It goes without question that whether you are young, old or in between, when someone tells not to look at something, your instinct is to look – or want to look, immediately. The same goes for when we are told to do something. Take a teenager who is told to clean their room, do you think they could create a plethora of excuses why they can’t in a split second, overruling the number of reasons why they can and should?
Networking is no different. Bring the focus of a man’s attention by encouraging him to go and talk to a woman that he is interested in, and the pressure is on. The amount of thoughts and doubts that are able to run through his head on anticipation and expectation over naturally engaging in a conversation are ten-fold and can be the undoing of interaction. We tell a staff member, or a friend to “go and network” we are essentially the friends of that man egging him on to go and chat to the woman.
I see so many people head to networking events in hopes to meet valuable individuals to network with but leave disappointed. Their business is so important to them and they see networking as a fundamental to business success – which it absolutely is. But they often fail and this is not because of the value of the group or the people there – it is for this exact reason and the perception and expectation people have on “networking”.
Effectively utilising networking groups to their fullest extent is, you guessed it – Communication! And whilst this is so important to know how to represent yourself, be able to retrieve information from those whom you are networking with and leave people with such a curiosity about you and your business that they feel they would be crazy not to engage with you again, there are a few really important things to look at beforehand.
Too many of us focus on the strength of numbers. The real sign of a healthy and helpful professional networking group is who’s there and how they communicate.
Who is in the network?
Research shows that the ideal make-up of a network: “Part pack-rat, part librarian and part Good Samaritan.” The pack rat brings documents and resources collected over a long career that can be tapped to create new ideas and connections; the librarian brings the latest data and pertinent information; the Good Samaritan, though, might be the most integral player—she’s there to help out at every turn. This combination is the best balance of resources, information and good intentions to make a network not just functional, but beneficial to all members. Missing one part? You might want to move on.
As we say at Geelong Women, everyone has value, you just have to be willing to accept and receive!
How well does the network connect?
Does your network get together on the first Wednesday of the month and operate with a policy of radio silence for the next 30 days? Many do, limiting networks and connections to within the confines of events. For the young women among us this can leave you unsure of whether or not to follow up with that brilliant executive you met. Will your persistence annoy her? Will she think you’re rude? Maybe better to wait till next month…
But healthy networks don’t limit themselves to monthly (or worse, quarterly) meetings. Look at what kinds of events and on-going projects are taking place. Look for focus groups that lead to research collaborations, grant applications, and proposals for joint books. Seek out meetings and projects that could entail a senior person working with someone more junior in a mentoring capacity. Joining a network that has professional associations means that the connections can share and enhance common goals, goodwill, commitment, and interests.
Is there functional communication?
If your network operates under a culture of support, it means that any frustrations and disappointments will be heard in order to resolve problems, lend support, and provide assistance to overcome any frustrations and prevent burnout.
I can’t imagine that every single one of us are always “our best” when we sprawl into networking events at six thirty on a weeknight. Our feet might hurt, our days might have been stressful, we might even have gotten reamed out for leaving the office before seven, even though we came in early to make up the difference, for god’s sake. If your networking group isn’t a place where you can share your concerns, even your frustrations and defeats, then it may not be the most fostering environment for your career aspirations.
Best-case scenario? A networking group where you can share the events of the day with a group member, and be encouraged by their response, advice or future solution to the problem.