As a former City lawyer networking played a significant role in my weekly rouine. But it was my career as a legal journalist that really taught me the importance of building ‘meaningful’ longstanding relationships with my contacts on whom I relied heavily for the inside scoops. But despite being an extrovert, when it comes to networking I didn’t always get it right.
Indeed, it makes me cringe when I look back at my formative years as a roving reporter wandering aimlessly around endless conferences, receptions and dinners. Back then, I foolishly thought networking was simply a popularity contest and all about accumulating a mass of business cards. But flicking through my rolodex (that’s the desk top card index used by us mature folks before networking turned digital) I quickly started to appreciate that without building sincere relationships of mutual trust and respect with my contacts then neither side would truly benefit from our interactions with each other.
Other common misconceptions relating to networking that I’ve been guilty of in the past, include:
- It’s all about attending events and meeting new people – No. People you already know shouldn’t be neglected.
- Only extroverts are good at networking – Wrong, being overly self-centred and constantly talking about yourself can be a huge turn-off for others.
- Relationships should forge spontaneously – In the context of networking patience is key. See below.
- It’s all a bit fake and self-serving – Only if you’re fake – authenticity is key in relationship building.
- I’m too junior to network – You’re never to early to start!
- Only senior people in my network are the most valuable – This simply isn’t true. I have worked with many junior lawyers on my coaching programmes who have secured new jobs as a result of their peers brokering intros to hiring teams.
I’ll deal with some of the above bullet points in more detail in future blogs but in the meantime let’s return to the importance of nurturing your existing network. With so many of us focusing on adding new contacts to our address books we often neglect the individuals we’re already connected to – they can include old university friends, existing and former colleagues (across all levels of seniority), clients, suppliers and mentors etc.
Every interaction you have with such individuals matters because not only are you likely to need their help and support fairly regularly they may well prove invaluable in the event you decide to look for a new job or are after a testimonial for that all important pitch document.
So aim to maintain regular contact, be authentic, play fair, listen and understand, find common interests, don’t judge (give individuals the same level of respect you’d expect them to have towards you), reciprocate (relationships should be a two-way street), if you offer a favour then deliver, follow-up with a thank you and play the long game.
On that final point, I cannot stress enough how it may take many years and several one-to-one encounters before you reap the rewards of a relationship. So be patient. If you don’t hit it off instantly with a potential new contact, try not to write that person off as boring or frosty and keep trying. You may have just caught them on a bad day. Also, don’t ignore others who you think are beneath you or because they have different opinions or interests. You might be pleasantly surprised or even learn something new.
That said, aiming to become besties with everyone you meet and expecting them all to immediately fall in love with you can be futile. There are obviously individuals you just have to try to get on with such as your colleagues. But with others – a strategic approach may prove more beneficial longer-term. For example, if a potential new contact is a way in with a client you’ve been targeting for a while then it’s worth hanging in there. Remember professional networking isn’t about finding a soulmate or new best friend. It’s about gaining the respect and trust of others around you.
Generosity and remaining positive around others also really help towards forging long-term meaningful relationships with existing and new contacts and are applicable with both personal and professional relationships. Indeed, none of us enjoy being around people who are constantly miserable and akin to a leaking radiator pipe draining us of energy. That said, it’s okay not to be okay and if you’re having a bad day just say so. Similarly, it’s also absolutely fine to ask for help because expecting others around you to become mind readers and / or fixers is also detrimental.
Showing some occasional signs of vulnerability is natural – after all, we’re all human. However, if someone does open up to you avoid offering advice, especially if it’s an opinion, unless you’re asked for it. Playing the martyr, saviour or perfect person, especially if it diverts attention back to you is likely to do more harm than good.
Human relationships are complex and we’re never going to always get it right. But if you start putting the effort in right now then you’ll soon build a flourishing network that’s made of valuable contacts. And if you do lose a few contacts along then don’t worry. Because if there’s one final lesson I’ve learnt about relationships is that some people in our lives will simply come and go whilst others will stay with us throughout. It’s up to us to determine which group each of member of your network falls in and if the latter then those are the relationships to prioritise.