Networking websites such as Facebook, Linkedin, Womenalia, and many others on the Internet have brought much attention to the existence and importance of networking; with some people even contending that facebook ‘invented’ networking. However, networking is nothing new, it has been around since the beginning of mankind.
Networking is used by people everywhere – by business men and women, by entrepreneurs, by politicians and lobbyists, by lawyers, judges and other judicial actors, by doctors and healthcare professionals, by journalists, by clergymen, by moms and homemakers, by bureaucrats and civil servants, by those involved in organized crime (white collar included). The list is non-ending; with some using their networks for legal means and ends, and others for illegal means and ends – with moral vs. immoral means and ends another question entirely. None-the-less, there is no one who does not use networking in their daily lives and work. But, few people recognize or understand the dynamics of the entire process.
In order to grasp the importance of networking in our lives, we must first define ‘networks’ and ‘networking’. A network is “a group or system of interconnected people or things”, while networking is an “interact[ion] with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts” (Oxford English Dictionary).
We may then look at how networks are built and utilized, using Six Rules for Networking at Work (Harvard Business Review):
1. Build Outward. Not Inward. Collaborative networking is to connect people who wouldn't ordinarily work together.
2. Go for Diversity, not size. Rather than aiming for a massive network, focus on building an efficient one. This requires knowing people with different skills and viewpoints.
3. Build weak ties, not strong ones. This might seem counterintuitive. But, a strong tie is probably someone who knows a lot of the same people you do, whereas a weak tie forms a bridge to a world you don't walk in.
4. Use hubs, not familiar faces. Identify the "hubs" in your company - the people who are already great organizational networkers- and ask them to connect you to someone who knows more. Hubs tend to be long-tenured people who've worked on a variety of teams and projects.
5. Swarm the target. This rule, and the next, will help you capture value. Say you've built a diverse network of weak ties. Using the help of a hub, you've identified someone who can help you: a target. Invoke your shared goal, and remember reciprocity: offer to help in return.
6. If people aren't pulling together, strengthen ties. "Team building" has become something of a punchline, but at times necessary… Help the team get to know each other better. You'll start to see results.”
But, networks and networking is more than just building relationships and connections, and then taking advantage of those relationships when you need advice or assistance. Effective networking is about constantly learning about the interests, background, knowledge, experiences, strengths, and weaknesses of those in one’s network. It is also about understanding how these people and their talents might assist you, as well as how they might assist each other – willing to ‘unite’ these people with no immediate benefit to yourself.
Effective networking requires an innate curiosity about the world and the people in it. And, it requires a high level of social competence. As Daniel Goleman explains in Working With Emotional Intelligence,
Social Competence - These competencies determine how we handle relationships.
Empathy - Awareness of others’ feelings, needs, and concerns
- Understanding others: Sensing other feelings and perspectives, and taking an active interest in their concerns
- Developing others: Sensing others development needs and bolstering their abilities
- Service orientation: Anticipating, recognizing, and meeting customers’ needs
- Leveraging diversity: Cultivating opportunities through different kinds of people
- Political awareness: Reading a group’s emotional currents and power relationship
Social Skills - Adeptness at inducing desirable responses in others
- Influence: Wielding effective tactics for persuasion
- Communication: Listening openly and sending convincing messages
- Conflict management: Negotiation and resolving disagreements
- Leadership: Inspiring and guiding individuals and groups
- Change catalyst: Initiating or managing change
- Building bonds: Nurturing instrumental relationships
- Collaboration and cooperation: Working with others toward shared goals
- Team capabilities: Creating group synergy in pursuing collective goals
Effective networking (and managing) is more than just attending lots of conference and seminars, passing out and collecting business cards, or schmoozing at cocktail parties – or on the Internet. It is about ‘seeing the whole picture’, and knowing which ‘elements’ are necessary to ‘complete’ that picture in a harmonious way.
Or as Daniel Golemen puts it “one cognitive ability distinguished star performers from [the] average [person]: pattern recognition, the “big-picture” thinking that allows leaders to pick out the meaningful trends from the welter of information around them and to think strategically far into the future”.
This is the secret to successful networking – online or offline.