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Networking; Sharing, giving and Getting Help.

December 2, 2011

This week Barbara Bowes published this article about the benefits of networking and social media in everyday life. Barbara believes networking is an important skill to have, and can be practised at every opportunity, including our Christmas networking lunches.

The concept of networking, meeting new people and developing relationships is something you need to pay attention to every day if you are going to be successful in your career. Unfortunately, networking is often perceived from a negative perspective.

Once negativity creeps into your thoughts, it can create many different reactions. For instance, some people are fearful about networking. They worry about making an instant good impression and feel awkward reaching out to others. Some simply see networking as phoney and superficial shmoozing and therefore refuse to attend occasions where crowds gather or to reach out to deliberately meet new people. Others feel self-conscious about their communication skills, especially the ability to engage in small talk.

There are others who are shy and/or prefer small groups of intimate friends, rather than events where people meet in larger groups. Finally, with social networking on the Internet becoming popular, there are many people who are afraid of both reaching out as well as being contacted by others. They sign up at a social media site, but continue to play an observer role rather than being an active participant.

So let me help you gain another perspective about networking. Networking is simply about meeting people and building and sustaining relationships every day of your life. For instance, the first person you meet in the morning is essentially a contact, be it a bus driver or the security personnel at your workplace. You typically greet them with a nod or a comment such as hello, good morning or you may inquire, “How are you?” The last person you meet at night as you go home is essentially another valuable contact. While you may speak to these contacts for just a moment and/or carry on a conversation, be assured you definitely leave an impression and first impressions are hard to change.

Networking occurs all day long, both at work and in your private life. You are networking when you approach a service counter, when you meet fellow parents at the hockey rink, gymnastics or music lessons. You are networking when you volunteer to sit on a committee, attend a religious ceremony and/or a college or university class. You are networking when you refer a friend to your favourite restaurant and you are networking when you suggest someone read a special book.

If you analyze these basic daily activities, I’m sure you’ll agree that networking is not meant to be superficial and/or artificial. Rather, it is about sharing, giving and getting help, or championing a cause. It’s about recognizing the efforts of others, contributing back to your friends, family and/or the community and building relationships with people who will be there for you when you need them.

Today, more and more networking is occurring on the Internet, as social media have created more opportunities to not only meet people, but to engage with people all over the world and from all walks of life. However, many of the basic rules of building relationships remain the same. Some of these are as follows:

— Networking is about connecting with people and building relationships that have mutual benefit, even though you may not know exactly what that benefit might be.

— Anyone and everyone you meet is worthy of your time and appreciation, no matter what level of occupation or status in life.

— You need to think about networking every day, not just when you need a job and/or when you may need a favour of some kind.

— Networking is about being ready to give back when the opportunity arises; it is about giving rather than taking.

— Networking is all about “someone who knows someone who knows someone.” Therefore, invite your connections to act as a bridge by making a personal introduction for you.

— In today’s technology world, take advantage of the various social media sites to make these bridging connections.

— While strategic networking is more focused because you have a specific goal, keep in mind that you are building relationships and so politeness and timing of an ask is important.

— Since you can’t be everywhere at once and can’t spend all of your time on the computer, you need to prioritize your time and network contacts.

— Be sure to focus on potential networking contacts that build mutual relationships where you give back when needed, without the feeling of being burdened.

At the same time, especially during the run-up from the fall to December festive holiday season, there will be plenty of in-person networking events that provide opportunities to meet new people and build your network. These personal events also have their own rules. Some of these include:

— Keep in mind that first impressions have a lingering impact and so check out the dress code for your event and dress appropriately.

— Polish up those social graces, including your manners and the handshake; pull out those common pleasantries such as please, thank you, and excuse me as they still work wonders.

— Show courtesy while engaging in conversation by using good eye contact. There is nothing more annoying than carrying on a conversation with someone whose eyes are wandering around the room.

— Avoid interrupting conversations in progress; try to send a signal by catching their eye, smiling or clearing your throat. Politely ask to join the conversation.

— If you see someone struggling, try acting as the host and help them to make introductions.

— Bring your business card, but don’t flash it in front of people before you start a conversation. If cards are being shared, offer yours. If not, ask for a card later in the conversation.

— Give your cellphone, BlackBerry or iPhone a break. Shut it off, put it away and pay attention to building those good old-fashioned, face-to-face relationships.

While the introduction of social media has served to change networking and create more opportunities, many of the rules remain the same. Make sure you apply these rules for the upcoming festive networking season.

Source: The Networking Survival Guide: Practical Advice to Help You Gain Confidence, Approach People and Get the Success you want, Diane Darling, McGraw Hill, 2010.

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