Networking is a strategy of developing your professional connections and relationships. Today, networking is a necessity within the job world. Professional networks have the potential to lead to more business opportunities and growth; more extensive knowledge of your field; improved ability to innovate and a greater feeling of status or authority. Harvard Business Review has published an article urging executives, professionals and students to learn to love networking. Authors, Tiziana Casciaro, Francesca Gino, and Maryam Kouchaki outline four strategies to help people change their mindset when networking.
Through a study performed at a North American law firm, two groups of professionals were identified. One group possessed a natural passion for networking and was mostly made up of extroverts who thrive on social interaction. The other was filled with many professionals who see networking as brown-nosing and disingenuous. The study revealed that out of 165 lawyers, the successful ones saw ideal results when balancing their ability to network both internally, to align themselves with top clients, and externally, to bring in more business to the firm. The lawyers that displayed an aversion to networking actually saw fewer billable hours than their peers.
The first strategy to learning to love networking is to focus on learning.
The article suggests that everyone has a different dominant, motivational focus when interacting with others. Psychologists refer to this as either a “promotion” or a “prevention” mindset. “Those in the former category think primarily about the growth, advancement, and accomplishments that networking can bring them, while those in the latter see it as something they are obligated to take part in for professional reasons.” When focusing on the learning potential of a networking opportunity, you open yourself up to absorbing the positive outcomes. You can choose to focus on how the interaction will boost your knowledge of the field and skill set required in your day to day; rather than dreading the interaction and simply seeing it as a professional obligation.
The next suggested strategy is one of preparation- to identify common interests.
This method can be practiced prior to the networking opportunity in order to better prepare yourself for the interaction. The authors of this article suggest that you think about how your goals align with the people you’re set to meet and how that can help you forge meaningful bonds. “Numerous studies in social psychology have demonstrated that people establish the most collaborative and longest-lasting connections when they work together on tasks that require one another’s contributions. Indeed, research conducted with INSEAD’s Miguel Sousa Lobo showed that this “task interdependence” can be one of the biggest sources of positive energy in professional relationships.”
The third strategy in learning to love networking is to think broadly about what you can give, rather than just focusing on what you’d like to gain from the interaction.
This strategy is suggested primarily for professionals that are more junior in their roles, who may feel as though they have little to give and are the least likely to engage in networking. This is a major disconnect because although they have the least amount of experience, these young professionals hold the potential to derive the most benefit from networking. “However, even those with lower rank and less power almost certainly have more to offer than they realize. In their book Influence Without Authority, Allan Cohen and David Bradford note that most people tend to think too narrowly about the resources they have that others might value. They focus on tangible, task-related things such as money, social connections, technical support, and information, while ignoring less obvious assets such as gratitude, recognition, and enhanced reputation.” Namely, the practice of gratitude is one that’s severely underrated in the professional world. The more heartfelt and personalized the expression of gratitude is, the greater its value to the recipient. For example, the expression can enhance a mentor’s reputation in the workplace and it can also contribute to the value of a more junior employee- one who is consistently adding a personalized approach to each interaction. A controlled experiment performed by the authors further validated the power of gratitude and other less tangible assets. People felt empowered by gratitude and recognition, becoming more willing to network than people assigned to a condition that made them feel powerless.
The authors end this section by stating, “When you think more about what you can give to others than what you can get from them, networking will seem less self-promotional and more selfless—and therefore more worthy of your time.”
The final suggestion on your journey to learn to love networking is to find a higher purpose.
In the same law firm mentioned earlier, studies found that the attorneys who primarily focused on the collective benefits of connections instead of just personal ones, felt more genuine in their interactions. These attorneys also proved to be more likely to network and produced more billable hours. The authors of this article point to this approach as an aid to female executives in particular; facing discomfort in their relationships with the media. “When we remind them that women’s voices are underrepresented in business and that the media attention that would result from their building stronger networks might help counter gender bias, their deep-seated reluctance often subsides.” When we successfully find the higher purpose within a networking scenario, we’re focusing on the bigger picture- rather than just immediate results.
This article’s purpose is to overcome our aversion to networking. A promotional mindset is critical in identifying and exploring new, beneficial professional relationships. We need to be able to expand our views of what we have to offer and motivate ourselves with the higher purpose of the interaction to create the most successful networking scenarios.
Kouchaki, Tiziana CasciaroFrancesca GinoMaryam, et al. “Learn to Love Networking.” Harvard Business Review, 18 Apr. 2016, hbr.org/2016/05/learn-to-love-networking.