“Networking” is obviously not only about trying to use relational contacts to find a job or find a quality person for a position you are trying to fill. We use our social networks for a variety of purposes — finding quality professionals or technicians for tasks we need to get done, locating charitable organizations that are good stewards of the monies given them, or learning about areas of life we have limited experience or knowledge. Since my article / blog on networking, I have had a number of people talk to me about their own networking experiences, and I have had a couple of unique experiences as well.
I also remembered an issue of Forbes magazine, their 90th anniversary issue on May 7, 2007, which they dedicated to “The Power of Networking”. However, they were discussing networking in the broader context of networking through the Internet (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and other professional networks.) One of the articles discussed some of the reasons people are reluctant to network. I thought they were worth mentioning, along with some of my own observations.
People don’t like to network because:
- It takes repetitive initiative. Calling people, sending emails, going to social events to interact with others, setting up appointments — all take time and emotional energy. And for some people (those who are more introverted) it can take a lot of energy. It wouldn’t be as bad if we knew that the process was time-limited or defined according to a certain number of contacts. One of the wearing aspects of networking is its open-ended nature and that we must continue reaching out to others repeatedly.
- It can feel “fake”. Networking can feel artificial and even manipulative when you are trying to connect with others for the sole purpose of getting your need met (finding a job, making a sale). One antidote to this objection is to always include as part of your interaction to focus on what you can do for the other person. Seeing how you can help them be more successful, or connecting them with resources you know, can normalize the interaction (and also build positive rapport that may be helpful to you at some later point in your life).
- There is a lot of anxiety associated with the whole experience. Meeting with people outside of your normal social group challenges us in many ways. We may not fully comprehend what they do, understand the language and acronyms they use, or feel competent in their social milieu. Additionally, it is often awkward to ask for someone else’s time, knowledge and social connections, especially when we perceive the other person as important, successful or busy.
- It is easier to network with those who are like you. This is true, but generally speaking, meeting with people who are already in your larger social network will probably not be that productive in generating new and different types of connections that you wouldn’t be able to reach on your own. If you are networking because you have a need, often your self-confidence is shaky, your emotional energy is low and it is more natural to make “easy” contacts rather than those that will stretch you, but which may yield greater benefits. I myself, a highly social individual, get tired of meeting, greeting, social chit-chat, making requests, responding to requests, and reaching out to others.
The other night, at an awards banquet for non-profit organizations in our community, my 24 year old son sat at the table with my wife and I, and a number of business friends. Our friends were asking Daniel about his thoughts on Facebook and MySpace — how they impacted relationships and his general impression of them as a social tool. After sharing a variety of observations, he reported one of the challenges of the social network opportunities available now through the Internet is that “you can only keep up a certain number of relationships.” This is a true statement, whether you are talking about Internet connections or face-to-face relationships. Obviously, some people have more social capacity than others, but this is a limiting factor I think we need to keep in mind for ourselves (to help us have realistic expectations of ourselves) as we continue to connect with people in our daily life interactions.