‘Professional’. ‘Networking’. Two words that strike fear into the core of any sane individual. The title of this blog is a direct quote from a successful, experienced professional who I was out networking with – but we call it ‘going for beers’ or ‘grabbing a coffee’, depending on the mood and time of day.
Between academic study, a social life, sports and society commitments, a regular slot at the gym, plus usual daily stuff, who in their right mind would willingly give up precious time to attend a session or situation where we have to mingle with strangers and make uncomfortable small talk.
Networking is much, much maligned, and I’m starting to feel a little bit sorry for it – like someone you have always found irritating but on mature reflection realise actually they’re not nearly as bad as you thought. There is no magic to it. It’s not rocket science. It’s not that we can’t grasp the basic principles of it – we know what it is … we just can’t seem to DO IT. What’s that all about?
The shocking, hidden truth about networking is that it is about being sociable and having a chat. Er …. that’s it, really.
However, this simple human instinct has morphed into something that makes us feel ever so slightly inadequate. Am I ‘good’ at networking? How can I tell? Will I otherwise die friendless and penniless?
Frankly, we are all at it pretty much all the time. You’re at it while you are going about the daily business of life – chatting to course-mates, academics, to the guys that serve you coffee, on the bus. Whoever you meet – all networking. At the gym, waiting for the train, in the pub. At work, chatting to colleagues. Old friends, new friends, social networking friends. It’s everywhere and nowhere.
My point about all this is this – let’s relax.
People love to be asked about what they do, what they know and how they think. There is nothing skilful in getting out into a room full of people, and asking people questions about themselves …. that’s the enjoyable part, and human nature is programmed to respond to interest with interest.
Be interested, and amazing things will happen. You will be interesting, simple as that.
People who say they are not good at networking are, in my experience, the very ones who are excellent. Why? Because they use ears (2) and mouth (1) in the proportions as allocated to the human body. As a result, new and interesting stuff can be learned about other people, which can be shared with, well, other people.
If you are able to avoid questions relating to traffic (‘isn’t it shocking’) and the weather (‘what happened to summer?’), then you are already way ahead of the game and will be immediately rated the ‘Room’s Most Fascinating Person’.
So – get busy being interested. Keep socialising. Then keep in touch – send people articles you found out they were interested in, introduce them to people in your circle who might be interested. And so it goes on.
Start today … with the guys serving you coffee or the people you encounter but have perhaps never really spoken to. Have a chat. Ask a question, show some interest. You never know what they might know..