Networking—the word makes many cringe.
Some think that it’s disingenuous. They envision smooth operators and politicians wheeling and dealing. For others, networking is too forced and awkward. The introverts among us would rather curl up with a book at home. Still a number are content with their circumstance and don’t feel the need to network.
All these viewpoints reflect a belief that networking is: 1) about self-interest and 2) an event or activity. Many “network” for short-term gain. Unless they’re seeking a job or selling a product, it’s not “worth it.”
This view of networking cannot be further from the truth. Let me explain using social media as an analogy.
Pursue Relationships, Not Transactions
Networking and social media are both driven by relationships.
Value is created—the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts—when we give and connect.
Yet many people “give” expecting repayment. That’s not giving; it’s a transaction. Consider your motive. Do you give only to those who can return the favor? In Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi advises readers not to keep score: “If your interactions are ruled by generosity, your rewards will follow suit.”
Similarly, many misunderstand what it means to connect. Meeting someone, exchanging business cards, adding a “connection” on LinkedIn—none of these establish a connection per se. If you’re surprised, consider how many Facebook “friends” are near-strangers. That’s the depth of most “connections.”
The Illusion of Connectivity
Despite being connected through social media, we have “never been lonelier” than today. Our networks are “broader but shallower,” accessible yet unengaged. Social media offers us the illusion of closeness.
According to data scientist Moira Burke, the two primary behaviors on Facebook—passive consumption (reading others’ status updates) and broadcasting (updating your own status)—both correlate to a sense of disconnection. The metronomic dose of our friends’ projected lives—their perfect families, vacations, successes—can make us feel inadequate. Insecurity stokes the fire of our validation-seeking behavior.
Similar dynamics apply to professional gatherings.
Passive consumers wait for things to happen. They attend conferences to hear the speakers; making connections is collateral. You’ll find them standing alone or seated early fiddling with their phone.
Broadcasters want others to recognize their importance. They dominate conversations and pass out cards faster than a casino dealer. Everyone seems to know them, yet no one knows them well.
Neither group leaves with meaningful relationships.
How do you build strong working relationships? Focus on offering value, not making a name for yourself. Here are three tips to get started:
- Stop chasing vanity metrics. It isn’t about the number of business cards or LinkedIn connections. I’ve seen people complain about LinkedIn’s 30,000 connections limit. Calm yourself. How many of those people even remember you? Build relationships, not phone books.
- Make encounters count. Whether you spend 30 seconds or 30 minutes together, show genuine interest in the other person. Be present. Listen and engage in the conversation. People want to feel valued. If you treat them as a means to an end, they will remember it.
- Give and connect daily. In other words, choose a lifestyle of service over random good deeds. Your reputation will stem from consistency. Helping others requires thoughtfulness, so it may feel like a project at first. But keep at it and it will become second nature.
The value of your network is the network itself. So nurture those relationships. Find mentors and be a mentor. Connect people you know with each other. Go beyond trading favors and keeping score. To echo Ferrazzi’s words: “If your interactions are ruled by generosity, your rewards will follow suit.”
This is the sixth post in our series: Advice for New Graduates.