Networking – noun – net·work·ing – pronunciation ˈnet-ˌwər-kiŋ
1.the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions
2.the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business
The word networking means a lot of things to a lot of people. Some instinctively cringe at its mention, picturing slick professionals dominating a room for self-serving objectives. Others light up at the thought of hugging friends over lunch and wine (it’s 5:00 somewhere!) on the company dime. It’s no surprise. Merriam Webster’s first definition above does feel very transactional. While the second, feels much more warm and fuzzy.
Like it or not, networking plays an important role in your career’s trajectory. If you’re one of those people that recoils at its mention, I’m here to help reframe your perspective. Professional networking should never include manipulation.
In fact, quite the opposite. The most successful form of networking creates thriving personal relationships.
Those relationships are two-way streets. Those that are not – often die on the vine. You see it in your family, in the workplace, perhaps even in your neighborhood. As the wise Paul McCartney once said, “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Whether you’re a Beatles fan or not, this life lesson is routinely demonstrated in the workplace as well.
When networking is transactional, people feel unappreciated – even disrespected. That negative energy doesn’t vanish. It later returns through the lens of attitude, production, reputation – you get the idea.
This is why building professional relationships should always be about the long game. Yes, there will be asks here and there (“give and get”). But the key is constantly paying things forward, with the knowledge that the good will you put out there, will be multiplied and return back to you later (give then get).
While I trust your heart provides a solid foundation for discernment between good and bad relationships, here are some additional tips to keep the professional ones thriving:
Be Authentic: Or as my husband likes to put it, “Cut the B.S.” Just like you, people can see right through it. Know who you are, what you have to offer, and what you want to accomplish in the world. This authenticity gives you strength and personality – a deadly combination that often pulls people into your orbit. Enthusiasm is exciting. People like interesting people. When people like you, they will want to help you.
Ask Questions: Reflect attention back onto those you’re speaking to. Be genuinely interested and focused. How did they get where they are? What are they struggling with? How can you help?
Listen: Pay attention! Put that phone on airplane mode. Don’t ask questions, pause, then immediately tell your own story (those people are the worst). Everyone on this planet has an amazing story to tell. Make eye contact. Listen. Connect. Challenge yourself to never interrupt. Remember what you’ve learned.
Think of ways to give back: Remember, it’s give then get. It doesn’t matter if it’s a shared article, connection, job lead, piece of advice, or that lunch tab you picked up – it’s all good professional karma. Focus on how you can help.
Play the long game: Giving and getting is not meant to be perceived as immediate. That’s the transactional approach to avoid. Truly great relationships take time to build. Don’t keep score amongst your individual contacts. Run up the score you control – by helping all of your contacts, every chance you have to do so.
Express Gratitude: No matter how large or small someone’s contribution might be, be thankful you received it. Gratitude creates a lot of positive momentum.
The way you perceive your world of work is a matter of your perspective. The same holds true for networking.
One one hand, you can believe that everyone is out for themselves, stepping on each other on their way up the corporate ladder (how depressing!). Frankly, that wouldn’t motivate me to get out of bed either. Thankfully, I prefer the second view: that the world is filled with opportunities to meet and connect with interesting people you can help grow and succeed. In doing so, you inherently contribute to your success and well-being within the workplace.
Be authentic. Ask questions. Listen. Think of ways to give back. Play the long game. Express gratitude.
This is Networking defined.