Networking is a crucial skill required to function in today’s world. Impressions are formed in both business and casual settings and the ability to successfully network in any situation distinguishes you as a confident and well versed individual. Networking skills encompass being able to create rapport with strangers and through giving and commanding respect, building useful connections. These skills are easily learnt and through practice, can be naturally acquired.
In today’s world, one cannot afford to be a one man island. Meeting people, whether in your own firm or department or out of your comfort zone, is a common occurrence. Social skills go beyond basic manners and instead look at how you project yourself and are able to communicate with other people. Also, one must convey values such as sincerity and integrity to be trusted as an asset. Projecting such values allows one to be perceived as a dependable character rather then someone who is merely a social butterfly, trying to get as many contacts as possible. It is essential to remember that it is not the size of your network that is important, rather it is the quality and the strength of connections you have.
Most people are cautious about networking as they fear being rejected or being perceived as pretentious and insincere. Also, being more reserved they are wary about stepping out of their comfort zone. For one to successfully network in a new environment, one must have sufficient self belief and confidence about ones capabilities. A good skill to acquire when trying to establish a connection with someone new would be to find a common area to discuss. This immediately creates rapport and puts both parties at ease with each other. Ensure that you are up to date about current events such as sports and financial happenings and able to make intelligent contributions to such a discussion. Refrain from being callous and overbearing by making careless comments about sensitive issues as this immediately forms a bad impression.
Communication is a two way process and what you do not say can be as important as what you say. Be a good listener by adopting open body language, nodding and making eye contact when talking to someone. Asking occasional questions about the person’s opinion further indicates your interest in the conversation and makes you more memorable. Your ability to remember depends on your willingness to listen and you cannot remember that which you did not hear in the first place.
Being able to network effectively distinguishes an outstanding individual from an average person. A common belief is that certain people are born with the gift of being able to network effectively as this is an ingrained talent. This myth can be dispelled however as networking skills can be acquired at any stage of one’s life. Masters of networking are merely able to appear that this skill is effortless as through immense practice, they have learnt to communicate an air of confidence. Building this confidence bores down to minute details such as being appropriately dressed and groomed for every occasion. Such details leave an essential impression on people’s minds, immediately putting you in their good books.
Masters at networking will admit that in order to retain a contact, their communication is not limited to a mere exchange of name cards. By following up on a contact, one is able to ensure that one is remembered and remains in the contact’s consideration set. Following up is a simple and quick process which most people fail to do as they are unaware of the massive impact such small actions can have. An email or phone call a few days after meeting a useful contact, merely to send a greeting or to recapitulate a conversation can do wonders in making a lasting impression on someone. At this stage, you are also able to address the party in a less formal manner, further strengthening your ties.
Many people are hesitant about networking as they are fearful of appearing superficial or aggressively career minded. However we have to recognise that certain events are organised for the very purpose of building suitable connections. Embracing rather then fearing these events will allow you to not to send random emails or make many calls to get somewhere.
Also, one has to approach the subject of career matters carefully. Immediately talking about work creates a bad impression. Making small talk initially allows you to appear as someone not just solely focused on getting ahead at work.
Approach networking with an end in mind. Have a goal that you want to achieve at the end of the session. Spend time in places where you are more likely to meet people of the profession you work in or want to work in. Decide how you want to introduce yourself and how you want to come across and think about interesting things about yourself you can discuss. To boost your confidence, always think of six attractive qualities you have before you approach a networking session. Having a structured plan increases your chances of success. Hence to conclude, though networking is often intimidating, its benefits far outweigh its costs and you should seek to develop networking skills now!
Article contributed by Lakhvinder Kaur, Senior Consultant of Training Edge International on 9 Dec 2008.