Guest blog by Diane Law, People Development Specialist and Learning Journey Cartographer
What do you think of when you hear the word networking?
Myself, and many other women I know, find the term intimidating, and are worried because it seems to centre around going to events (either in person or, these days, virtually) where we end up projecting a forced, false and superficial image of ourselves.
In fact, when I looked up the word networking, the first definition was schmoosing (to talk informally with someone, especially in a way that is not sincere or to win some advantage for yourself.) Who would feel comfortable with that?
Yet, as a freelance consultant I realised that every piece of work I have done has been through my network of colleagues, friends and other people that I know one way or another. My network is strategically important to me and one I continue to find value in.
Why we don’t like it
The Women in the Workplace Report 2018 shows that although women in general are more social than men, they network less, and when they do it is mostly with other women. Why is this? Several reasons come to mind:
- Thinking like our actions should speak for themselves. If we are good at what we do, we don’t need to blow our own horns.
- We are modest and tend to undersell our values and strengths. We don’t really know what to say.
- Finding the whole process awkward and tedious, with little payback for the effort put in.
- Feeling that we are bothering people for what is self-serving and political and only of benefit to ourselves.
Change in perspective
But networking doesn’t need to be this way. What has helped me is to change my attitude about networking. One small modification is that I prefer to think of it as connecting (linking, joining, involving, relating).
Leadership today is increasingly defined not just by how many hours we spend at our computers, but our ability to connect with others, how we incorporate outside perspectives, and how we navigate groups. It takes time, but it matters.
Focus on the other people
If you are meeting new people and your motivation is what you can get out of the relationship (such as additional opportunities, more sales, a higher profile) then your possibility of success is diminished. You may even feel uncomfortable and phony in the process.
But if you go with the attitude of generosity and curiosity you learn a lot more, you better understand the other person and their needs, and you consequently build up a stronger and deeper relationship.
It’s about giving, not taking – don’t go with your hand outstretched – looking for what is in it for you. It’s about creating relationships and genuine connections that are mutually interesting and beneficial.
Figure out how to help, uplift and support the stranger you are reaching out to. Ask about the person, what they are passionate about and are focusing on today. What they might need help with and how you can support them. Get to know them. What can you do for them as time goes by? Is there an article you can pass on to them? Is there someone you know that they really should meet?
Taking the focus off yourself really does make it easier, more genuine and more valuable to both parties. Think of what you will learn by listening.
Building a network is a long game
Connecting is about establishing and nurturing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with the people you meet. It isn’t about events. But it IS about cultivating your connections over time. Don’t go in with expectations of an immediate return.
That also means that your network doesn’t have to be vast. It’s not about the number of contacts or connections you have or the number of people you are LinkedIn with. It is more about having the quantity of connections that you can manage, support, and pay forward to. Less can be more.
To do this, you may want to classify your connections in terms of concentric circles – those in the inner circle you may have frequent, valuable contact with. The next level could be frequent but less in-depth contact, or less frequent but comprehensive contact. The outer level also requires some work. Perhaps it is a newsletter or sending a link to a video that might resonate with a particular group of people. But it is never about blatantly asking for work. It is about showing your potential.
Be able to clearly articulate what you do
Although your focus is on the other person, you still need to be able to clearly and succinctly express what you do, in an engaging, powerful and interesting way. You only have one chance to make a first impression.
Building a relationship is two-way, so they will want to know about you as well. It shouldn’t be a sales pitch, but the goal is to grab their attention, or relate what you do and how it’s important to them.
Taking them from a perceived problem that they may or may not know that they have, towards a solution that you provide. To engage them and to cultivate curiosity which has them asking you for more information.
Don’t think of networking as an event. Think of it as expanding and nurturing your connections. And this can happen every day in any type of formal or informal situation.
This quote sums up some of my thinking:
“Be a person who sees others, who grasps who they are and what is important to them; Who gets behind them and moves them ahead in their world. Be a person who puts your projects out to others, lets them know who you are and what is important to you; And allows them to get behind you and move you ahead in your world.” – Barry Oshry OSHRY
Diane works with organisations to help them create and implement a learning culture that fits their organisation, people and processes.
She works with companies to identify where they are and where they want to get to in people development by understanding their future direction, business issues and pinch points. Together we clarify desired outcomes. Taking a holistic approach, incorporating all aspects of how people develop in the organisation, a bespoke learning framework is created, learning transfer approaches are identified and an implementation plan developed.
Diane helps organisations and their people to perform better. Her psychology background gave her insight into how people learn and are motivated. She gained business and organisational insight through her MBA. Her professional experience covers process improvement, change management, team leadership, strategic planning and all aspects of people development. She has also formed internal L&D functions from scratch, building teams focusing on all aspects of learning. See Diane’s website or LinkedIn profile for more information.