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Better Networking

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Networking is considered to be a modern idea, but is in fact an ancient practice of sustaining a group of friends and acquaintances. Having a good network means you have people to turn to should the need arise, yet many of us pay scant attention to this part of our lives. A network can help you find information, get jobs, build a career and look after you when you are down or ill.

Understanding the benefits

A recent Harvard Business Review article, “A Smarter Way to Network”, by Rob Cross and Robert Thomas, identifies six benefits of networking, and explains that you should be able to access all of them from people in your network:

  • information
  • political support and influence
  • personal development
  • personal support and energy
  • a sense of purpose or worth
  • work/life balance.

A major benefit of networking is finding work or getting promoted. Independent agents use their networks to find the next contract while people already in work seek mentors and advocates to help them climb the ladder. According to some reports, one third of all jobs come from people you know, a third are only advertised internally and the remaining are from standard job adverts. I’m not sure of this because for many years, all the jobs I’ve had have been through people I know.

Analyze your network for the benefits you gain from it. Do you have the right balance? If not, you need to re-balance your network. In their article, Cross and Thomas recommend firm de-layering and diversifying to strike a better balance. They particularly suggest jettisoning the “de-energisers”, the 5% of people who cause 90% of your anxiety, to find instead the “energisers” who set a positive example.

Give to get back

I have always paid attention to my network, seeking to help others more than needing help myself. I use the principle of abundance: give freely and when you are in need, somehow help will arrive. This approach has worked well for me. You may, however, give much more than you get back in return, although there is always a feel-good factor when giving and from the gratitude of others. The social and psychological principle of reciprocation works in such a way that helping others creates an obligation to pay back those who help you. Hence giving legitimises asking, although the size of the “ask” should be considered carefully when you want to sustain the relationship. That said, it is amazing what you can get just by asking.

Go electronic

Social networking is one of the big phenomena of the modern world and it is worth at least getting onto LinkedIn if you are not already there – you will be amazed at the people you know who are and it is worth linking with many of them. There’s nothing like re-awakening old acquaintances. It is worth joining discussions to find out more about other people before adding them as connections. Also, consider joining other new media sites such as Quora and Google+ to boost your online profile and networking opportunities. A smartphone will also help keep you connected. Use Skype or other messaging providers and make sure you keep up with emails and use filters to keep these manageable so you pick up the most relevant ones to you.

Stay human

Whilst electronic systems help in ways only they can, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting, so do try to catch up with people in your network every now and again. Grab coffee, go to lunch, do business with them. When you do meet with them, try to listen more than your speak. Updating them on your situation is good; pouring out all your woes could have a negative effect.

I studied psychology and it has helped enormously in getting on with others. I am a natural introvert and started my working life as an engineer. But increasingly, I have found that success is also about getting on with other people. Gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of the human condition has been well worth the effort.

Don’t stop networking

Networking is not just something that you do when you want something. It is not only about emailing everyone you know to ask for favours. It is a constant, ongoing process. It means finding people, figuring out those who you want to stay in touch with and working to build and sustain the right relationships.

In the looser, less hierarchical organizations of today, this approach is essential and many people succeed through relationships they have built with colleagues. When you start a new job, you have to start all over again. It is important often to put in particular effort in the early days. Get to know people. Keep private notes about people and review them regularly. Greet people civilly and stay cheerful, even if the pressures of the new job get you down. Finally, look for ways to build social capital by going above and beyond the call of duty to help others.


Next time: The PINC Filter


This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Chartered Quality Institute


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