A number of professionals are somewhat hesitant about networking, finding it challenging and cumbersome. Others are too busy to allocate time for growing their social network. Some professionals pride their ability to observe and stand outside of social circles. Yet, we all know it is critical to our professional success.
Networking enables us to grow ties with personal contacts who provide us with support, feedback, insight, resources and information — whilst simultaneously allowing us to grow our own influence too. The issue is that although knowledgeably, we all recognise the need for networking, several studies indicate that networking often turns out to be one of the most dreaded developmental challenges for leaders.
If you have been avoiding networking in the past, here are four strategies that can help you overcome your aversion and enable you to reframe the process to turn it into something you actually enjoy doing.
Seek to embrace an enthusiastic outlook. Approach your networking activities with excitement, curiosity and an open mind about all the possibilities that might unfold. As opposed to viewing networking as a necessary evil, seek to engage in it with an inquisitive style. When we embrace a growth mind-set, we can choose to perceive networking as an opportunity for discovery and learning rather than a chore. Sometimes when we least expect it, we engage in a conversation that sparks up new ideas and leads to new experiences and opportunities.
Several studies in social psychology show that people establish the most collaborative and long lasting connections when they work together on activities that require one another’s contributions. Interdependence generates a source of positive energy in professional relationships. When our ambition for networking is driven by shared interests, it feels more authentic and meaningful, and is more likely to lead to relationships that foster those values too.
The most universally agreed upon networking tip is this: Offer to help others first, and they will return the favour. Ivan Misner, chairman of global networking organisation BNI International, recommends always asking new contacts to tell you about a business challenge they are confronting. That way, you might know someone who can help, and that’s the start of a relationship. In their book ‘Influence without Authority’, Allan Cohen and David Bradford note that most people tend to think too narrowly about the resources they have to offer. When you think about what you can give to others as opposed to what you can get from them, networking will feel less self-promotional and more generous, and therefore more worthy of your time.
In addition to personal interests, consider as well the collective benefits of making connections. Any work activity becomes more attractive when it is linked to a higher goal. So, you can frame your networking objectives to a broader scope by thinking on the lines of, “I’m supporting my organisation” or “I’m representing women in the business world”. Your visibility is great for your company and also for other aspiring professionals who look up to you. So, allow your presence the freedom to cultivate new and stronger connections.
If strengthening your network is the last thing on your mind, you may wish to reconsider. Recognise that a lack of networking may be holding you back. Without an effective network, you may never spark your imagination, reinvent yourself, or share your remarkable ideas with others. The best time to build your network is before you need something, and the best time to keep that network strong is always. There’s reason to be excited about networking, because the payoff is meeting interesting people with the added benefit of growing your social influence. When we reframe the networking activity as a way of making interesting friends for the long-term, networking becomes far more appealing. Furthermore, when we shift our mindset to one where we seek to explore shared interests, expand our view to what we have to offer and motivate ourselves to a higher purpose, we will be on our way to expanding our influence by building lasting professional relationships.
Michelle Fenech Seguna is the Founder and Director of Speak to Move, offering professional training programmes which enable participants to communicate confidently and present powerfully in business and social situations. Michelle is based in Malta, where she offers executive coaching and corporate group training. To know more about Speak to Move services you can reach Michelle Fenech Seguna on [email protected] or access www.speaktomove.com.mtfor more information.
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