The misunderstood art of networking

The importance of knowing how to make professional connections that count

If  you have a reputation for being helpful, nice and trustworthy, you will benefit from it.

If you have a reputation for being helpful, nice and trustworthy, you will benefit from it.

 

Networking. It’s often a filthy, dirty, taboo word that brings to mind sleazy men in suits slipping their business card from their sweaty, oily hands.

And yet, not only is networking one of the most useful skills any of us can learn during our career, it’s also a vital skill for our personal lives. It can also make us kinder people.

Kingsley Aikins of DiasporaMatters.com has over 30 years experience in building up global networks.

The former CEO of the Ireland Funds, which links Irish people across the world, provides training in networking, philanthropy and diaspora with corporations, government and NGOs worldwide.

“Ireland, along with China, India and Israel, is a world leader in networking,” he says.

“Networking is the glue that makes everything happen. As you progress through your career, the technical skills you needed to get the job in the first place will become less important, and relationships will matter a lot more. Your career progress depends about 10 per cent on how you do your job, 30 per cent on your image, and 60 per cent on your exposure or who has seen you in action and who knows you.”

Aikins says that while social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook are very useful for building and maintaining connections, body language, inflection and tone are also important and we need to meet people in real life. This can be a challenge for people in their 20s, who talk electronically all the time but can be hesitant to pick up the phone, and companies are trying to figure out a way to respond to this major shift in human behaviour.

Introverted person

“I know that people hate the word ‘networking’ and the concepts around it, but there’s also a lot of misunderstanding as to what it means. Good networking means listening: being a world-class listener may be the best skill you can develop.

“We all like to think we’re good listeners, don’t we? But think how often you’re in a conversation with someone and, after you talk for ten seconds, they jump in to wow you with information about themselves. People are surprised to hear that introverts can be better at networking than extroverts; if an introverted person networks with sincerity, decency and authenticity, it comes across that they are good and trying to help people.”

Helping is key, he says.

“Good networking focuses on a ‘relationship mindset’ instead of a ‘transactional mindset’. If you go in with a scorecard that you have done something for someone and now are owed, you will quickly gain a reputation as someone who is always out for themselves. If, on the other hand, you have a reputation for being helpful, nice and trustworthy, you will benefit from it.”

To use a cliché: what goes around comes around. Or call it karma, if you will. We tend to think of ‘capital’ in financial terms, but we need to also consider social capital, Aikins says.

“When a company is hiring you, they are also hoping to wire into your network.”

In the US, 12 per cent of the population wasn’t born there; in Ireland it is 17 per cent and in Dublin that figure is 25 per cent. Aikins says we all need to consider whether our “male, pale and stale” networks reflect the diversity of the city.

So what can we do? Aikins outlines four steps:

Research your network: We all have strong relationships but weak ones count too. Build diversity into your network and be open to new ideas

Cultivate that network: See what you can do for people and who you know in different industries

Solicitation: Ask questions (such as who might give you information or make an introduction)

Stewardship: People will only give you information if they like and trust you.