2 Effective networking
When you think about people networking, do any of the following kinds of behaviour spring to mind?
- Enthusiastically accosting strangers at a conference
- Mechanically repeating a ‘summary of my career to date’
- Forcing a business card into people’s hands
- Asking people for favours
- Bombarding people with emails
- Ruthless self-promotion
You will not be surprised to hear that these fall into the category of practices to avoid. In his book Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi, an expert in professional relationship development, talks about ‘using the power of human relationships for mutual benefit’ to demonstrate that effective networking starts with thinking about the needs of other people rather than selfishly pursuing your own agenda (Ferrazzi, 2014).
Activity 2 Two approaches to networking
The following short case studies illustrate two different approaches to networking. Which do you think has more chance of being successful? Make a note of your thoughts, either in the box below or in the Notes tool in the Toolkit.
Selina is at a business conference where she would like to find some new clients for her fledgling company selling kitchen appliances. She starts by approaching everyone in the room and trying to give them all the sales pitch that she has specially prepared for the day. This lasts five minutes, at the end of which she then quickly moves on to the next person. Realising that she is running out of time to meet everyone, she dashes round those she hasn’t spoken to and thrusts a copy of her product brochure into their hand.
John is at a conference on care for the elderly. He is keen to move into this type of work but feels he needs to get some advice first. He does some homework on who else is attending the conference so that he can focus on those people with the right kind of experience. He then approaches them and gently asks them about themselves and their work before telling them something about himself. After the short conversation, he asks if they would mind exchanging email addresses for further contact.
John shows greater sensitivity towards the needs of others and has worked out exactly who he wants to speak to, so is more likely to get a sympathetic response. He also gets them to talk about themselves first rather than bombarding them with information about himself that they may not want to hear. Selina, conversely, has done no preparation and thought only about what she wants to get out of the relationship. Her approach appears to lack empathy and foresight.
Good practice in networking relies upon a few key principles:
- thinking of what you have to offer others
- identifying the best person to talk to
- thinking about what you want from the relationship
- being prepared to listen to others
- being generous with your time and attention
- taking a risk sometimes
- going outside your comfort zone
- following up connections made.
The important principle here is that, until you actually establish a relationship with another person, it is very difficult to work out what you might be able to provide for each other. Moreover, it is very difficult to establish a relationship with someone unless you listen to them and find out what makes them tick. This implies taking time over the early stages of a relationship and risking that this might be ‘wasted’ because it leads nowhere.
Bear in mind that some people are probably natural networkers; they are more socially at ease with people they do not know and welcome the opportunity to begin conversations with – and ask questions of – strangers. Some people with an extrovert personality, for example, can need a high level of stimulus in their lives and may act swiftly without too much forethought. They may also show more of their personality more readily and can be energised by interacting with others, having a wide range of interests and personal networks.
Those of a more introverted nature, by contrast, may prefer less crowded environments, like to think before they act and can appear self-contained and even reserved. They may tire more easily of too much interaction with others and prefer fewer but deeper interests and a smaller group of friends and acquaintances. Other personality traits, neurodiversity, cultural background or disability may also have an influence on people’s confidence, and approach to, networking.
What might this mean for your approach to networking?