a few important steps that I believe help in building a safe environment to communicate.
Trust building is vital to the engagement process. The building of trust promotes transparency, respect, and active listening which raises the potential of better conversations, provides more benefit for both people and creates a safe space for communication. An important part of communication and connecting in a network involves creating these safe spaces for conversation to cultivate the necessary environment to openly share and feel comfortable as well. I feel as if there is an initial fear of connection and that focusing on showing respect, being transparent, and actively listening can combat the initial resistance that may come with engaging with others.
While adjusting my approach to reaching out, I focused on showing respect for people’s time through increased preparation and planning to maximize the quality of time spent with others. I wanted to show that I value the time and energy someone is willing to offer to a conversation with me. I feel that this preparation and planning process can be an extremely good habit to follow in any form of communication, whether it be a large amount or even just simple preparation.
As I focused on transparency and relationship building, I found myself diving further into conversations and sharing about my current studies. In return, I asked about the work and lives of the people I meet with. These conversations supported the building of trust I was aiming towards and allowed me to feel stronger relationships and connections being built in the process. Opening yourself up, sharing about your journey, and listening to someone else’s journey is important to establish a stronger connection.
Finally, I focused a lot on practicing and improving my skills in active listening. I feel that many people can relate to having conversations where you share something with someone and their response seems to not acknowledge the information you’ve shared. It feels like they sort of glance over it. This can be very demotivating for genuine connection and meaningful conversation. I practiced actively listening to what I’m hearing, taking a moment to process, and responding with an answer that acknowledges what’s being shared with me. This was to show that I value the information that I’m listening to through my response. I believe active listening is a skill that everyone should practice as it supports the focus on what someone is telling you, rather than focusing on what you are going to say next.
I believe that what I have learned and experienced this summer will translate beautifully into understanding the importance of networking for myself for career purposes and for social purposes in general. I believe that I am now much more well equipped with the tools to properly make deeper connections with others and cultivate stronger relationships in my everyday life. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of the STOPS team this summer.
Want to learn more about the ‘network mindset’? Take a look at this article from Converge: The Network Mindset: Scaling Out, Not Up | by David Ehrlichman | Converge Perspectives | Medium.