One of the areas Sales Leaders were keen to cover in our latest Inspire programme was “Proactive Networking”. They had noticed that some in the team were ignoring the importance of widening and deepening their networks of industry contacts.  The resulting conversations and learning in our sessions have been fascinating, and as I’ve been learning a lot for myself, and reflecting on the insight of the teams, it may be something you’d like to share.

In the cocooned world of “media”, many of us may have discovered that there is life outside of Soho.  But it seems for many of us our attitudes to networking are still firmly grounded in the 1980’s.

Networking means Thursday drinks, boozy lunches, and hospitality at the races. Networking is something you do, either simply because you enjoy the booze or the gee gees, or because you recognise the value for yourself of having a group of people that like you enough to help you get on in life. Yet as this kind of activity only appeals to some people, there are a group of people who have rejected getting involved, largely because the activities simply make them feel uncomfortable.

Digging deeper you get to see that traditional networking appeals to “extraverts” who enjoy socialising.  Yet interestingly some of the most effective networkers I’ve spoken to admit that it doesn’t come naturally to them, that they do have to “push through their comfort zone” to get out and meet new people. My proposition is that once you understand the inherent value of your personal network, and you get where your feelings are really coming from, you won’t need to feel uncomfortable building it. And if you think more about how you can add value to others than to yourself, then you will find ways of networking that feel light and effortless making it a more enjoyable process.

It’s one of the first “rules” of networking that the best way to widen you network is through introductions. Yet what I’ve discovered when asking the question “what do you notice the most effective networkers really do?” is the opposite of what you may expect.

People with deep and valuable networks don’t ask for introductions unless they really need to, they ask you who you’d like to be introduced to. By focusing on how they can help you, they make the relationship one of value, and because of the unavoidable law of reciprocation, they encourage you to do the same for them when the time is right. This also becomes something they do when they are out and about.  Introducing others face to face to people they don’t know is an easy way to encourage good feelings and build great conversation around you. Making it all about the people around you, enables you to enjoy social events, particularly if you are not naturally inclined to talk about yourself. So, next time you are out meeting people, whether one to one or in groups, rather than asking, who can I be introduced to, how about asking – who can I introduce you to?

The programme moves on to reflect on how to adapt and connect effectively. We explore the ideas around personality that suggest that although opposites attract, those people we find most difficult to work with are not usually just “difficult”.  They are more likely to be just “different”.

As we look at this deeper we start to see that we are all different in how we see and relate to the world.  There may be many of our prospective networks that also don’t tend towards the traditional forms of networking. Creating new ways to network then becomes critical if you are going to build a wide and diverse network to work with. It has been so helpful to hear how many other ways people have found to network – darts, ping pong, driving ranges, nail bars, and night classes, are just a few that came up. What seems important is that if you can find places to meet people that make you comfortable, you are far more likely to be open to connect and take your relationships to a new level.

One light bulb moment, however last week, was when we were discussing the discomfort many of us feel in some social or work situations. As we looked at where this discomfort comes from, it was fascinating to see how easy it was to realise that our dislike of these situations can never really come from the situations themselves. If we are having the feeling, then its coming not from the situation, or the past, or some kind of future fantasy that we may be making up in the moment. 100% of the time our feelings come from our thinking in the moment, which is why so many buoyant and resilient people are able to ignore feelings of discomfort and doubt, realising they are nothing more than moments of thought. This enables them, and us, to move on quickly to the next moment, the next curious question, where the experience of now overweighs the worries and concerns that extraneous thoughts throw our way. In that moment of now we find ourselves able to connect with others, through our presence and connection to the moment itself. These are the moments of connection that are worth a thousand false introductions. The moments we meet someone and our mutual interest for each other as humans overpowers our worries or insecurities, we get to just hang out, for the moment itself. It’s this magic of connection that lasts forever and make a connection truly valuable on a human and professional level.

While no conversation about networking could be complete without mentioning social networks, my suggestion is that if you’ve read this far you’ve already got the point. Digital networks are no more than virtual forms of your real network. Unless you are doing what you want on them, following what is genuinely of interest to you, and getting involved with stuff that moves you, your network there will only be wide and shallow, and it will have little value or purpose for you.

So, reach out and use your Social Networks to spark real conversations that matter to you and you’ll find they add real value to you and others. Reach out and offer recommendations and referrals and you’ll find your network gets something from your presence, and will reward you for it.

I’m always happy to connect you with people I know that can help you, or talk to you about how I can help you personally. Reach out and let’s talk.