The dreaded ‘networking’
14/06/2012 § Leave a comment
One of the most misunderstood consulting skills is networking. It doesn’t help that the term is ugly and misguided, so it automatically gets people off on the wrong foot. The two problems are these:
- it separates ‘networking’ time from other time and ‘networking’ activities from other activities. That encourages people to act differently and then the whole effort becomes artificial and strange
- it contains the word ‘working’, so people think you have to work at it and make it difficult. Then the whole effort becomes tedious and contrived.
We can all recognise bad networking. This article gives a selection of the worst types: card-thrusters, cling-ons, mercenaries. Its sage advice is:
be genuine, be authentic and information sharing, be yourself.
That is, be the opposite of different, strange, contrived, and artificial.
The best networking is imperceptible. It appears like a natural progression, an organic process. That’s because in large part it is. Just to continue the metaphor — in vegetable gardening, you let the plants do most of the work. They get their own nutrients from the soil, they convert the sunlight. Even in the artificial environment of a garden, it is recognisably a natural, organic process. The gardener’s job is to give the plants the right conditions — fertile soil, enough water, the right amount of sun, shelter from wind — so that they grow well.
Let me beat you to the punch: gardening, like networking, does not require large amounts of manure. Raw, smelly manure is the worst thing for your garden and it will mess up your networking, too. It’s too obvious, it has all the wrong properties, and no one wants it around.
The focus of networking is making connections. Connections aren’t just finding out someone’s name and handing them your card. You need to find out about the other person — what do they do, where are they from, what are they thinking about? Then, you need to leave them with a little bit of yourself — why you do what you do, what your favourite project has been, how you spend your Sundays.
Consulting depends on personal relationships. Other people have to feel comfortable that you understand their problem and can help them. That’s why ‘networking’ isn’t one of the 7 skills of successful consulting. The real things you need are People Skills and Social Skills. You create connections by fostering personal relationships in socially appropriate ways.
The term ‘networking’ lets us down. It’s mechanical, electrical. But you can’t machine a relationship; you have to grow it. That takes time and effort, and it doesn’t require a business card.