First, why do we create networks? Most of us are creating networks for a purpose whether we admit it or not. We create them directly and indirectly. We create them for all sorts of purposes such as social, emotional, and professional purposes. They are created to entertain us and support us in all sorts of venues. For the sake of this thought, let’s focus on professional networks.
I have heard all kinds of chatter about networking. “It feels like I’m kissing up.” “I don’t know what to say.” “Why do I need to network if I’m doing a good job?” “I don’t want to beg for a job.” Creating a network doesn’t need to feel forced or chore-like. Here are a few thoughts to make your networking activity comfortable and enjoyable.
Becoming comfortable with networking begins with honing your skills in creating relationships and appreciating the uniqueness of individuals. First, networking doesn’t happen in one visit or one moment. It is the culmination of multiple interactions and growing the relationship through these interactions. So, go into your networking with the attitude that it is about finding an appreciation and value in each relationship. The value should be visible to both sides of the relationship. Identify that special shared topic or that intriguing mastered skill of the other person and use this as the basis for the conversation.
Capitalize on Opportunities
Often events can allow you to connect with others. Attend leadership sessions, clubs and conferences. During these scheduled opportunities others expect to interact. Connecting at these events can remove the stress of scheduling time and feeling that you are forcing the meeting. It will take follow-up meetings but these opportunities allow for the initial introduction.
When starting a networking relationship, be prepared. Start with the simple pieces like be on time, stay engaged, and do a bit of research. Research the background and history of your networking partner. Be prepared to answer questions about your career past, present and future. Lastly, follow-up on any commitments you make.
Now that you have a few tactics to making the network creation comfortable. How do you decide who to include in your network?
Size and shape of a Network
Networks can be built with leaders, peers, internal and external contacts, etc. Consider building your network in a broad and deep matter. A broad network may span multiple functions, companies, styles, etc. A deep network may span a specific function or topic. The broad network can be built for general purposes but the deep network can serve a long-time career interest or specific task. Keep in mind that your network is only as strong as your partner’s network. Be cognizant that you are building networks that resonate outward and aren’t echoing back. An echoing network would include partners that are all connected but only with each other, and they don’t expand outward with their own network. If you have an extremely busy schedule, it may be important to map out and be deliberate about connecting with those in your network on some type of schedule. We all know this can be pushed aside easily.
Experiment with these thoughts above and enjoy your time. If you have other thoughts or questions please send them along. As stated in my blog intent, sharing and collaborating fosters learning.