Networking- why you should do it and how to get good at it
Argghh another ‘networking’ event…just the thought of an evening standing around talking to dull folk with a warm glass of bad wine, exchanging cards and stifling yawns wondering if you can get home in time to put the kids to bed so you can get on with your real work. Right?
It doesn’t have to be. Networking is something many people, particularly women can feel deeply ambivalent about. That’s because we often hold a number of assumptions about networking that get in the way of building this critical leadership skill.
If it doesn’t come naturally isn’t it therefore inauthentic? Nope, getting good at new things is rarely comfortable to begin with.
Isn’t it a waste of time? Networking does take time yet is an important use of your time as we can’t do it all alone.
Isn’t networking tacky and transactional? It shouldn’t be, check your mind-set around it. By changing how you view networking, it can instantly feel more comfortable. Instead of asking “What’s in it for me?” try thinking “How can I help? What can I learn?”.
Isn’t networking manipulative? and all about ‘you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours’? Networking is simply building a group of people who are vested in your success and who you can support in theirs’. Building your network is doing this intentionally, as well as generously.
What Networking gives you
An edge with market info
If you want to know what is happening in a sector you can find someone to ask
Learning and new horizons
If you need to be developed in an area you can find someone with that expertise to learn from
It gives you go-to folk – operationally, strategically and personally
Clarifies your value
It makes us get clear about what we can offer which is an important understanding to hold onto throughout our careers. The more confident you are about what you offer the more natural networking becomes.
Amplifies your reputation
Members of your network talk positively about you to others. I’ve been in meetings where a manager has been talking about an employee who they believe has strong potential, and it’s clear that this perception is largely built upon what others say about the employee in question.
So who is talking about you to others, and what are they saying? Are you talking positively about members of your network to others?
Personally, I have never recommended someone I didn’t 100% believe in, so it’s not about telling the world how great everyone is and hoping that they’ll return the favour, but about building your reputation as someone who makes genuinely useful recommendations and helps others. Remember it’s about trust, behave accordingly.
It’s not all about you
And on the theme of it not being all about you, we are all drawn to people like us but this doesn’t mean they are necessarily the people we will learn the most from.
Building a network that thinks and behaves exactly like you is easier to do but if you want it to stretch and challenge you, and to facilitate advantageous relationships, embrace difference.
Don’t be afraid of leveraging your network
I see many women who are great at relationship building, initiating interesting conversations, staying in touch, making helpful introductions, but it’s leveraging those relationships they find difficult.
Women’s leadership author, Sally Helgesen, says women often think about leveraging relationships as ‘not nice’. “Women may view asking for something as transactional, so they miss out on the value of the relationship”.
It’s all about Trust
When you consider that a strong network can offer you support, information, challenge and development, it seems crazy that we’re reluctant to tap into that. Doing so doesn’t mean you don’t respect the members of your network. If you have invested in them people don’t mind helping you. Remember you are building a trusted and trustworthy network.
7 savvy networking tips
- Be strategic in building and leveraging your network, that doesn’t make it transactional or manipulative
- Approach networking with a mind-set of abundance – how can I help, what can I offer?
- Find a common interest – listen to people, be curious
- Ask for advice – people are usually genuinely motivated to help you or share what they know
- Invest time in your network without expecting an immediate return
- Make sure some of your network are outside your organisation and not ‘just like you’
- Acknowledge it is important for building your leadership capability and impact, and focus on getting good at it.
You already have everything in you to build that powerful network!
To listen to my new podcast on with Jill Flynn, author of ‘Break Your Own Rules’ where I discuss how to change our mindsets to accelerate our success as women leaders click here.
Photo credit: Jack Knight, Illustration and Image Design Services
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