Most networks also allow non-members to participate in their events. However, as a guest you very often feel out of place and excluded. Often this is intentional, because almost every community strives to strengthen its members’ sense of belonging by setting itself apart from the outside world. The “inventor” of German sociology, Ferdinand Toennies, first examined the relationship between communities vis-à-vis society in his work “Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft” (Community and Society) in 1887. He defined “community” as a grouping whose members actively, willingly declare themselves to belong – and thus at the same time distance themselves from the great rest of society. A community is thus, from its basic concept, a group that distances itself. Or put more simply and beautifully: one can read it in Samuel Huntington’s much-discussed book “Clash of Civilizations”:
“People need enemies for their self-definition and motivation.” – Samuel Huntigton – (Author: “Clash of Civilizations”)
Applied to networks and social groups, this means that the more excluded outsiders feel, the more members feel they belong. This basic problem can be clearly seen at very many events where participants who do not belong to any of the micro-networks of the respective “scene” remain alone until they have found other loners to join up with. Almost like back in the schoolyard. This may even work as an identity-forming behaviour for the respective community. However, this tradition has led to most clubs being preceded by the reputation of being a “closed society”, although the majority do not want to be perceived as a “secret lodge” at all.
Are guests really that important?
Very often, however, guests are treated inappropriately (that is, distantly) out of sheer carelessness. Unfortunately, this often happens even to the “professionals”: I still remember the Federal President’s New Year’s reception at Bellevue Palace in 2007. The new ambassador of Bolivia, who had been sent to Germany by the first indigenous president of the Americas, Evo Morales, was almost overlooked by “the German hosts. His Excellency, Walter Prudencio Magne Veliz, did not look like an ambassador at all: a little too young, small, shy and dressed in the simple clothes of Bolivian Indians, the Federal President’s staff did not notice that the representative of the Bolivian President stood completely alone on the sidelines for most of the event. Only his Brazilian colleague then made sure that the Bolivian guest was also treated like a guest by the Germans. Often, people forget from all the protocol that simple hospitality is the basic element of successful events. Social networks in particular “cut their own flesh” in this way, because they raise the inhibition threshold for visitors, create unnecessary distance and hinder unbiased communication. Yet external guests are elementarily important for the functioning of networks for the following reasons:
A. Guests avoid incest
A sufficient and regular presence of guests increases the amount of topics of conversation, the inflow of new information into the network and promotes the versatility of communication.
B. Guests link the network
Through regular contact with guests, the group gains relationships with other organisations and thus ensures an improved social connection of the members. Stanford professor Mark Granovetter, in his seminal book “The strength of weak ties”, detailed the importance of “externals” with “weak” ties within a group as an indication of how connected the respective network itself is to the outside world.
C. Guests are the best training
The presence of non-members subjects behaviour patterns within a network to regular scrutiny. What makes sense, what needs to be changed? Networks with guests stay young and dynamic.
Of course, these effects only occur if you are open with your guests, communicate with them and show them honest hospitality. So when you come into contact with a network, you would do well to pay very close attention to how guests are treated. You can easily conduct this experiment on yourself by simply refraining from actively addressing others or pretending to have fun. Stand
Just be there and be bored! Wait and see what happens. Do any of the “established” participants approach you? Do any of the hosts introduce you to others? If so, how quickly are you integrated by your new acquaintances into the respective conversation rounds, do they offer to introduce you to other participants? How long do you stay alone before someone contacts you? Do you feel over-supported like in a Sicilian extended family or more alone like a tourist in Tokyo?
You can recognise a good network by how it treats its guests. The greater and more authentic the hospitality, the more personal and cordial the contact with non-members, the higher the quality of the network.