I hate networking – I think that’s because the conventional notion of networking doesn’t feel authentic to me. Yet, I volunteered to present a keynote on networking this summer. I even teach the importance of it to my Villanova Executive MBA class. So am I a fraud? I don’t think so – I may hate networking, but I recognize its value.
Apparently, I’m not alone. When I tell people I hate networking, most say, “Me, too,” with a big smile and obvious sense of relief. As I was preparing for my keynote, I came across a networking article called Learn to Love Networking. The beginning of the article reaffirmed my feelings (I could have written the first paragraph myself). It reinforced that networking is not liked by all, but statistics show it’s necessary. You can’t argue that it helps to build business opportunities and career advancement for all of us.
I realized a while back that I needed to overcome my aversion to networking. The trick for me? I simply reframed it. For starters, I stopped using the word “networking” and started to think in terms of “relationship building.” I invest time in building the relationships I want to build because I am interested in the person or their area of focus. I don’t attend cocktail parties or things termed as “networking events.” However, I do invest in activities I like that allow me to build relationships. Here are some examples of how I use my personal interests as an opportunity to forge and grow relationships:
- Public speaking: I agree to be a speaker at events where the industry or topic interests me and I look forward to the more informal and impromptu dialogue that occurs before and after the event. Typically, other participants are there because they share a similar interest. The conversation is natural and genuine, right out of the gate.
- Commitment to constant learning: I teach and engage with countless executives every year as part of my role in the Villanova Business School’s Executive MBA program. I love to teach, but I’m also a lifelong learner. In that environment, I have an opportunity to meet so many individuals who share my passion for business and higher learning.
- Community-oriented activities: When my kids were younger, I did this through coaching. Not only is it rewarding and fun to interact with the kids, but each year, I had a chance to build stronger relationships with parents in our community. Nowadays, I donate a lot of my personal time to various boards in industries that engage my passions. I am able to get involved, make an impact and build relationships with like-minded individuals along the way.
Each of these activities is an investment by me, but it’s also a great opportunity to build new relationships, while doing things I genuinely enjoy.
The previously mentioned article suggests ways to help you reconsider the value of networking:
- Focus on learning—The article talks about promotion versus prevention and, depending on which way you lean, how it affects your approach to networking. Ironically, I lean promotion as I shared in a recent blog post, and folks like me are supposed to enjoy networking more. However, the article also points to reframing (or as they call it “shifting your mindset”) to help you overcome the inauthentic feelings that more often occur when you are more prevention focused.
- Look for common interests—The article focuses on the alignment of goals and passion. It’s important to remember, anyone you are looking to network or build relationships with is also simply a human being. Find mutual interests and it will be much easier and authentic to connect with them.
- Think about what you have to give—Think of your capabilities and strengths, not just tenure and title. Everyone has experiences worth sharing and learning from. Don’t be afraid to share yours. You’ll be surprised where the interaction can lead.
- Find a higher purpose—Don’t network for the sake of networking. There should always be a goal. What is your intent or objective? What do you hope to achieve over time? These are investments of your time; it should be worth it to you. Ask yourself why you are investing in the activity and don’t lose sight of that.
The advice in the article gave me hope. It reinforces that those of us who think we hate networking are not alone – and it validates the key to turning it around is in the art of reframing. In the end, I guess I actually do like the activity of networking – I just happen to hate the word!