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Great Networking: The art and practice of building authentic professional relationships

Why are people in general afraid of networking? A lot of people shy away from anything to do with networking yet it has proven to be one of the most successful ways not only to meet people but to help one’s career to progress. Alisa Grafton is one who admits that networking has genuinely transformed the direction her career took. How you ask, read on…

Why are people in general afraid of networking? A lot of people shy away from anything to do with networking yet it has proven to be one of the most successful ways not only to meet people but to help one’s career to progress. Alisa Grafton is one who admits that networking has genuinely transformed the direction her career took. How you ask, read on…

Alisa refers to Dr Ivan Misner who founded BNI® (Business Network International), the world’s largest referral network, in 1985 as a way for business people to connect and make introductions in a structured, professional environment. This was one way of building relationship – using the fundamental elements of trust and likeability – which really paves way to professional success.

Alisa explains that the premise of this book is to break down the science and practice of relationship building into bitesize pieces. ‘Becoming open’ is a complex state of mind that requires stepping out of one’s comfort zone.

In Alisa’s view, networking characterizes our fears of not being accepted; doubts about being ‘enough’; anxiety about making it through the next challenge; dread of being rejected by others. The journey of getting good at networking – or adept at relationship building – can be like holding a mirror to yourself. We first learn things about ourselves, and then observe our interactions with others. Finally, we recognize which actions belong to us, which we are therefore accountable for, and which actions are outside the frame of this mirror’s reflection, and thus outside the scope of our control

We can frame it as a set of people skills and a positive mindset to create, develop and sustain relationships that will enrich our lives, enrich other people’s lives, and bring meaningful connection to our work or business.

I believe I am an extrovert, however at times I would find myself feeling like a failure, being awkward or doing something embarrassing and not really getting the attention I was hoping for.

I felt it was like riding a bike, the first time you fail, then you get up and fail again, and then by what appears to be a miracle, you get it. At that moment, we feel that we are showcasing our true self. And this is the ultimate goal.

What I found very interesting is the way Alisa explained what we should be looking for and the questions we should be answering in order to really determining what we are looking for. She explains that the focus should always be on the interests and motivations of others. What qualities in others do you find particularly attractive? What characteristics do you want to emulate? What questions do you want to ask a particular person? But also, what puts you off? Which qualities in others do you particularly dislike? The answers to these questions will give you more insight into yourself, your current values and your deepest concerns than almost anything else. This is a great preclude to any networking event, write these questions down and really do a deep dive to answer them to make the most of the event and the people you meet.

We are meant to connect. Building relationships and building networks weaved of those relationships is what we are born to do. It’s about time we started investing in the one thing the experts tell us is absolutely essential for health and happiness: the relationships we build, nurture and enjoy. And not only from family and friends, which is also very important, but you have to meet those individuals you do not know yet and start building those relationships.

Alisa really pushes you to do something you don’t feel comfortable doing and explains how to do it. Start building your social wealth by exploring the riskier, less travelled paths of access to various professional networks. It can feel scary at first, but the benefit of such an approach is that you’ll boldly go where many others would not dare set foot.

Don’t let the familiarity, safety and security of your comfort zone disadvantage you. Move at your own pace, but watch for opportunities and be proactive

She reminds us of the effect that social networks have on people in that we are losing our ability to be social. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic – through over-reliance on technology we’ve quite literally forgotten how to really engage and communicate.

” There is no doubt that when one feels fundamentally disconnected from society, situations that require interaction with others can cause tremendous anxiety.

Create your own game plan. Stick to it, and adjust it, if that’s needed. But, above everything else, it must be the game that corresponds with your own values, goals and objectives. Otherwise, you will forever be a pawn in other people’s game.

Everything you need is within yourself.”

Alisa compares a networking event with a children’s playground, how is that comparable. Think about it,

one of the most commonly cited reasons for avoiding networking situations is the sentiment of feeling out of place. Now, how many children do you think feel out of place at a playground? How many of them think they ‘don’t belong there?’ How many avoid running onto the slide because they don’t know anyone else who is using it at the moment? Sure, some shy children may feel more reluctant to explore everything straightaway, but the truth is that even the most reserved kid could be easily cajoled into giving the swings a go, especially if a trusted adult is nearby. To put it simply, you don’t often see a child bashfully lingering on the edges of a fun-filled playground.

Alisa states research which has shown that as many as two-thirds of the population are ambiverts, exhibiting qualities of both extroverts and introverts.

Whilst all-out extroverts certainly do not make the best networkers, what does make the biggest difference is how self-aware the person is. Extroversion, introversion or ambiversion can be your networker’s superpower; the only condition is that you need to be aware of it.

My advice is to always stay in the room and ‘fight’ against your fears and insecurities. Chill out, just be authentic, bring a genuine smile and make sure that you are a generous listener.Mental readiness is a huge step towards developing the confidence to form relationships with others.

When walking into a room, one of the best things you can do is have focus.

It is the secret used by the best communicators to put others at ease, and to find out as much as possible about the person in front of them, all while keeping things light and superficial. Does the person have introverted or extroverted characteristics? Are they a ‘thinker’ or a ‘feeler?’ Are they most comfortable talking or listening? There are zillions of bits of information that you can draw from a brief but skilfully conducted interlude of small talk. Good small talk can really pave the way for an engaging, interesting and productive conversation – one that has every chance of flourishing into a great relationship. Here are a few things to bear in mind when building your small talk skills: • Positivity is key. Our mood is contagious, and if we approach any interaction dreading how awkward it’s going to be, it’s likely to become awkward indeed. Smile, smile, smile. Smiling attracts good, interesting people like a magnet, because, both consciously and subconsciously, good, positive people like to spend time with other positive people.

Learning to ask questions that show your genuine interest in someone is a journey of trial and error, but it’s one worth travelling.

If there is one useful takeaway in everything we’re covering, let it be this: networking really is shorthand for ‘relationship building.’

Alisa reviews the three Marathon rules

Remember to exchange details!

Follow up on the initial meeting as quickly as you can.

Arrange to meet in person (or have a virtual coffee) with your A-list; make a diary note to get in touch within a few months with the B-list; keep an eye on what’s going on with your C-list

Networking is a process of self-discovery, no matter how experienced a practitioner you are.

“Networking is about finding other people that are looking to solve the same problems as you are.”

I for one, have taken notes while reading this book and I am already applying some of those ideas as we try to get back to some form of normalcy through networking following the pandemic.

Happy Reading!!

Published by LID Publishing

Monique Vander Eyken, HR Consultant – MVE Consulting

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