Career & Education

Bad at networking?

4 ways to overcome your aversion and get in the game

Sunday, October 07, 2018

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Network, Network, Network.This seems to be the dominant advice to working professionals these days. Join local organisations, the more prestigious the better. Connect with highly visible and influential people inside and outside your organisation. Participate in social events and get involved in the community. If this wasn't enough, professionals are also obliged to expand their social circle online, whether it's through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and increase their engagement; in short. Be seen and be heard.

According to scholars Vicki Whiting and Suzanne de Janasz, “Networking is the fostering and nurturing of personal and professional relationships, exchanging information, and developing a system of contacts and support in order to further your career and achieve personal success.”

In today's fast-paced, technology-driven and interconnected world, it is considered a critical competency. Yet, it is easier said than done.

Many professionals simply hate networking. The idea of engaging in public interactions and conversations, especially with people they don't know, makes some professionals anxious. For others, networking represents schmoozing up to the influential others in order to get access to opportunities, which makes them feel uncomfortable and phony.

In Jamaica, networking takes on a largely negative connotation. Branded as having 'contacts' or 'links' — close relationships with people with clout that you can deploy, at will, to land jobs or access opportunities that others whitout such 'contacts' might not get — networking is seen to be inequitable and nepotistic.

Nevertheless, experts agree that networking is an absolute necessity in today's business environment as professional networks lead to more job and business opportunities, broader and deeper knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement, and greater status and authority. Building and nurturing professional relationships also improves the quality of work and increases job satisfaction.

Casciaro, Gino, and Kouchaki, authors of the paper, ' The Contaminating Effects of Building Instrumental Ties: How Networking Can Make Us Feel Dirty', suggest four ways to overcome your aversion to networking and get back in the game:

1. See it as a learning experience

Adopt a growth mindset. See networking with others as an opportunity for growth, advancement and a path to accomplishing your goals. In other words, concentrate on the positives — how it's going to help you boost the knowledge and skills that are needed in your job. So, instead of telling yourself, “I hate networking events and schmoozing,” you can tell yourself, “Who knows, maybe I'll have a conversation that brings up new ideas and leads to new experiences and opportunities”.

2. Look for common interests

Look to see how your interests and goals align with those of the people you meet and how that can help you forge meaningful working relationships. This means doing your own research on those you wish to connect with. Read their work, watch their videos, study their philosophies, work ethic and habits, and note points of connection where there may be room for collaboration.

3. Reflect on what value you can offer

Even when you do not share an interest with someone, you can probably find something valuable to offer them. In their study, Casciaro, Gino, and Kouchaki found that “people who feel powerless — because they are junior in their organizations, belong to a minority, or for other reasons — often believe they have too little to give and are therefore the least likely to engage in networking, even though they're the ones who will probably derive the most benefit from it”. My advice is to focus on your assets and the unique value you bring to the table. These represent your competitive advantage that you can bring to any networking conversation. When people believe they have a lot to offer others, such as wise advice, mentorship, access, and resources, networking feels easier. In addition, make it a “two-way beneficial networking” where you give the other person an opportunity to benefit from the relationship as well. This approach will help you secure more connections and opportunities.

4. Find a Higher Purpose

Finally, aim to frame your networking within the context of a work activity that is tied to a higher goal as this makes it more attractive,` especially for whom networking feels like a dirty business. Casciaro, Gino, and Kouchaki say they have seen this approach helps female executives overcome their discomfort about pursuing relationships with journalists and publicists. They report that when they remind them that women's voices are underrepresented in business, their deep-seated reluctance often subsides.

In summary, by shifting to a promotion mindset, identifying and exploring shared interests, expanding your view of what you have to offer, and motivating yourself with a higher purpose, you'll become more excited about and effective at building relationships from professional networking that bear fruit.

Dr Hume Johnson is a personal branding expert and associate orofessor of public relations at Roger Williams University (Rhode Island, USA). She is the author of Brand You: Questions You Need to Ask , and Brand YOU: Reinvent Yourself, ReDefine Your Future .

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