Anthony Haynes writes: I find that A lot of people recoil from the idea of networking.
The problem, more often not, is that networking has negative associations: we tend to associate it with notions of working the room and having to sell oneself.
This is a problem, because the truth of the matter is that network is invaluable, in both business development and career development.
So how to solve the problem?
The first step is to seek for an alternative, less off-putting, word. Just calling the process something else can make you feel more positive towards it.
Unfortunately I haven’t hit upon a perfect alternative. My best suggestion for a new name, though, is ‘Learning about others‘.
More fundamentally, if you dislike the notion of networking, I suggest re-conceiving the way you think about the activity.
Working the room is not only an unattractive idea for many people: it’s also difficult to achieve. And, worse, it can be self-defeating, leading people to regard you as manipulative and insincere.
Similarly with the notion of selling yourself: that can all too easily lead people to regard you as immodest and too full of yourself.
So let’s dispense with such notions.
I suggest replacing them with the following notion:
learning about other people by showing courteous curiosity
Ask people about themselves. Not sensitive stuff that they might not wish to disclose: but general stuff where they can choose what level to respond at.
- ‘What brings you here?’
- ‘What’s your interest in…?’
- ‘What’s your connection with…?’
These are open questions — questions that can’t be answered simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Such questions give people permission to tell you as much, or a little, about themselves as they wish.
There’s a chance then that, sooner or later, you’ll find a point of connection with the person you’re speaking with. And that will often lead them to asking you questions in turn.
But if that doesn’t happen, if you never reach that point, it doesn’t matter. You’ll have lost nothing and you’ll have learnt something. Simply learning stuff about people can be entertaining and informative.
What not to do
You’re at an event. Let’s say you’ve registered and are drinking a coffee while waiting for the show to start. Or you’re standing around in the coffee break between sessions.
Whatever you do, avoid the temptation to take out your phone. The moment you start to look at the screen, you’re making yourself unapproachable.
At least give people the chance to say hi. Keep that phone in your pocket.