Now that I’ve channeled my own inner toddler, I’m willing to bet I just channeled a few of your inner toddlers as well.
What is it I don’t want to do?
Admit it, you might have cringed a little when you read that word. It’s something that’s foisted upon us as a necessary evil in career development. And it’s something that makes many of us feel…well, icky, for lack of a more professional word.
Certainly there are a group of people for whom networking comes naturally; the are able to dive in and meet people and find ways to connect to them. For the rest of us, networking is a more deliberate process, and one in which to keep our integrity we also need a way to remain authentic. If you want a quick fix, here’s an HBR article on learning to love networking that has four key steps. I want to focus primarily on the idea of finding a common interest (which I also associate with help-seeking), one of them that’s quite easily controllable and that creates a specific type of culture.
Think for a moment about someone you know who is an amazing connector (I’m going to use that word to remove any negative connotations). That person who seems to know everyone, and whom everyone seems to know, and that familiarity is consistently in a positive sense. Chances are that person will in some way align with Adam Grant’s definition of a “giver,” which may be a secret to getting ahead, and certainly fosters a specific type of positive culture.
Where am I taking this? I’m trying to move us from the idea of networking being transactional, because that seems to be when we get that dirty feeling about it. What if we thought about networking in a purely relational sense? What if we sought things that we have in common, and we asked questions and actually listened to the answers? To quote from Eric Barker‘s recent book, what if we shared our Twinkies by finding small ways to help one another?
When we use a relational framework, networking seems strangely akin to friend making- it’s all about liking and being interested. Or, as Glennon Doyle Melton wisely phrased this a couple of years ago, “I really, really think the secret to being loved is to love. And the secret to being interesting is to be interested. And the secret to having a friend is being a friend.”
One more tangentially related thought: if you have friends you haven’t connected with recently, take this as a reminder that it’s time. I’ve not once regretted the coffee date, the run, the weekend when I’ve made time for it.