Networking: You're thinking about it all wrong
The idea of “networking” can leave a bad taste in one’s mouth.
“I hate networking, it’s so fake.”
“I don’t ‘network’ because I don’t use people.”
“I don’t need to network, my work speaks for itself.”
The people who say this, have it all wrong. No one should view networking simply as, “what’s in it for me.” While many think “networking” is cold and calculating it really means simply connecting with other people, helping them when you can (because it's the right thing to do) and building relationships that mutually benefit the parties involved. You aren’t using someone to get ahead. You are trying to establish and grow a meaningful relationship in your professional world. And any good relationship needs nurturing. They take time and attention. You cannot force a relationship but you can foster one. Before thinking of expanding your circle, first check-in with your existing people – remind them you’re there and are thinking of them. This tip is particularly helpful now that so many of us are working from home.
If you’ve let some relationships go cold from benign neglect now is the time to send an email asking how they’re doing (who wouldn’t love a check-in from someone?), repost their LinkedIn article, or otherwise respond to one of their social media feeds – don’t just scroll by. It’s important to show up and wave hello! Look for opportunities to provide value and offer assistance and support – it can be as simple as forwarding a relevant article or giving them a head’s up on new information, or just checking in to say, "hi, how are you doing this week?". These small steps to connect let them know you are part of their cheering squad and will celebrate their successes and be there when they’re struggling. Expanding your circle is a bit more challenging now as in-person “networking” events are on hold because of social distancing concerns. You need to find creative ways to connect. Many industry events have moved online – so attend those, if you can - and participate (don't just be a wallflower). If you’re part of a professional organization take advantage of all the resources many of them are providing their communities during the pandemic. Then follow-up with people you see and “meet” at these virtual events via LinkedIn or the organization’s directory. Say, “I really enjoyed your comments on the [X subject] webinar!” At the same time realize that we are in interesting times and some people are not apt to be open to building relationships now – but that says more about where they are right now (Overwhelmed? Anxious? Worried? Plain busy?) than it does about their specific feelings toward you. So, with grace, meet people where they are and do what you can. Stay polite and in the end it will be all right. Don’t forget successfully “connecting” means that you also provide value. If you are an authority on a subject matter, offer to be a speaker, participant, or panelist at one of these professional organization virtual events. It’s a great way for others to get to know you and the more involved you get the more confident you will be. Connecting isn’t a one way street – lasting relationships are for the mutual benefit of those involved. And as for those who say they don’t need to network because their work speaks for itself, we say, that’s not enough. You should work on your professional relationships if you want to succeed in business. One rarely succeeds alone in business -we need other people. You can do the best work and be the smartest one in the room, but if you haven’t taken the time to cultivate your squad of professional friends, you are limiting where you can ultimately go and what you can ultimately achieve. Don’t get in your own way! Have fun making real human connections, cheering on others, helping them be their best, solving problems and enjoying opportunities. Being that type of kind person is good for your personal brand - and your soul.
But we get it, “networking” has gotten a bad rap. So instead, why not try starting to “connect” with others and asking, "how can I help", instead of expecting to immediately get something? It’s a more accurate description.