Is Your Network Built to Last?
How healthy is your professional network? Studies over the years have shown the significance of networking and how it can satisfy a basic human need to connect on several levels. It establishes a foundation of rapport that can lead to business-related interactions.
Covid, with its enforced separation, has given many people a hunger for true face-to-face connection. Being forced to do without this personal element for so long we discovered how much we value the interaction with others, including those whose lives touch ours only tangentially. We now recognize the richness of these simple overlooked and undervalued connections in both our personal and professional lives.
The pandemic has left its mark on our interpersonal networks as well as our lives. Recent research on networking by Balazs Kovacs, Nicholas Caplan, Samuel Grob, and Marissa King highlights the impact of the pandemic on relationships, drawing attention to the shrinkage of social networks. This area may have been affected by covid, but it doesn’t need to be permanently damaged.
Discussing the results of their work in the Harvard Business Review Article, King and Kovacs point out that their research shows that during the pandemic our networks have shrunk by more than 15%. At the same time, with the improvement of virtual connection options, we’ve also strengthened and deepened some existing connections, especially with those closest to us—since even a virtual connection is better than the alternative of complete isolation. Nonetheless, the total number of contacts dropped. Strikingly, the drop was greater for men’s relationships than for women’s. They attribute this difference to the difference in networking styles adopted by men and women in general, as women tend to form networks built more on personal relationships.
Networking can be viewed as transactional—how many business cards can you collect at a mixer, trade show, or specialized event—based solely on the number of names in your Contacts or LinkedIn connections, or it can be focused on the development of relationships and deeper personal connections.
Just as a strong network of friends helps maintain physical and mental health, a strong network of business relationships—as an individual or as a small business owner—fulfill critical needs at various stages of a person’s career or in the life of a business.
Networks allow us to
- Learn the ropes of an industry or new job; get practical advice and learn from practitioners.
- Find a mentor or mentor others by reaching out to share knowledge with younger professionals.
- Develop in our career path. Many career opportunities come about through conversations and connections, and we can gather insights into other fields prior to changing jobs.
- Refine our skills with fresh perspectives from others in the same role or industry.
It’s one thing to be aware of all the benefits of networking, and another to take that first step. Simple things can hold us back: fear of meeting new people, that first impression and the pressure to perform; feeling “uneasy” because we think networking means using people; or uncertainty about where to begin—how to start the conversation and keep it going.
Most of these concerns dissipate with a change in approach, moving from the sense of each connection being a transaction to making the choice to build relationships that could one day become friendships. Instead of a race to collect names, cultivate shared experiences and opportunities to collaborate, invest in others, enrich their lives through your contribution to relationship building.
True relationships take time to grow. Follow up; make the effort to give value; and remember that multiple small points of contact give the relationship space to deepen. In her article in Forbes Article, Shelley Zalis offers tips for relationship building and drives home the point that it’s not a numbers game—the quality of the relationships in your business and professional network make a big difference.
Networking leads to more opportunities—especially through those outside your first-degree connections—and like so many other things in life, it’s a skill that you too can learn. Rise above the transactional—find the higher purpose that your networking will serve; keep that in mind as you extend your hand in greeting to others. Focus on what you can give and on what you can learn; have a genuine interest in others and learn from them. Learn to Love Networking Article, an article by Francesca Gino, Maryam Kouchaki, and Tiziana Casciaro, offers suggestions and structures that can help change your thinking about networking.
Where do you go to find people to network with? Social platforms like LinkedIn are filled with opportunities to develop connections. Professional organizations, chambers of commerce, and dedicated networking groups bring together multifaceted networking opportunities. FemCity is one such organization created for all women, which hosts local live events and online networking opportunities, in addition to online and in-person educational offerings. Coaching, mentorship, a library of resources, and a system for referrals give members more opportunity for personal and professional growth. I have seen women experience the benefits that FemCity brings to participants first hand because I lead our local FemCity South Bend group. Whichever opportunity you take advantage of, make it real. Connecting in real life, whether a phone call, in person or video chat, allows professionals to further develop the relationship that the initial networking originated.
Ready to learn more, so you can take the next step? Give me a call or send me a note. Find out how you can start building relationships that can last for years, bearing fruit in your personal and professional life.
Nancy Owsianowski is the Founder of RoundTable Consulting where her relational, insightful approach transforms teams, leaders, and organizations. Find Nancy on LinkedIn or reach out to her to learn more about authentic leadership and her coaching, facilitation, and training services.