During one of my recent conversations with a senior leader the topic of business networking came up, he brought an interesting thought –
“We all need a network of help. Just like we have our relatives & friends to reach out for help in our personal life, we need a similar network in our professional lives as well”.
“So, how do we know who all I will need help from” – I asked.
“You don’t. You must change the frame of reference when you try to network. The key to a successful ‘network of help’ is that you cannot go out creating that network in anticipation of the need for future help. Instead of asking yourself – who all would I need help from, ask yourself – how can I help others. You have to create that network because you love to meet interesting, good, and engaged people. “
The silence that ensued (albeit a few seconds) seemed prolonged as I thought through the couple of profound statements I learnt – “network of help”, and “Change frame of reference when you network”
The senior leader went on to take example about an esteemed organization – where the best graduates from a top university had joined. All the graduates were best in class from the best university, yet, 15 years hence, only some of them made it to the top. A survey indicated that the folks who were at the top were better networked and had several people to seek help from at different points in their career.
Oh dear! I thought… if professional networking is as important, I don’t seem to have much of a chance. I am an introvert – I am an introvert – someone who is uncomfortable in large groups, cannot “make” conversations. Even though I go about changing the frame of reference to “help others”, spending time at a social function where I know few people is draining, being my own publicity agent seems alien.
While I continue to try and improve myself at it, here are a few simple things that I found useful – especially if you are an introvert. I call it the “SPARK” principles –
• Start small – Find opportunities for small group interactions. Large gatherings are usually difficult to begin with, especially if you are an introvert. Having lunch with different groups of people is a good way to start off.
• Prepare well – Think of some one liners to start conversations with. It does not matter much what your line is; the point is to have a line ready that will get a conversation started and make you seem approachable. If you are going to have a lunch get-together with a new group, it would be good to do some research on the people coming – what do they like, dislike etc…
• Assess against small goals – Next time you go to a public gathering or function, give yourself a small goal. A good example of a goal could be to include leaving the event with three business cards, or three names of people you can call. Challenge yourself with a tangible goal.
• Reach Out & reciprocate– Networking is not just about building new contacts, but also about following up and reaching out to existing ones. Did someone tell you that a friend is looking out for some help on something you know? Go out of the way to help.. Reach out & reciprocate – you will be surprised by the power of the connects that you will make.
• Keep It Simple – Always remember that you cannot be a person that you are not. While you may want to be the flashy extrovert person, it is not in your nature. Accept the fact, that for you, networking will be an “act”, at least to begin with. However, if you are genuine, and come in with a mindset of helping others – you will soon feel at home.
This, by no means, is an exhaustive list – but more some basic guiding principles to get you started if you are uncomfortable in groups of people. I am no expert, so please do let me know your perspectives and thoughts..
While most of the above is focused on business networking via the “face-to-face” mode, the “Facebook” phenomena has become extremely popular as well. It has worked very well with the introverts as well – they can simply message or send status updates without worrying about “real” conversations.
While social networking is a very good and powerful medium , I believe that its important to ask yourself –
• How many of the people on your social network are you really connected with?
• How many of the Facebook friends or LinkedIn contacts can you call up and make instant engaging conversation?
• Are you REALLY creating the “network of help”?
In a subsequent blog, I will dwell on Social Networking – the “New Age” network of help. Meanwhile, do ask yourself –
What are you doing each day to create your “network of help”?