Networking Lessons from Downton AbbeyJanuary 17, 2014
I am a huge Downton Abbey junkie – can’t get enough of the characters, the dialogue, the costuming, the estate; I just love it all! This week’s episode was jam-packed with delicious vignettes related to networking. Considering my affection for the show, I can’t resist calling out some of those moments for the CLC community.
Here’s the set up: In networking, people often wonder whether to reach out to “So-and-So” especially if So-and-So is more bureaucratically senior or older or richer or smarter or whatever… than they, especially based on the perceptions of society. They wonder if it is appropriate, if So-and-So will respond favorably, if they will have anything to offer So-and-So, etc. Without question, I believe the answer to those curiosities is always, always, “YES!”
The dichotomies between us – the diversity of position or status or age or wealth or whatever – are usually the points of information that enrich our conversations and ensure we have something of value to provide to one another. A striking example of this is when a “young person” connects with a more “mature” executive type… said young person has a great deal of information to provide to the executive: Social media smarts, customer insight, word on the street, etc.
So, back to Downton… This week, the Abbey was preparing for a grand party – sixteen highfalutin guests were staying at the Abbey. In order to liven things up, Lord and Lady Grantham, aka Robert and Cora Crawley (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern), hired a world famous opera diva, Nellie Melba (Kiri Te Kanawa), to perform as entertainment for one of the dinners. In anticipation of the evening, the Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), invited Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) to join her at the Abbey for the event. Here’s the exchange:
Dowager Countess: Will you come up tonight to hear Melba?
Isobel: Well, I might. I do admire Melba and I would like to meet her.
Dowager Countess: Oh, I don’t think we’ll meet her, will we? I mean, not in that way.
Isobel: Why not?
Dowager Countess: Well, what would we have to talk about?
Isobel: Some of the things that all humans have in common.
Dowager Countess: [Chuckles] None of which are suitable as topics for conversation.
Gave me a huge laugh! Such lines drawn between classes.
The same thing happened the evening of the actual event. The head butler, Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), made the decision to have the famous singer dine alone in her room prior to her performance. Why? Because she wasn’t exactly a member of the staff, but she certainly was not part of English society and certainly could not dine with the family and their guests. When Cora discovers the singer has been relegated to her room, she orders Robert to both invite her to dinner and to sit next to her! Robert is incensed, but complies with his wife’s wishes. To his great surprise, the diva is a wine expert and they have plenty to discuss. Shocked they have something in common, he makes the comment: “Well then, this is going to be much less uphill than I thought!”
Oh! And did I mention… the kitchen staff – Yes! The kitchen staff, was invited to watch the concert alongside (well, behind) the high society sorts! My goodness.
My suggestion to us all: Forget class. Forget bureaucracy. Forget the stereotypes society places upon us. Even if we fear we’ll have nothing to discuss with someone, even if we believe we have no information to exchange, let’s just assume we do! Let’s open our minds to expect that there is value to offer every other person and commit ourselves to seeking that kernel of usefulness before dismissing these connections as fruitless.
And, frankly, if we discover that our connections are unwilling to join us in this effort… if So-and-So deems him/herself too much more senior or older or richer or smarter or whatever than you and declines your request for a connection, So-and-So is the one missing out on the gifts you bring. You don’t really want to get together with him/her anyway!