Why do we SUCK at networking?
Personal Networking is such a crucial part of our lives. But most of us are either horrible at this or we hate it. Why? [ Day 2 of “One Day One Blog”]
I speak ad nauseam about the importance of networking to college students, young professionals, and my mentees. I have dedicated lectures to the importance of networking. But I have to make a confession here. I suck at it.
Actually, that’s not true. I have a natural talent for networking. But I hate it. It makes me feel like a fraud who is peddling something.
Why is networking so difficult for most of us?
Because most of us approach it with a mindset that via networking we are trying to get something out of the other person. We are rarely taught networking skills in schools and colleges. I graduated from a prestigious B-School where we had a course on negotiation ( in 2005, even to think of such a course in India was pretty cool). But I cannot recollect a single session on networking. The engineering classrooms that I know of — they look down their noses at such plebeian concept.
We picked up the basics of networking mostly imitating our equally clueless friends or peers at our entry level jobs. We were told that this is important to get sales leads and better career opportunities.
So, most of us go through life with at least a bit of stigma associated with this concept of networking which we think only the street-smart ones among our friends and the semi-ruthless ones can master.
You are wrong
And this is why you are wrong
One of the basic rules of networking is that it is about “GIVING”.
You give your Time to someone
You give your ears by engaging in DEEP listening
You have to be truly interested in the other person. In fact, you need to be fascinated by the other person. And therein lies the secret behind successfully networking.
During our post-graduation, a team of us students were sent to attend a conference organized by CII in Kolkata. Being the next breed of managers, we were also invited to a grand dinner organized by Tata group at Taj. We got the rare opportunity to mingle with the likes of Mrs Naina Lal Kidwai , Mr Sunil Bharti Mittal and many other prominent industrialists. We were in a rush to shake hands and collect cards ( of course, I was so smitten after my very brief conversation with Mr Mittal that I walked around with a foolish grin for the remaining evening… The man is charismatic 😉 )
- Business Card Collection — This is one of the classic mistakes youngsters world around make. The tragedy is that it is not just the young who do it. I doubt any deal was closed or anything worthwhile achieved with this scavenging of business cards
- Social Media Connections — This one is another nightmare. Platforms like Linkedin are definitely useful to help identify key contacts. But unless you have a special connection (like a shared Alma Mater), adding friends and connections via social media is not networking. They do have their use in personal branding but that is another topic altogether.
So how can we get better at networking ?
If you really want to be effective at networking, you need to make a conscious decision to be good at it. Because this too is a skill that you can learn with time and effort.
We have established in the earlier section that Networking is really more about what you can give ( as opposed to the benefits you reap from an association) and how good you can listen to others.
Networking may be a lifestyle change for many. Because it is about building a relationship.
It is like a bank account where you need to first deposit ( and not just a token amount) before you can make a significant withdrawal.
I recently had a question on networking. “Is it really worth investing so much when you are not even sure if you will ever get any returns out of it?
Christopher Barrat answered this best in his TEDx Talk.
“When you invest in a networking relationship, please realize one thing. You are not networking with just that one person. You are networking with everyone they know.”
So when the possibility of returns is multi-fold, isn’t it worth investing your time?
Networking Ninja Levels
To make this a little fun, I have created 3 levels of Networking mastery(May the Ninja Gods forgive me)
You need to achieve mastery in each level to proceed to the next
- Level 1: Genin ( The Lower Ninja)
At this level, you should have mastered the TRUTH — that networking is not about collecting cards. You should also be able to walk into a networking event — ALONE — and know the ropes of making that 1st level contact and initiating conversations
- Level 2: Chunin ( The Middle Ninja)
You are not a novitiate anymore. At this level, you are expected to have a certain level of maturity that primarily consists of leadership skills and tactical prowess.
You have mastered the skills to identify the key people whom you want to build long term relationship with and don’t hesitate to invest in these with a long term view.
- Level 3: Jonin ( The Elite Ninja)
When you reach this level, you have arrived in life. You operate on a completely different level where people seek you out to establish contacts. You are the High priest of networking whom the novices look upon in awe.
So what level of a “Networking Ninja” are you?
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Friends, this is the Day 2 of my odyssey to write one blog EVERYDAY for the month of May 2017. “One Day, One Blog”
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