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.
John is at a business conference where he would like to find some new clients for his fledgling company selling kitchen appliances. He starts by approaching everyone in the room and trying to give them all the sales pitch that he has specially prepared for the day. This lasts five minutes, at the end of which he then quickly moves on to the next person. Realising that he is running out of time to meet everyone, he dashes round those he hasn’t spoken to and thrusts a copy of his product brochure into their hand.
Selina is at a conference on care for the elderly. She is keen to move into this type of work but feels she needs to get some advice first. She does some homework on who else is attending the conference so that she can focus on those people with the right kind of experience. She then approaches them and gently asks them about themselves and their work before telling them something about herself. After the short conversation, she asks if they would mind exchanging email addresses for further contact.
Selina shows greater sensitivity towards the needs of others and has worked out exactly who she wants to speak to, so is more likely to get a sympathetic response. She also gets them to talk about themselves first rather than bombarding them with information about herself that they may not want to hear. John, conversely, has done no preparation and thought only about what he wants to get out of the relationship. His 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. People with an extrovert personality, for example, need a high level of stimulus in their lives and tend to act swiftly without too much forethought. They also show more of their personality more readily and are energised by interacting with others, having a wide range of interests and personal networks.
Those of a more introverted nature, by contrast, prefer less crowded environments, like to think before they act and appear self-contained and even reserved. They tire more easily of too much interaction with others and prefer fewer but deeper interests and a smaller group of friends and acquaintances.
Which of these extremes do you feel drawn to more? What might this mean for your networking?