Networking – why have we made it so difficult? Or the perils of warm wine

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Simon Bird

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I meet lots of new people every week.  People I don’t know and who are often very different to me.

What’s more, I need to build relationships with them quickly – because the quality of the relationship will determine if we can do good work together.

So why does the word, ‘networking’ make my heart sink? And in a deeply non-scientific way – based on my experience of working with people around leadership and relationships, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

So, when this week I was asked to run a short workshop on ‘Networking’, for around 60 doctors in training, the irony wasn’t lost on me. But preparing for the session, I was able to get my own thoughts and suggestions straight which turned out to be pretty therapeutic in itself.

Fast forward – the session went down well – so thought I’d share the key points.

So here are 3 reasons we find it difficult – and what to do about them….

1)     We confuse socialising and networking.  In a room of 200 people milling around, some will have found their friends and be enjoying warm wine, gossip and Twiglets. Others will be staring at their phone and emailing – whilst the final group will be feeling genuinely hopeful as to how they might meet some new people to talk about subject XYZ.  I suggest that it’s only this last group that’s really networking.   So, you need a plan. Work out what you want from any event – is it new expertise contacts? Is it a new mentor? Is it a drink? Then decide if the event on offer is going to help you with your plan. If it’s not – don’t go.

2)     Fear of rejection.  Inside most of us is a 7-year-old who just wants to be accepted and loved. And the pain of being rejected is intense.  And so we imagine disaster scenarios that are much worse than we know as adults they’re ever likely to be. The reality is that a smile, a greeting and an opening question that can’t be answered with ‘fine’ – will work for you 9 times out of 10.  I’m also often told I look a bit grumpy when in reality I’m just wondering where the sausage rolls are – so I need to factor that into the plan. So firstly, be aware of your physicality (or ‘manage your face’ as a colleague told me once) – and have a couple of questions up your sleeve e.g., ‘What did you think of Simon’s session?’………that should get you going.  And if it doesn’t, it’s OK – it’s them not you.

3)     Endings. If you’re in networking mode – then you need to have multiple conversations – even if this new person is fascinating. (And by the way, are you sure you’re not just relieved to have found someone to hide with?)  But we’re polite and we worry about appearing rude and we find ourselves in interactions that are slightly too long. So be clear, and say it was great to meet – and could you connect with them on Linked In? (insert favoured way).  And move away.

Finally – make sure you do the follow up and genuinely connect afterwards. Because if you don’t do that – then you haven’t extended your network. You’ve just had some warm wine.

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