August 21, 2012
5 theories behind Seattle's chilly networking reputation
Are Seattleites a friendly and welcoming group of people, on average? Or are we in total denial and really just a bunch of insecure, xenophobic snobs?
Having bumped into quite a few people lately who recently relocated to Seattle from outside the area, it's been interesting to listen to their impressions of our fair city -- and their perceptions of how the networking scene operates here, compared with other parts of the country.
Overall, Seattle doesn't get very high marks. While the vast majority of new arrivals mention that they love the area in terms of the scenery and lifestyle, they almost always say that they are finding it incredibly difficult to make friends, fit in and get socially established.
This phenomenon, as you may know, has earned a nickname over the years: the Seattle Freeze. There have been numerous articles chronicling it, including one published in The Seattle Times' Pacific NW magazine a few years ago. In this piece, written by Julia Sommerfeld, you'll read examples of the standoffish behavior reported by people new to the area, such as this representative exchange:
Seattleite: "So, what are you up to this weekend?"
New Arrival: "I don't have any plans yet. I just moved to Seattle and don't really know anybody."
Seattleite: "Well, have a nice weekend, then!"
Maybe I shouldn't find that funny, but I do, perhaps because there's a healthy grain of truth in it. And yet for people struggling to network and build relationships around town, it isn't a laughing matter.
One fellow I know who moved here a year ago to find work finally packed up and headed back to his home state. "I give up," he told me. "Seattle is impregnable. I just wish people would say what they meant and then follow through. I found many conversations ending with 'John, it was great meeting you and I have several people to introduce you to' -- which I now realize translates as 'John, I couldn't care less about you and will forget ever meeting/speaking with you.' "
What's at the heart of this antisocial reputation we've acquired? Why do so many people report that Seattle isn't a welcoming place to outsiders? To date, I've heard five main theories put forth to explain the dynamic:
Seattleites are introverted. While we don't mind socializing with people on our terms every now and then, we're a bit shy and very guarded about our personal space. We tend to keep to ourselves, go home at night and keep a tight circle of friends. It's not that we're not nice -- we just don't feel the need to meet lots of people, since we tend to engage mostly in solitary and small group activities.
Seattleites are insecure. I've heard some people say (especially on the job scene) that people here aren't very self-confident and often seem to feel threatened by people from outside the area who may have better credentials, offer new ideas or be seen as a potential rival. One job seeker I know who moved up here from the Bay Area told me, "I've got some extremely strong credentials in my industry, but here, that almost seems like a turn-off. The executives I talk to are worried I'll somehow 'expose' them or something in terms of their own competency level."
Seattleites are busy. Some folks have observed that we pride ourselves on having a "go, go, go" mentality; there's a tendency toward workaholism, and everybody is trying to one-up everybody else in terms of how busy their lives are. So the lack of outward social grace may simply come down to the fact that people would like to make more friends, but shucks, who has the time?
Seattleites are mavericks. Being situated in a fairly remote corner of the country, could it be that the citizens of Seattle have a built-in rebellious streak? Perhaps we feel that "help is for the weak," or that we have to raise ourselves up by our own bootstraps? How many people in this town, for example, feel they have to try a startup or launch their own business at some point?
Seattleites are paranoid. It's been said that many people here are slow to trust, sometimes acting as if people moved here for suspicious reasons, have rabies or could be running from the law. I've even heard that the key to breaking into the city's social circles is to have a "local sponsor," someone who becomes your walking stamp of approval, telling other people in town that you've been vetted and it's safe to trust you.
I'll confess, I'm not a sociologist. I don't know what underlying factors has led to Seattle's reputation as a chilly networking destination; I just wanted to throw out some hypotheses I've heard. Care to validate or contradict them?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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