Business is interactive and interpersonal. You deal with people all the time. So get good at networking, or else….
Let’s start by obliterating these 9 misconceptions about networking:
1. My work speaks for itself. Ha! If it does, it whispers. You think being a CPA, lawyer, scientist, engineer, or IT person somehow exempts you from the need to network? Not in today’s world.
Maybe your ‘quiet career’ didn’t require much interaction in the past but that was then, this is now. Nowadays we’re all connected, in potential if not fact. Remember, your individual contribution at work is valued most when it’s part of a collaboration. So if you don’t see yourself as a networking collaborator it’s time to update your definition of ‘you’.
2. I’m not in Sales, I’m a professional…(architect, engineer, doctor, etc.). Your profession doesn’t immunise you from the need to connect with other people. If you’re in business, you’re in sales. Nothing happens in business till somebody, somewhere, sells something to someone. From the front desk to the factory floor, ‘business development’ is everybody’s business. Whatever your title, part of your job is to help bring in the business.
3. I don’t get anything out of networking events, so I don’t go. Smart networkers are more givers than takers. Network events are for contributing not just consuming. Look for opportunities to collaborate, add value to and create synergy with others. That’s efficient networking because you’re then a desirable asset, ie, someone worth knowing.Use a min/max formula: enter a networking event with a minimum expectation (the very least you want to accomplish) and a maximum (the best outcome you can reasonably expect). One study found that 85% of people attending a networking event came with nothing in mind. That’s not networking, that’s loitering!
4. Asking for help makes me look incompetent and I don’t want to owe people. Nobody succeeds in business without help. In business, it’s always ‘we’ never ‘I’. Asking for help ensures better decisions, better results, better outcomes. Giving help results in higher job satisfaction. Where’s the downside to that? Collaborative interchange of ideas, feedback and assistance makes any workplace better. It’s not quid pro quo (this for that), it’s pro bono (for the good of all), ie, reciprocity isn’t required. Most people are happy to assist you (+80%, in my experience) if you give them a chance and ask the right way.
5. Isn’t networking just job-hunting? It’s not just career advancement (nothing wrong with that!). It’s more a test and measurement of your EQ and collaborative skills. If you don’t – or won’t – grasp this lesson, your career is already stalled (and now you know why) and will stay stalled until you learn this lesson. Networking is not optional, it’s mandatory.
6.Networking is manipulative. Oh dear! The 12 letter dirty word that nobody wants to say. But what’s so bad about manipulation (chiropractors do it all the time). Networking isn’t intrusive, brow-beating, arm-twisting (chiropractors excepted), subterfuge, pushiness, sycophancy or any other socially inept tactic. You network in order to attract people, not repel them.
Truth is, we like being manipulated in the right way (Hollywood figured this out long ago, as did Fox News, Russia Today, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, etc.). The intention of the manipulation depends on you, always on you.
Networking in business means displaying your competence to other people in a succinct manner. Trust building eliminates deception.
7. Networking is just schmoozing. Just?! Schmoozing is idle chat, small talk, gossiping with a purpose, and it’s the social lubricant of life. We talk small before we talk large. There’s a time for chatter and there’s a time to discuss the writings of Proust and Kierkegaard. Your task is to know the difference.
You may find this ‘ice breaking’ process boring and uncomfortable but it’s still an important and necessary first step when two strangers converse. Somebody has to do it, might as well be you. Either you or the other person (or both) will feel grateful for having the ice broken. Besides, if you can’t break ice, you’ll be frozen out. So get cracking.
8. I’m an introvert, not a networker. Lots of introverts are highly competent networkers because they have a distinct advantage: a propensity to listen. You can master the world with the ability to listen. So harness your hidden power.
9. I don’t need face-to-face skills, I use email and text messages. As long as you’re a member of our species (homo-sapiens, in case you forgot) you need face-to-face interpersonal skill. That’s how our species communicates best.
Remember, it takes 5-8 face-to-face meetings to establish trust and you won’t establish trust easily via texts or emails. Nothing replaces the face-to-face meetings. Nothing will, nothing can.
Bottom line: Networking is a skill that improves with practice. Everybody starts at zero yet networkers turn chats into conversation, small talk into big talk, interactions into business.
Just because you start at zero doesn’t mean you have to end there. If these 9 misconceptions are retarding your progress in business or career, shed them, and start connecting.
Dr. Duff Watkins hosts the AmCham Business Podcast and is Director of ExecSearch International- Australia.