How To Network Properly
We all know that in the modern business environment, networking is important. Yet, how many of us actually know how to network properly? The truth is, hardly any of us do. Most people associate networking with awkward attempts to chat with colleagues at a dinner party or with competitors at conferences. Perhaps as a result of bad experiences, many of us deliberately avoid the whole process of networking and assume that we are no good at it.
But this view of networking is false. There is much more to the process than we think. We’ll give you the skills and information you need to become a strategic networker.
Commit to a new networker identity.
Unfortunately, many people feel that their jobs or their personalities make networking either unnecessary or impossible. “I’m a doctor,” they say, “I don’t need to network!” Or, “I’m an introvert. Networking just isn’t part of my skill set.”
This kind of passive thinking is seriously outdated. The concept of networking has gradually shifted over the years within our changing environment.
Today’s workplace is becoming increasingly collaborative. Business today is much less about protecting your ideas or preserving your hard-earned position within the company hierarchy, and much more about spreading novel strategies and working with your colleagues, no matter how far up the totem pole they might be.
In this kind of collaborative environment, networking, the process of creating relationships that are beneficial for individual or organizational success, is vital.
Today, we have access to people all across the globe whose skills and knowledge complement our own. Whatever you do for work, there is a fair chance that there’s someone out there whose skills would be of great benefit to you. So if you are a doctor, for example, you could look for someone with experience in growing a business, and could help you expand your practice.
In this network-oriented world, everyone has a role to play; anyone can develop a networker identity, enabling himself to reap the multiple benefits of an interconnected world.
Introverts, for example, might feel that their personalities limit their abilities to network. However, they might also be adept planners and listeners – two qualities that are crucial for networking.
You’ll need a strategic approach.
The first step to becoming a networker is easy, and has everything to do with developing the right mindset. All you have to do, no matter what your job title is, is add “plus networker” to the end of it. So, you’re no longer merely an “accountant” or a “doctor,” but instead an “accountant plus networker” or a “doctor plus networker”.
When you accept that networking is part of your professional role, you can then approach it in a strategic way, just as you would your actual professional role. For you to become a better strategic networker, do the following:
- First, be proactive. If you want to be the best networker, don’t sit around and wait for things to happen to you. You have to make moves! Go to conferences, join groups of like-minded people and seek out relationships that could help you and the company you work for. For example, a partner at an architectural firm that specializes in hospital design could join the American Institute of Architects or a hospital administrators’ association. At either organization, she is likely to find plenty of potential contacts that could help her expand and improve her business.
- Another way to be proactive is to always think about what your personal network can do for your company. Ask your boss if there is anything the company needs help with; maybe the right person for the job is already part of your personal network! You’ll never know unless you ask.
- Finally, strategic networkers are always ready for chance encounters with potential contacts. Indeed, some of the best contacts you will ever make will be the result of chance encounters. It could be the CEO you meet in the hallway, or the friend of a friend you bump into in the elevator. Make sure you are ready for them by preparing what you might say, thinking about how you might describe your job and deciding what kinds of connections you want to make.
Develop trusting relationships.
So who exactly belongs in your network? Your co-workers? People in the same industry? Your friends and family? It could be any and all of these! In fact, everyone’s network consists of four nets:
- The WorkNet includes everyone you work with on a daily basis, such as your co-workers.
- Your OrgNet includes people in other divisions and departments from your organization; these could be your friends in finance or IT.
- The ProNet includes professional contacts outside your workplace. These could be your colleagues in, say, the national engineers’ association, or your former clients and co-workers.
- And finally, your LifeNet encompasses your family, friends and even the people you play squash with.
Ask yourself how solid your connections are in each of these nets – a good networker has them all covered.
However, it’s not enough to simply know people that fall into each of these categories. To develop a strong network you need to develop trusting relationships with the people in your nets. So how do you cultivate trust between you and your contacts? Show them your competencies and character.
Demonstrating character is obvious: you simply need to show people that you embody the qualities of a trustworthy person by being honest, open and loyal.
Yet even the most honest person won’t be trusted if he isn’t capable of getting the job done – you need to show people that you’re actually good at what you do. Show them your successes from the past and make sure you have the right skills to do your job well.
For example, if you work as an HR manager, prove that you can be trusted by showing that you are well organized and a good listener. But no matter what, always remember that building trust takes time. On average, it takes six to eight conversations to build trust with a new contact, so keep at it.
Increase your social acumen and deepen interactions.
You might find that to develop your network, you’ll have to attend a range of events relevant to your field. But it’s not enough for you to just show up. In order to build trusting relationships, you’ll have to actually meet and talk to people.
By improving your social acumen you’ll be better equipped to go through the rituals inherent in effective networking. This can be daunting to some people, so here are a few tips to help you manage:
- Be sure to learn peoples’ names and make sure they remember yours as well. When meeting someone new, repeat your name to her. For example: “I’m Thomas, Thomas Smith.” Likewise, you should repeat her first name in order to better remember it: “It’s nice to meet you, Louise.”
- Be confident about joining groups. When you arrive at an event it can often seem as if everyone has already formed their cliques – but that’s all in your mind. Don’t think: “I have to break into this group.” Instead think: “This group isn’t complete without me.”
- Finally, when it’s time to end the conversation with a new contact, find a way to turn it into a greater networking opportunity, both for you and for her.
When you’re ready to end your conversation, ask her to introduce you to someone in your field. For example, if you’re an architect, just ask if she knows anyone at the event who is also involved in architecture. You could also introduce your new contact to others: “John, I’d like to introduce you to Laura. She’s also a doctor.”
While you’re involved in conversations with new contacts, it’s important to keep focused on building an actual relationship. Pay close attention to what your contact reveals about her character and competencies. Maybe she’s a great accountant, just when your firm is looking for one.
Communicate their expertise.
It’s natural to feel uncomfortable when talking about yourself. Even so, it’s something you’ll have to get over to become a successful networker. Here are some tips to help you out:
- When someone asks what you do, answer with more than just your job title. Instead, answer with something that demonstrates your competencies. A good way to do this is to use the Best/Test. First, reveal one skill you want people to remember about you, and then come up with an example that backs up that skill. So, you might say, “I make sure software development projects stay on schedule. Due to our precise and timely delivery, IBM is interested in our work.”
- Another way to help your new contacts remember you and your competencies is to tell them stories. The best stories follow the 5-S story formula.
- It starts with a Segue. Signal that you have something to say. For example, “This great thing happened to me!”
- Then, describe the situation, “Last week I went to a conference in Paris with my CEO.”
- Next, introduce the SNAFU, that is, the problem you had to solve: “The night before the conference my boss called to tell me that his wife had just gone into labor. He had to fly back to Berlin to be with her, but there were still nearly 200 people expecting us to present our research the next day.”
- Then, present your solution: “I suggested that I do the presentation myself, even though the thought terrified me. My boss agreed, and I spent all night practicing.”
- Finally, explain the experience’s significance by highlighting the positive impact it had on you, on others or on your organization: “The presentation went really well and my boss was very impressed.”
If you stick with the 5-S formula, you can be sure to create a memorable story that demonstrates your key qualities and competencies to your new contacts.
Networking will allow you to stay on top in the modern technological world.
Today, it seems like new technologies are coming out faster than we can keep up. Just think about how technology has changed our lives even in the past five to ten years. Fortunately, your new networking identity and networking skills give you the tools to enjoy success in a changing environment.
In order to be an adaptable networker, you’ll need to follow these three principles: reframe networking, risk reaching out and reinforce collaborative culture.
By reframing networking in your mind, you encourage yourself to acknowledge the importance of networking. By committing to your networker identity, you know that you’re far more than your mere job description. Remind yourself that you’re not just your job title; you have plenty of untapped talents.
Risking reaching out urges you to leave your comfort zone in order to develop new relationships. Recall your newfound networking skills to help you feel more confident when reaching out to new contacts.
Reinforcing the collaborative culture encourages you to act as if you own the organization you work for. If you treat it as your own, you’ll be better equipped to develop strategies to help the company achieve greater success.
Finally, remember to apply your face-to-face trust-building strategies online, too. In our modern world, lots of networking is done online, and it’s just as important to keep your word online as in person.
Say you’ve received an important query from your boss and you fail to reply as the day’s workload steadily grows. Your boss finally has to remind you to reply a few hours later, but you rush your response and your answer is inaccurate, on top of being late. Do you think she’ll trust you with a similar task in the future? Being as reliable online as you are in person is key to building trust among your contacts.
Networking is more important today than it has ever been which means that developing networking skills is paramount for today’s workers. You can become a strategic networker by leveraging your contacts in new and creative ways, and fully committing to your networker identity.