Networking can be defined as the activity of building and maintaining relationships with others which are supportive, and a resource to draw on, in the development of your career/business.
If you have any doubt about the merits of networking remember that people do business (or offer jobs) to people that they know and like. It is for this reason that most job vacancies and business opportunities are not advertised. Is it not better to be offered opportunities from within your network, than to compete with everbody else in the market? Beyond that, leveraging off the knowledge and experience of others in your network can shorten your own learning curve.
Much of what has been written about networking focuses on the techniques for effective networking, typically supported by lists of networking ‘do’s’ and ‘dont’s’.
What I would like to focus on here is networking as a state of mind. This is based on the premise that the most effective networkers, do so naturally arising out of the values and beliefs they have about themselves and others.
So looking at networking from this perspective try reviewing your values, beliefs and behaviours by reference to the following questions:
– Are you interested in other people? Do you enjoy the company of others?
– Do you treat all who cross your path with equal respect and consideration?
– Are you inclusive of others regardless of their background, beliefs etc?
– Are you a good listener?
– Are you empathetic and supportive of others?
– Do you reach out to others,when they are in need of support?
– Do you feel that you are deserving of support from others?
– Do you believe in asking for help and advice when you need it?
– Do you think the best of others, possibly giving them the benefit of the doubt?
– Are you prepared to trust others?
– Do you believe in connecting with others through community /group activity?
– Are you open to sharing information?
– Are you generous with your time in support of others?
– Are you upfront, authentic and honest in your dealings with others?
The above list does not mention networking yet if you answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, the chances are that you are already a good networker ! If you find that you answered ‘no’ to some of the questions it might be worth challenging your mindset, possibly with the support of a coach.
If you do not consider yourself to be a good networker it may arise consciously or unconsciously from a belief that networking is a somewhat unsavioury activity, pursued by those looking after their own self serving agendas. This view of networking is understandable, to a certain extent, as there is so much focus on the ‘techniques’ of networking – drawing up lists of potential contacts, planning/goals for networking activity, networking methods, how to develop relationships with key influencers etc.
The reality is that those who regard networking as solely a set of techniques to get what they want from others, who are ‘useful’ to them, are unlikely to be successful networkers in the long run.
Of course, it is important to follow best practice when it comes to networking, but if you are to be a really effective networker this has to be motivated primarily by a genuine interest in people, regardless of spin-offs for your business, career etc.
By the way if you feel that you are not already a networker this cannot be the case ! While you may need to enhance your networking skills, humans are social animals, and you have had a lifetime of practice at eliciting the support of family, friends, and your social contacts to achieve your life goals. The point here is that becoming a good networker is less about acquiring a new skill and more about focusing on developing a naturally arising aptitude.