Networking was the last thing on my mind, entering the sauna naked except for a small towel to sit on.
I understand that networking is an essential business skill. It connects us with people to build mutually successful business relationships, gain knowledge, share resources, and expand our ability to make a positive difference.
Many of us are resistant or ambivalent to networking, seeing it as a necessary evil associated with being inauthentic, pretentious, and disingenuous.
I happened upon the concept of naked networking in Germany at a conference focusing on learning about leadership by engaging with horses.
Following long hours of travel from the US, relaxing in the hotel sauna seemed a great way to end the day. I learned the tradition was to be naked in the sauna with only a towel to sit on. After entering the sauna, I was joined by a woman who was at the hotel with her company for a leadership seminar. We discovered we had much in common in how we approached leadership and teamwork. She was intrigued by learning leadership and team work by engaging with horses and thought this might be of interest to her organization. Having no clothes on, or pockets for my business cards, I told her I would leave some information for her at the hotel desk about an organization that offered leadership training with horses, a few miles away.
What I discovered that evening in the sauna was a concept I call naked networking, a strategy for successful networking.
I shared my experience of “naked networking” in the sauna, with my colleagues at the conference, and suggested it might be a metaphor for a more transparent and authentic approach to networking and strategy for successful business connections.
That night in the hotel dining room, I thought I saw the woman I had met in the sauna at a corner table. I couldn’t be sure it was her with her clothes on, but it was indeed her.
I greeted her and asked if she would like to meet my colleague Gerhard who offered horses and leadership programs just a few miles down the road. I made the introductions and he joined her at her table.
The next morning Gerhard told me that the naked networking approach worked. The woman met with her boss that morning and recommend that they incorporate the leadership with horses work into their leadership training.
Naked networking as a metaphor and strategy offers the best of networking, without the common aversion or resistance to networking.
The focus is on developing meaningful relationships based on authentic interaction and transparency.
With nothing to hide, nothing to exploit, naked and vulnerable, we can better engage in a more selfless, unpretentious way and build productive relationships. Naked networking is about connecting to and sharing what is most important to you and learning what is most important to others.
I had another experience later that morning with the concept of naked networking. Engaging with the horses as part of the conference experience, the horses offered an essential perspective about naked networking for successful relationship and connections.
The horses were interested in connecting with me but had no interest in my business card, how much profit my business generated, or how many customers we serve. They were not impressed by the name brand clothes or types of cars we humans arrived in.
They were interested in how I was going to be with them. Was I being honest, did I try to understand their point of view, would I accept them as they were? The horse’s outer behavior was in absolute alignment with who they were on the inside.
What I learned from the horses was that authenticity begins with who I am on the inside and my behavior and actions in the world.
I learned that the practice of naked networking, whether in a sauna, horse pasture, or conference, is about how we are when we are authentic and approachable, honest and humble, genuine and generous. Naked networking is respectful and trustworthy relationship, meaningful connections, and in persistently being our natural and lovable self.