Well intentioned people approach me and tell me that "networking" is so passe. It is an old school technique and phrase that really has not role in today's modern society. That I should be really talking about "relationship development" or "connecting" or using social media. And this is exactly why I have continued to use the term networking. :) Networking is a well worn word but it also still conjures up resistance. My view is we have to confront our fears and shortcomings. We are inclined to euphemisms and political correctness. We prefer to change the word instead of our behavior. So let me set the record straight, "networking" is a word that has been around a long time. And yes, its description and definition were archaic but they have evolved as well. And today, I think it is perhaps more relevant than ever before.
I believe that networking has been poorly defined and even more poorly taught and learned. In the beginning it was perceived to be a tool you would employ for a job search and to meet new people, especially to get new sales leads. You would turn on or off your networking mode based on your needs and the situation. You were a selfish hit and run driver who met people and got what you needed and moved on. Networking got a bad rep over many years and that made people, even today, cringe when they'd hear it. Like public speaking, networking was an unnatural skill that people loved to hate. However, unlike public speaking, networking felt wrong, even unethical. The underlying premise that you were going to "use" other people. Networking was really for the extroverted. It felt forced and contrived. It seemed superficial and hollow. These ideas became the dominant and mostly offensive characteristics of networking that made it easier for most people to turn their backs on it. Yes, that me-oriented networking is anchronistic and actually toxic when it comes to your career and your life.
Since 1991, despite people's objections I decided to use the N word and re-define it. Make it more accessible, usable and actionable. Like so many things, I have learned to embrace the fear versus trying to manipulate the words or my thinking. My goal has always been to help people conquer an old foe that they have shunned and procrastinated. I wanted to help people get back on the old networking horse and see it from a different perspective. That networking was not a selfish skill but a community building skill. That networking was not a technique but a lifestyle of engaging others and learning about oneself. I can not tell you how many thousand people have told me that adopting a lifestyle of mentoring and networking to help each other is not only more beneficial, but more important, it is more doable!
A brief survey of the last 75 years shows us how networking has evolved and is evolving.
Dale Carnegie in his legendary, How to Win Friends and Influence People, he espoused the basic principles of how to connect back in 1936!
Six Ways to Make People Like You
- Become genuinely interested in other people.
- Remember that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
- Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
- Talk in terms of the other person's interest.
- Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
Mark Granovetter's ground breaking research in the 70's showed conclusively that "weak social ties", people we know but not well, provide us with more opportunities and new perspectives than our strong and close ties. In other words, we have to break out of our enclaves of comfortable and familiar connections and make and strengthen new ties.
Fast forward to 2000 in The Tipping Point where Malcolm Gladwell introduces people who are Connectors. Connectors are people who know a lot of people ( we all do) and they connect others to one another. They are the hubs of the networks.
2003 and 2004, Linkedin and FB were respectively launched and changed the sheer quantity of people we are connected to---strong and weak ties. But they create more opportunities than networks.
Whatever you call it networking is an essential skill to engage people around you to strengthen a mutually beneficial community. Each of us has a network. And we network. Relationships from work, life and family. The question is, are you actively connecting to others and people in your network to one another? Do you do it without an expectation? Are you strengthening your weak ties? Are you a connector or aspire to be one? Is your networking skill evolving or is it stuck in the past? Call it what you like just don't let the word interfere with your inner desire to help others and yourself.
Thanks for reading. John