How to learn to love networking

Networking

Networking used to be my biggest nightmare. 

Put me on stage and I could present to hundreds

Yet, ask me to mingle with them afterwards and I’d literally hide in the toilets. 

Networking gave rise to my inner, socially awkward child. 

I forgot how to start conversations

When it came to joining in a conversation I had no idea how to politely slide in.

I felt like I was the only one walking around without a clue what to do or how to speak. 

As my career progressed, I got better and better at doing it, but it never felt natural, and when working for a company whose main way of doing business was through networking, it was a big deal. 

Being a reluctant networker definitely held me back and slowed me down. 

If any of this sounds familiar, then keep reading. 

Today my approach to networking is very different. I’m confident and capable and dare I say – I even enjoy it. It’s literally a total turnaround.

So, what happened and how can you turn the tide on your networking?

Read my 5 tips on how to learn to love networking.

And if you find this one interesting be sure to check out other Blog’s such as Values: Your Secret Weapon to Finding Fulfilment. and Being Authentic: How to set yourself free by being yourself

Tip #1 – Stop networking. 

Networking has always felt like a dirty word to me. It conjures up images of hard sales tactics and trying to push your products onto people who don’t want them. Try as I might, networking just never felt authentic.

But, relationship building was something I could do. 

As an introvert, I still wasn’t jumping at the chance to meet a room full of strangers with the thought of building a relationship with them, but it definitely helped when I thought about approaching it from the stance of building relationships. 

What did this look like? 

  • Listening not pitching
  • Bringing curiosity and questions over telling and information giving
  • Engaging with a open ‘learners’ mindset, not going with an agenda

These made ‘networking’ much more bearable

Tip #2 – 6 degrees of separation

There is a concept that in theory, any person on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries, and this is called “Six Degrees of Separation”

This, to me, creates a whole new concept to networking.

It is not about who I meet at a networking event, or who I may be able to help directly, it’s about people, who know people, who know people and so on. 

For me, there is little point in going to a networking event with a view to try to sell my services or connect with buyers. People don’t go to networking events to purchase coaching. Just like if you’re an employee looking to build your career prospects with potential employers, they aren’t going to hire you on the basis of a conversation you have with them there. 

You might strike lucky and meet someone through networking that is offering exactly what you need, but chances are you’re more likely to meet someone, have an interesting conversation that leaves a positive impression and who offers to introduce you to the people in their network that can help you with your problem. 

Networking is connecting with people, building relationships out of common interests and bringing your genuine, authentic self to the table. 

Tip #3 – Expect nothing in return

If you offer to help someone, with a view to getting something in return, in my opinion, it just feels like you’re using the person. 

I get many many approaches on Linked in with people coldly offering me their services under the guise of relationship building. It looks like this

“Hey Zoe, I came across your profile and it seems we have many mutual interests and connections in common. Let me tell you a bit about me (blah blah blah), I’d love to hear more about you too”. 

It just doesn’t feel authentic. 

Let’s say you’re an HR director, and you’re in the market for a new job. You go to a conference or seminar and get talking to a VP of a company you’d be interested in joining. You offer to connect another time to talk through the mentoring programme you set up in your business, as they’re looking at doing something similar. In your mind, the reason you do this is ‘to make a good impression’ and ‘to find out what opportunities there may be in their organisation’. 

I think this makes the engagement more pressurised and potentially awkward. 

If you offer to help, without any agenda, expecting nothing in return, chances are you’ll be more relaxed, you’ll create genuine connection and the opportunity to ask for career guidance arises naturally

It’s a subtle difference, but it shifts the energy. 

Tip #4 – Have a goal in mind

This may sound like a contradiction to the tip above but hear me out. 

If you can’t think of a reason why you are building your network then why bother? The goal that you put on your networking, will strongly influence how you approach it.

For example, if you goal is simply to ‘meet more people’, there may not be any sense of motivation to take it seriously. 

Alternately, if the goal is to enhance my career prospects, then this may feel more important. 

But how specific are these goals? Do they focus your behaviour? 

“Enhancing career prospects” may feel daunting. It’s broad and hard to know if you’ve been successful at it. Whereas a goal around “Building relationships with 3 key senior leaders” feels instantly more achievable. 

Take time to understand why networking is important for you and think about some specific goals that will drive the right behaviours for you. 

Tip # 5 – Recognise the value of networking as a way of being. 

Networking isn’t something ‘to do’. It’s a way of being. 

For me, networking is the following: 

  • Connecting
  • Being helpful
  • Building each other up
  • Being a listener
  • Karma!
  • Sharing stories
  • Asking for help when I really need it

A great metaphor for networking is throwing stones into a lake. The ripples that you see from one stone hitting the surface spread well beyond the stone itself.

You don’t have to be passive in your networking. People are usually interested in what other people have to say and the more people you engage with, the more you get to talk about what you’re up to, what your goals are, what your hopes and ambitions are for 2020. Along that journey, you’re almost certainly going to meet someone who can give you a helping hand. 

So whatever your goals for 2020, make networking part of who you are and how you work.

It’s certainly sure to empower your success. 

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