Hate Networking? Connect instead
Do you often think you need to ‘network’ more?
Or become more skilled at networking?
Maybe even you have it on your development plan [possibly because your boss has suggested it].
Ever been to a networking event and just found somewhere to hide? Or escaped after 10 minutes?
Or maybe just felt like a lemon?
How do you actually feel about networking?
Networking isn’t for everyone [that’s a fact]
One of the common mistakes we make in business is generalisation.
We assume everyone has the same capacity to learn skills and that we all enjoy the same environments.
Although some organisations are embracing diversity and becoming more enlightened that the clone army doesn’t exist, there is still a lot of assumptions out there.
Our ability to network is still a black or white skill. Can we network or not?
Building business connections is so critical to everyday business — it deserves a little more colour when we consider our ability and willingness to network.
We do tend to assume though that everyone can, wants to, and will network.
But everyone is different. We don’t all thrive in the same environments.
If you’ve voiced your lack of enthusiasm for networking — have you ever heard:
- ‘You just need to get out there’
- ‘Get some practice… or just get stuck in’
- ‘It gets easier’
Let me tell you now after 22 years in sales, at conferences, events etc — it has never felt any easier for me! Some environments still fill me with dread…
It’s an introvert vs extrovert thing isn’t it?
So let’s discuss further generalisations.
Firstly, let’s talk about all the extroverts out there….. Let’s face it, and I speak on behalf of most of us, we love to chat.
It doesn’t mean to say networking comes easy for extroverts.
Carl Jung, the Swiss Psychoanalyst, who’s research is the basis for Myers-Briggs — stated that extroversion and introversion is a scale — and even on the scale, everyone has a preference for certain environments.
Let’s find our preferences
I have listed below 5 types of networking environments. Introvert or extrovert — read them and just observe how you feel about each one:
- Speaking to an audience of 3000 people
- Networking in a room of strangers at an event
- Networking over dinner
- Arranging a meeting with a new contact
- Talking to your fellow passenger(s) on the train
Now, I’ve deliberately tried to keep these vanilla.
Did one event draw your attention?
Did one make you cringe?
Was there a preference?
There are gregarious extroverts out there, who are the life and soul of every party — but most extroverts have their preferences too.
Some extroverts are more intimate networkers.
They like small groups.
Similarly for introverts. Not all introverts hate all types of networking. The introverts will have favoured some of environments above too.
Play to your strengths
There is no right or wrong with the preferences, we are all unique.
The key is to recognise those differences and unique qualities, to play to our strengths.
Often with development plans we focus on our weaknesses and where we feel uncomfortable — but why wouldn’t we be more positive and create more environments where we thrive?
When we thrive, our energy flows and our confidence builds.
When we are confident, we are more ‘attractive’ to others as useful connections.
With confidence, WE WILL ACHIEVE BETTER OUTCOMES.
So why not just seek out more enjoyable environments, let your energy flow and make the most of those connections?
A good source of reinforcement on why everyone should focus on employee strengths is in First Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. Buckingham and Coffman put forward the case that the happiest, most successful employees are those who get to focus on positive strengths not negative weaknesses.
Energy breeds success.
Connections drive growth — not networking
If we are smart about the definition of ‘networking’ and really think about what we are trying to achieve — the stereotypical networking in a group of strangers — is unlikely to deliver the outcome we are looking for.
Networking is only useful if we make quality connections with mutual benefit. So let’s seek those connections in any way we can. Let’s achieve the outcome, without making the process unattractive.
Personally, I am terrible in a room of strangers to talk to.
I hate it.
I WILL hide.
I will ESCAPE!
In the other environments, I thrive. I usually come away with finding a useful connection, having helped someone or made a new contact — mutually beneficial on both sides.
I am not sure I recall a time either when in a room of strangers, or in an unstructured networking environment, that I have managed to create decent connections for the businesses I have worked for.
So these days, I don’t kid myself. I seek environments better suited to my preferences. That way the outcome is achieved and I am happy to participate!
For me the best environments are breakfasts, dinners and structured connecting — usually when the networking is facilitated.
Test your strengths and energy
To work out your preferences, you will have to try a few environments and observe your feelings in those meet-ups.
Firstly, it’s easy for us to generalise too and say we hate all networking environments.
But it’s very rare anyone would hate all environments.
So try some — big groups, small groups, some contacts you know, complete strangers, 1-2-1s, 1-2-many.
Think about how the events made you feel — worry less about the outcome at this point — just focus on observing where your energy is.
Then for the types you enjoyed — go seek more of those types of environments to test your theories. Explore a good sample of environments to understand what you feel comfortable with.
If you need a few tips on the actual chit-chat part of networking— Nigel Risner offers some great tips in You Had Me At Hello, The New Rules for Better Networking. [Note this is nothing to do with Tom Cruise & Jerry Maguire!].
Risner’s tips include getting yourself along to a Toastmasters event which is a very safe space for people looking to build their confidence in networking environments.
Strategically network in intimate groups
If the idea of meeting any strangers and kissing any number of frogs still fills you with dread, consider taking a moment to plan your networking.
Again, if we consider the outcome of useful connections and not the process of networking itself — spend time thinking about the connections you would like to make.
Then seek those connections out 1–2–1.
Perhaps you know some people will be at an event [dread] — email them and arrange to meet before / after [feel better].
Or just connect via Linkedin and ask to connect. You’d be amazed who says yes (providing you are considerate with your request for time).
Share your preferences & needs with your network
Finally, let some of your trusted advisors know what you have discovered about yourself and how you would like to improve your connecting skills.
There is no written rule that networking / connection has to be a lone-sport. Why not ask for help to achieve your desired outcomes?
Perhaps they can recommend additional opportunities to connect — knowing your preferences.
Remember the strength of the wolf…IS THE PACK.
We don’t have to network in the stereotypical sense.
Go where your energy flows. Seek out better networking environments.
Finally, focus on your goals and results, not the process.
By playing to your strengths and focusing on the outcomes we desire, we will build stronger business connections — and enjoy making them.
16Personalities — Myers Briggs Preference test
First Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
You Had Me At Hello, The New Rules for Better Networking — Nigel Risner