However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that networking comes easy to them.
Successful leaders work hard to break the habit of knuckling down to get on with the job. When challenged to move beyond functional specialities to address strategic issues, they choose exchanges and interactions with others instead. They’ve learnt to put away thoughts that current and potential stakeholders are ‘distractions’ and genuinely see the value in them. For most successful leaders, they put networking at the heart of their new leadership roles.
Getting to know networking
Every manager differs in their approach to pursued operational and personal networking. Those making a success of it approach it with open eyes that allow a business to take a new direction based on the thoughts of others they meet. Effective leaders look for people who can help them do their jobs so that they may employ networks for strategic purpose. This ensures trust in coordination and cooperation when accomplishing immediate tasks. While straightforward, it’s rarely easy. Networking takes careful thought, and to a large extent, relationships are prescribed by the job, industry or organisation. This ‘lumping’ can cause some obstacles.
Common obstacles of networking
Given the complex symbiotic relationships that come from networking, there are some common obstacles you should expect.
1. Lack of reference
Obstacle: For introverts not comfortable with people they don’t know, networking can be like pulling teeth. Not knowing someone can be like staring into a black hole, and that’s a grim outlook. Without a frame of reference, how do you start a conversation?
Solution: It’s important to remember that every friend you have was once a stranger. Remember this and you can approach people as if you are looking for a new BFF. Look for someone who either isn’t in conversation or is part of a conversation that’s lulled and be friendly. Offer your name and what you do and ask them an opening question such as “What do you know about the day’s speaker?” or “Have you been to one of these networking events before?” Try not to scour the room looking for someone that takes your fancy, and instead talk to the first person you see. This will get your talking muscles going and will remove any barriers or insecurities you might be having.
2. Fear of embarrassment
Obstacle: Sometimes it’s not the ‘not knowing someone’ that’s the problem. Instead it’s the ‘knowing someone’. The fact you are wanting to make contact with a particular person means that you likely respect them, and that respect can lead to fear you’ll embarrass yourself.
Solution: If you’re planning on calling or emailing someone to ask for a meeting, start by doing some research. It’s one thing to know a person, but it’s another to understand how exactly you could work together to bring benefit to both you and them. Start with a compliment, and then explain why you’d like to start a conversation.
3. Irrelevant conversation
Obstacle: A flowing conversation is a great thing, but only if it’s about the right topic. You don’t go to a networking event to talk about what you are watching on Netflix, but too often a conversation gets stuck on something irrelevant.
Solution: Try to get an understanding of what a person does and then ask yourself, “How does this persona align with my goals, and how can they benefit my professional ecosystem?” If you feel yourself getting off topic, steer the conversation back to the answer to your question. If your conversation continually moves away from your desired goal, you’re talking to the wrong person. Remember, successful networking is about prioritising who’s worth reaching out to and who isn’t. Just because someone holds the same position as you or is in the same industry, doesn’t mean they should automatically make your network list. Only nurture the contacts that offer the greatest potential.
4. Herd mentality
Obstacle: When people are grouped together it can influence how they behave. A group may seem less inviting than an individual, because the people in it adopt certain behaviours that make it appear there is no room for you to join in.
Solution: Before approaching a group, try to gauge how open or closed off they are. A group that’s busily discussing a topic that’s exclusive to them might not appreciate you steering the conversation another way. If the group seems open, saddle up and give a silent nod or a quick hi to anyone who makes eye contact. When appropriate, introduce yourself and weigh in on what you’ve heard so far. Make sure you wait for a small pause before interjecting, and talk to the group as a whole rather than single out an individual.
5. Closed books
Obstacle: Despite being at a networking event, many people get bored by the question of “So what do you do?” and will become a closed book. It’s not that it’s a bad question, it’s just that it has a transactional taste to it. One of the reasons people don’t like networking events is that they feel forced to answer the question over and over. This reduces them only to their title and their potential economic value. It almost completely exudes their human side.
Solution: Be creative with your questioning so that you can gain this important answer without having to ask it directly. Asking, “What brought you to this event?” or “How do you see this event helping your current project?” will inevitably weave the answer you’re looking for in.
6. Ending conversations
Obstacle: Your goal of a networking event should be to meet as many people as you can. This is not always possible, however, when someone holds up all your time. Some people forget their reason for being there and will fixate on the one conversation.
Solution: The simplest way to end a conversation at a networking event is to ask for a business card. This will often lead to a handshake and a simple, “It was great to meet you and I look forward to talking to you in the future.” If you do not have a card, suggest they look you up on LinkedIn to continue the conversation another time. Explain that there a couple of other people you’d like to talk to, but that you’ve enjoyed speaking with them. If you have an ultra-clinger that still won’t disengage, hit the emergency brakes by declaring you need to visit the bathroom or make a phone call.
7. Retaining information
Obstacle: At an event where you speak to a range of different people, remembering who’s who can be a challenge. Too often you can lose track of high value contacts because you didn’t debrief the conversation.
Solution: After each conversation, take a moment to debrief in a quiet corner. Use a recording app on your phone to capture the information you found relevant and describe the contact in enough detail to ensure you maintain a connection.
8. Next steps
Obstacle: A good conversation is an excellent thing, but only if it leads somewhere. Otherwise, you’ll struggle to reconnect down the road.
Solution: Find a rational reason to deepen the relationship and use it to create a next step. Perhaps you worked on a project that addresses a problem your new contact is trying to solve and you can offer them some insight. Having an actual purpose for a meeting down the track will ensure they follow through with it.
Making sure you benefit from networking opportunities
Networking is not just about meeting people, and it’s important that all parties are engaged in mutually beneficial ways. Understand that networking can be hit or miss, and you won’t be disappointed or feel obliged to make a contact you see no value in. Be purposeful when networking and use the time well.