What does networking actually mean?
For many it’s social purgatory; like standing around at a cocktail party feeling like a bunny in the headlights. Everyone seems comfortable except you.
That’s not what a network is about. That’s simply a bit of social fear and we can all have it.
Overcome it by being interested in others. Listen to them, not yourself. Take you off you. That helps you identify a real connection.
That’s the distinction between networking and a having a network.
The former is about collecting business cards or having lots of connections on LinkedIn. Occasionally useful, but not essential. Actual relationships generally trump virtual ones.
A network on the other hand, is something far more powerful. It’s about connectedness that is genuinely uplifting. At its core are honesty and authenticity.
How do you get one?
People often focus on industry events. The problem with that is you narrow the range of people available to you. A good network is more about diversity of input than the coalescence of people in similar roles. It’s not about sales. It’s about linking up with people you genuinely relate to, from a variety of different perspectives.
Studies show networks to have a huge impact on success. Those studies don’t talk about having serried ranks of acquaintances. They stress quality, not quantity.
To hone quality, keep it to a manageable number. Few of us have real networking relationships with more than a dozen people – the ones you actually want to call – and where both of you are glad you did.
Those are people who you really trust. Meaningful progress comes when you can be completely vulnerable. When I look to my network for ideas and support, it’s often when I am struggling. I need to be able to admit that and be open to help.
It also means leverage
If someone trusts you, they are happy to recommend you to someone else they trust. Your 12 people likely know another 12. Even at the first degree of separation, that connects you to 144 people. That’s why you don’t need a huge network.
Another hint for cutting numbers comes from a study by Cross and Thomas quoted in Harvard Business Review. “Roughly 90% of anxiety at work is created by 5% of one’s network – the people who sap your strength.” They have no place in your network. Let them go.
Keep the ones that really matter. Include men and women. Have people from other industries, hobbies or sports. Solutions and strategies are more robust when derived by a variety of inputs.
Ignore status. You get as much from people junior to you as you do from those above. You need both. Some of the best learnings and greatest opportunities come from teaching others.
For a real result, keep your network small and manageable; keep it diverse and give as much as you take. A genuine network is a two-way street of trusted relationships.