Hands up if the idea of walking into a conference and talking to complete strangers fills you with horror. Yep. Me too.
This is what many of us believe networking to be, yet it’s so much more than having awkward conversations with people you don’t know. And there are benefits to our working lives by having wide and rich relationship networks.
As Adam Grant says, in his book Give and Take: Why helping others drives our success,
“Extensive research demonstrates that people with rich networks achieve higher performance ratings, get promoted faster, and earn more money. And because networks are based on interactions and relationships, they serve as a powerful prism for understanding the impact of reciprocity styles on success”
And the benefits of our relationship networks stretch beyond career success. They can help with our health and wellbeing too. In an article about self-compassion in leadership coaching, Karol Wasylyshyn and Frank Masterpasqua say,
“…positive affiliative emotions are as much a part of human survival and wellbeing, as are the need for personal safety and achievement”
Here are three more reasons for why you should build a strong network:
1) A strong network can give you the resilience to weather tough times in the workplace. Research published in the Strategic Management Journal found that chief executives who have strong social capital (i.e. good personal relationships with colleagues and key external stakeholders) are less likely to leave if their companies begin to fail. Although it’s important to note that some leaders with very low social capital might stay during difficult times, although for very different reasons.
2) If you’re a woman, a lack of effective networking could affect your career progress. A 2018 study found that when women impose barriers on themselves, such as hesitating when meeting new people, it may mean they under-benefit from situations where networking occurs. One of the reason women put these barriers in place is because of anxiety about being seen to exploit social ties.
3) Women who have a female-dominated network are more likely to get a leadership position. When men have a large, mixed-gender network, they are more likely to get into a senior leadership role. But for women it’s slightly different. Research from the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University found that more than 75 percent of the women leaders they surveyed had a female-dominated ‘inner circle’. And if they didn’t have an inner circle, at the very least they had strong ties to two or three women whom they communicated with frequently within their network. A large, mixed-gender network didn’t have the positive effect for women than it did for men. Seems there’s a power in the sisterhood.
And here are four things you can do to build a better network:
1) If you are a team manager, book in time for team-building, training and mentoring. Researchers from Norwich Business School conducted a systematic review of studies which looked at interventions geared toward improving social relationships at work. They found activities like team-building, focus groups, and group training followed by coaching and mentoring could help foster stronger social connections. They suggest these could have a positive impact on well-being and performance, although more research is needed.
2) If you are an organisational leader, remove the hidden barriers to networking for the women in your company. A 2019 study looked at how caring for children has affected the careers of female academics in Australia. One suggestion the researchers made was for academic institutions to offer financial aid to cover childcare costs for female academics attending conferences. The researchers found that the decreased opportunity to network is a fundamental barrier to many women when it came to being well-known and meeting potential funding or research partners.
3) If your mind goes blank when meeting people at events then Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Code: The secrets of highly successful groups, suggests these alternatives to the bland ‘What do you do?’ question:
- If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?
- Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
- What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
- When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
4) Follow-up online when you meet a new person and keep the connection going. I say this to my students all the time. A good habit to get into is to send someone you’ve met in real life a LinkedIn connection request. I normally do this 24-48 hours after I’ve met someone and I always add a personalised note. But it doesn’t end there. Once a week, I contact someone among my LinkedIn connections to see how they’re doing and offering to meet for a coffee (if they’re in the country). And there are times where I send a connection an article, or even one of my sketchnotes, that I think they’d find helpful because of something I know they’ve been working on.
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