Networking is a core competency – but do you know how to use it effectively and authentically to generate results?
In my work with busy professionals, I find that most people under-estimate the value of their internal network and feel overwhelmed by having to reach out and “go to networking” functions to build their external networks.
And yet, it doesn't need to be like this.
If you are think or do any of the above and you are NOT in a sales or marketing role, then this article is for you!
Networking is a core competency for every single working professional. But, most professionals are unaware of the impact their networking or lack of it, is having on their future prospects – whether promotion, mentoring or side-ways movement within a company.
In a recent article I wrote about using LinkedIn to network and grow your reach, my research indicates that people find new roles and get promoted through friends or colleagues of friends most often. The power of networks and relationships cannot be disputed.
So, how do we use it more effectively?
I believe that the first step is to really understand what networking is and what it isn't....
So, when it comes to networking, a great definition I like to use is this:
Networking is a life skill, and the master networkers are basically those who believe in helping others whenever possible, linking potentially like-minded people together and looking for ways of helping people with no expectation of anything coming back in return - Henderson
Networking happens naturally within the workplace and most of the time, we are not aware we are doing it. If you could see networking from this perspective, it may take a lot of the "stress" associated with networking away.
Of course, networking has its own place as the formal functions that happen within a business like networking functions with clients or suppliers as well as the networking functions held at Chambers of Commerce, local business networking events and so on.
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that we have two types of typical networks: internal and external.
Our internal networks refer to our day to day or operational network of contacts. We often under-estimate these because we use them so often it is effortless.
Our external networks refers to those contacts who we reach out to at a more strategic level. These are the potential contacts who can help us solve problems such as: how do I get my boss to agree to this very important project, how can I make contact with that Senior Exec whose department I'd like to move into to, where do I find a mentor, who do I call if I want to talk something over with. Our external contacts are our strategic contacts. My experience is that most busy professionals do not have the correct strategic network contacts in place. We under-estimate the importance of working on this network.
For both our internal and external networks, we should be creating a list of those within these networks and making sure we have set goals around how we manage our time. This is important because we want to makes sure we are putting effort into these relationships. In our busy world, this can often be overlooked due to what appear to be 'more important other tasks" that we work on. Relationships need consistent, thoughtful care to grow and flourish.
Connection is Key
Connecting with other people is core to who we are as human beings.
Check out a great video by Sentis on the Social Brain and how it works to help you understand how important the human connection is.
What we can learn from this video is that we are all inter-connected and our ability to pick up on social and emotional cues is highly honed.
However, most of the time we are on autopilot when it comes to interacting with others.
We often do networking effortlessly, and without thought with those we know, like and respect. It can however be more difficult with those we don't’ get on with.
And this doesn't mean that we shouldn't reach out and develop healthy relationships with these folks! It means that we should pay attention to our internal dialogue about these folk so that we switch off the negative stories we have about them - in order to build relationship with them.
The problem however that we have is that we often don't know how to build relationships with people we don't feel comfortable with. And this is can be detrimental to the productivity within departments and organisations as a whole.
Organisations need to pay attention upskilling their staff to help them interact with those who they wouldn’t traditionally hang around with – this builds resilience, capacity for extending relationships and ultimately helping us to influence those around us.
And the reason we need to learn this is that often I hear in my workshops and the work I do with busy professionals is that people have a blockage in getting a goal achieved because of a manager or colleague that just won't budge on an issue.
If you don’t have a robust enough network that you have been cultivating, you won’t have leverage to influence around this person to get what you need achieved.
Having a healthy network which you consciously pay attention to and develop will allow you to reach out when you need to and have the confidence that those you reach out to will want to help you.
Of course, the secret to networking and relationship building is to create relationship accounts where the credit part of our account is much higher than the debit side. This will allow us leverage to ask for help when we need to, without jeopardising the relationship. Rather, if you pay attention to a win-win in your relationships, in many instances those you reach out to will be only too happy to provide the help you need.
You can have everything in life if you will just help people to get what they want – Zig Ziglar
Networking is 24/7
Organisations need to connect with their environment in a way that is productive, purposeful and courageous too.
Networking cannot be successful if there is a disconnect between the stated or perceived values of staff and their organisation.
Whether you like it or not, you represent your company 24/7:
Whether you find yourself in Woolworths on a Saturday morning and come face to face with a local customer or are at a barbecue over the weekend and someone asks you about your products and services.....
Networking is a core competency that needs to be actioned and implemented 24/7 by all of us. However, most of us lose out on the wonderful opportunities that come our way simply because we are unaware.
The Business Case for Networking
In helping us to understand the reasons for why networking is crucial for any busy professional, it's important to understand the environment in which we all find ourselves in:
- We have fewer resources available to us: at work we are expected to do more with less
- We are expected to complete our work in shorter time-frames: we are expected to complete our tasks quicker, faster, better, smarter
- We are expected to double our output: companies are feeling the economic crunch and expect their employees to show a return on investment, often expecting longer hours from already hard-working employees
...information needs are mounting at an exponential rate while the knowledge that people in organisations can personally amass is growing much more slowly – Byham, 2008
With all these changes happening around us, the need to become more aware and awake to the people we work with and how we leverage our relationships with them, becomes crucial.
Change is expected to be the new normal. And, yet for a lot of busy professionals, they are change fatigued, burnt out by the constant pressure to change.
By learning to network with more intent, with better goals and becoming more generous with our time and input where we see and hear gaps in conversations, we can start to learn about changes before they happen, we can better plan and we can become more adept at seeing the opportunities around us.
But, networking for many of us can be awkward and uncomfortable. It takes us out of our comfort zones. And sadly, because of this, we lose out on the opportunities to build our confidence and competence in what will become a more important area as time goes on.
Six Common Challenges of Networking and How to Overcome them
Below are some of the most common challenges I hear when I working with busy professionals on their networking skills.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- Networking is awkward!
- The potential for disengagement with internal stakeholders due to misunderstandings and workloads can be off-putting
- Our personal communication styles and how these relate when collaborating and networking can be a hindrance
- Not knowing the rules for creating genuine, authentic connections creates discomfort
- Not understanding the benefits of developing and maintaining networks means we don't do it
- Finding the time to network: I just don't have it!!
Five Simple Tips to Overcoming your Networking Challenges:
When it comes to overcoming our networking challenges, I think not knowing what you don't know is the important bit. And, by this stage in the article, I hope you have a better insight into some of the myths around it, and how networking can benefit you as a busy professional.
The following are five ways you can overcome the challenges that come with networking:
1. The more you do it, the more confident you become
The funny thing about learning and life is that the more you do something, the better you get it. In just the same way, the more you practice the art of being interested in others, asking them questions that allow them to share who they are with you, the better you get at developing your networking skills. And, the more success you get, the more confident you become. The wonderful cycle of learning.
2. Reframe your “story about networking”
Now that you have read this article, you know that networking is a natural process that happens between people, irrespective of whether its in a formal or informal “networking” setting. By changing your story about networking being hard and awkward, you allow yourself the benefit of enjoying the natural rhythm of conversation that happens between two professionals who know, like and respect each other.
3. Get some quick wins
Seeing progress in a skill we develop is crucial to help us keep on task and motivated to keep doing it. At work, develop your networking skills with those you know, like and trust will help you to see the benefits of doing it with those you perhaps don’t know as well – say in your weekly Departmental Meeting or in your monthly business lunch.
4. Create a structured approach
When it comes to networking, writing up your set of goals for growing your internal and external networks and then creating a process for doing it, can be very helpful.
I have included a great free resource for those of you who make get stuck in the types of questions you typically ask: 38 Go-To questions to Break the Ice when Networking.
And of course, in our paid 60 minute webinar, “Learn to Network Like a Pro” we take you through a structured process for getting your networking goals in place, together with helping you to identify both your internal and external networks.
5. Learn how to adapt your style
Everyone has a natural behavioural style where we get our energy and focus from.
As a result, we tend to find it easier hanging out with people who are like us and more difficult being with people whose behavioural styles are different to ours. By learning to make allowances and accepting others more, we open ourselves to the possibilities that those “difficult people” in our lives can be influenced.
And we can better learn to influence others by learning to adapt our styles to the styles of others, from a conscious perspective. I talk more about this below.
The Art of Small Talk
Networking is a conversation between two people. Why is it then that we get on better with some people and we cannot stand to be around others?
The simple answer has to do with our behavioural styles.
From a social perspective, we tend to like people who are similar or like ourselves. We communicate, think and express ourselves in a way that is common.
However with styles who are different to ourselves, the way we communicate, how we think and express ourselves can be very different and this often leads to misunderstandings and miscommunications.
Learning how to notice another’s style of behaviour is an important part of learning to network authentically.
Identifying Your and Other’s Styles
In order to identify your and other’s styles, try placing yourself on the following 2 continuums. Try to think about yourself as one or the other - not both!
Of course, most of us have learnt both sides of the continuum. But, the trick here is to choose which is your NATURAL style rather than your learnt style. Your natural style is considered your strength.
Choose from the list below which you tend to be more comfortable “being” in the workplace: task vs people and introvert vs extravert.
Logical and Organised
Creative and social
Critical analysis and structure
Intuitive and free-flowing
Think to talk
Talk to think
Energise with others
Like detail, context and the story behind something
Prefer the big picture, not a lot of detail, the "bottom-line"
Listen more than talk
Talk more than listen
When you are able to better recognise your own style in relation to those you work and network with, you have a much better opportunity to adjust your style to accommodate theirs.
And this is important because you can influence someone far more easily when you come to them from a similar place as them, as opposed to using your natural style to influence them.
So, for example if you are someone who placed themselves in the task part of the continuum, if you recognise that you are talking to a people style, you’d be best served to ask them a question and learn to pause before making your comment.
And, if you are an extravert who finds themselves talking to an introvert, you’d be better served to tone down your energy and slow down your rate of speech just down a level. More than this and you risk coming across as fake and even worse, condescending!
Now that we have considered our natural styles and how to adapt ours, let's have a look at 6 questions that you could use to kick off a conversation.
6 Questions to help you build rapport and interest:
Have some fun using these, tweaking or updating them to suit your style and needs.
And, if you need any more questions to get your started, be sure to check out the free resource I have included at the end of this article, "38 Go-To Questions to Help you Break the Ice When Networking"
Tips to Play to Your Strengths
In the last 2 points, I have given you tips on how to adapt and engage with your networking buddies, to get the conversation started. I think it's important to note that none of these tips and techniques will work unless you come from a place of strength.
What I mean by this is that if you know you are a quiet, thoughtful, task focused style, you know that you'll need to up your energy and assertiveness levels when speaking with a loud, outspoken people focused style. The key here is that you are not changing who you are in this situation, you are acknowledging that from your style position, if you want to influence the other style, you will need to "tweak" your style, rather than change it so that you can come across as more like the other style than your own.
Three important points about your style strengths:
Always play to your strengths!
You are who you are.
Trying to change yourself will just exhaust you and leave you feeling down.
When you come from a place of strength, you come from a place of your natural confidence and power. From there you can adapt your style for the conversations you have.
Below are four simple tweaks you can make if you are aware and conscious in the conversations you have:
• Identify and own your personal style
• Reframe “your story” about “them”
• Adapt your style to others – one level at a time. If you go too far out of your comfort zone, you will come across as incongruent (because you feel uncomfortable) and risk being seen as condescending
• Look for an easy “win”: I always advocate starting to use these style "tweaks" with people who you already know, like and trust as they are far more likely to forgive you if you get the style tweaking wrong. But, when you get it right, (which you will the more you practice this) you will grow in confidence which will make you more likely to apply these tweaks with others.....
Networking as I said upfront, is a core competence that all of us should be using. There are many benefits to you as a busy professional in using networking consciously and actively to grow your influence, reputation and reach.
Remember, that networking happens all the time, it's just that most of the time we are unaware.
The difference between average networkers and truly effective networkers are that effective networkers are awake and aware to the opportunities in their network.
Effective networkers understand the importance of win-win in their relationships
Effective networkers use their strengths wisely and adapt in small increments with those behavioural styles who are different to them - always coming from a place of authenticity
Effective networkers have goals and work towards these using a process or structure
Over to You
- What key points stand out for you about networking and how to do it more effectively?
- How might you apply these insights?
- What actions will you take?
Have fun in implementing these ideas into your day-to-day work and let me know your answers to the three questions above by commenting in the comments section below!
And, until next time,
I'll See You at the Top!
If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested in getting our free resource, "38 Go-To Questions to Break the Ice When Networking"
Do you find it difficult to break the ice when meeting someone for the first time?
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