In a world where the way business is done is changing all the time, business structures reflect this. Nothing is certain. Everything is open to tender, selection processes and agile responses. There is a greater emphasis on relationships between the people who make things happen. To that end, networking becomes a core competency. Do I hear you groan? Well, you can learn to love networking – and maybe it’s high time you did!
The way you look at networking, will affect the way you see it and relate to it. An article by a group of Harvard academics (Tiziana Casciaro, Francesca Gina and Maryam Kouchaki) showed that professional networks can lead to
- more job and business opportunities
- broader and deeper knowledge
- improved capacity to innovate
- faster advancement, greater status and authority
- higher quality work and improved job satisfaction
(Casciaro, Gina & Kouchaki, 2016)
Networking is not about just connecting people. It’s about connecting people with people, people with ideas, and people with opportunities.
~ Michele Jennae
I think that most people would agree that the above outcomes would be seen as benefits to gain through networking. The problem is that the process of networking does not sit well with people. I think it comes down to being exposed to really poor networkers, who turn a conversation from social niceties into a sales pitch, on the turn of a dime.
The key to successful networking, is for it to feel natural – so that you feel you are being yourself in your interactions. Authenticity is important as it impacts your approach. And, your approach is governed by your mindset.
What is networking?
Networking is a social opportunity when you interact with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts. It usually works better when the relationships you have with the people you interact with are “loose”. That is, you are not so closely acquainted that you have nothing to share. The “looser” the relationship, the more potential there is to “exchange and share”. This also impacts your mindset.
It’s all about mindset
Your mindset is the way you view something. When you think about networking what comes to mind? Is it exciting, and you thrive on the thought of the social interaction – or – is it brown-nosing, exploitative, uncomfortable and phoney? To make it work for you, if you have the latter experience, you need to reframe your perspective.
Perspectives to consider adopting:
- focus on learning
- identify common interests
- think broadly about what you can give
- find a higher purpose
(Tiziana et al, 2016)
Focus on learning
Try to see networking as an opportunity for discovery and learning rather than a chore. When you least expect it, new connections may result in conversations that lead to new ideas and experiences/opportunities. Consider how it helps boost knowledge and skills needed in your job.
Identify common interests
Consider how your interests and goals align with those of people you meet or will meet and how that may help forge meaningful working relationships. Tiziana et al (2016) say numerous studies demonstrate that people establish collaborative and long-lasting connections when they work together on tasks that require one another’s contributions. Networking driven by substantive, shared interests feels is perceived as more authentic and meaningful and therefore more likely to lead to quality relationships.
If you want 1 year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.
~ Chinese Proverb
Think broadly about what you can give
People tend to think too narrowly about the resources they have. They focus on tangible, task-related things like money, social connections, technical support, and information. They ignore less obvious things like gratitude, recognition, and enhanced reputation.
Consider people you know whose values and identities you understand. If there is some way of conveying your recognition of this, it contributes greatly to their sense of inclusion. We know from neuroscience, that the sense of inclusion is important to our overall performance. Making someone else feel good, has reciprocal benefits for us. In this same way, it gives us the perception that networking can be more “other-focused” and less “self-serving”.
Find a higher purpose
Linking to higher goals helps foster a sense of purpose. Whether those be team or organisational goals – they are important to authenticity and a more values-based sense of networking. Seeing your networking effort as being “good for the company/firm” is another approach/mindset to adopt.
The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.
~ Keith Ferrazzi
Learning to love it
Like all new things, you need to learn about something to have an opportunity to love it! So my challenge to you is to give it a “red-hot go”. Try some of these mindset shifts and see if you can’t fall madly, deeply in love with networking. Let me know how you get on!
Casciaro, Tiziana, Gina, Francesca and Kouchaki, Maryam. 2016. Learn to Love Networking. Harvard Business Review. May 2016