8 myths of networking and what to do about it (Part 1)

I facilitate a workshop at the local university on “networking skills”. Having worked with superb connectors, colleagues who were diplomats in the Foreign Service, and headhunting, I am aware how lacking I am in this area.  Which makes me humble to ask for advice from the experts and be an empathetic listener to students making their first steps into their career.

Why network?

Myth #1 Networking is only for insurance agents, real estate agents and sales reps

Many people don’t realise that even if you do not need to generate sales, networking is part of our work. Today, we do not work in isolation. As long as your work involves interacting with another person, you need to influence and persuade them to work with you. Job titles, job description or what is known as the Formal organisation, i.e. hierarchical chart, is only on surface.

I learnt this the hard way.  Working for a French company in Asia where the IT proprietary software was controlled out of France.  When IT problems arose with customers, my emails to the IT Coordinator in France often go unanswered. Not because he couldn’t speak English. Complaints to the French IT Director during his visits to Asia were to no avail. Until I asked my direct counterpart, PJ in France for help as intermediary. PJ, British, married to a French, 20 years veteran in the organisation would regularly have coffee with the IT department.  So when it was time to ask for a favour, she has amassed a reservoir of goodwill through regular coffee/ lunch sessions. This is what Max Weber termed the Informal organisation. Possibly the IT Director was amazed at my naivete to expect people to do the work because their job description said so. Elton Mayo in the Hawthorne experiment in 1950s discovered that workers were more responsive to the social force of their peers than to the incentives of management.

Myth #2 No time to network. I can’t even finish my work.

See Myth #1. Networking is part of your work. Ever wondered why your boss had no time to see your report? As a young officer, I believed in being respectful to the secretaries of my bosses.  We lunched. Many times, they have helped me beat the deadline by putting my report on the top of the in-tray for my boss or warning me to re-type a piece of work in the format boss preferred.  Malcolm Gladwell in his book ” Outliers” called them the gatekeepers. He had other terms for influencers in the organisation. The “sneezers” are those who report on office gossip ahead of the official circular, the “grapevine” where information is passed by word of mouth. Be careful not to share too much, as the sneezers can turn against you by broadcasting your woes and gossip to the rest of the organisation.

“Its not what you know, but who you know that matters”. All things being equal (ceteris paribus) the one with a better upward network gets the promotion.

Michael Watkins in “The First 90 days” advised that you may need to rework your network as your progress. In the early part of your career, you may want to cultivate people who are good technical advisers and help you get the work done. As you get promoted, it becomes important to get good political counsel and personal advice. The typical iceberg analogy can be used to understand the culture of the firm. Culture is the unseen, beneath the surface, and divided into organisational, professional and geographic and influences how people behave.

Myth #3 I’ve 150 friends on Facebook, and constantly networking via Twitter and social media sites

The size of your rolodex and the number of namecards you collect do not equal the size of your network. Notice patterns in your power circle. Too many relationships can overwhelm you.

Often HR Managers complain that their Gen Y consultants prefer to email clients/ customers instead of picking up the phone or meeting clients face-to-face. You need to “press the flesh”. Politicians understand this, and so shake your hands and carry babies during election time. Nothing beats “Face time” in developing rapport.

Drop by their office, spend some time with small talk. If you run into colleagues at the office pantry, exchange some pleasantries. Arrange to have lunch/ coffee together. As Keith Ferazzi would say, in his book by the same title “Never lunch alone“.  Your lunch/ dinner slots all filled out? As my boss in the Foreign Service would say, “how about breakfast?”

Myth #4 I’ve nothing to offer

Make a list of your personal strengths, accomplishments and eco-systems. The Bible says its better to give than to receive.  Step into the shoes of the other person, and help them identify a potential solution to their problem. We all have problems.  Always do what you say will do. Giving without strings attached usually is rewarded, in ways you do not expect. Don’t ask too soon.  http://paulcbrunson.com/2013/06/its-called-networking-not-using/

Add value to the other person (opportunities, information, money and connections). A quote attributed to Woody Allen, that 80 percent of success is showing up. I would agree with that for networking. Many of the clients have told me  that my showing up more often at their events, being offe with their issues increased my credibility.


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