Networking

it's not about you

Perhaps you are skeptical

You're not going to believe this!

You may well not believe what I am about to say. I certainly do believe it, and so I will say it anyway.

The things I am going to tell you in this paper can totally change your life – not just your professional life, not just your project manager life, but your entire life.

That may seem outrageous to you but I would not say it if I were not absolutely certain that it is true. Ironically, though, I am not going to tell you anything that is new or radical or amazing, and yet, it has the potential to radically change your life. We're going to look at this phenomenon known as networking.

Jaundiced view

Some of you may have a jaundiced view of networking. Perhaps you've had a bad experience with the ugly networker, someone who takes without giving, who exploits other people. Essentially, they are selfish.

Others among you may feel that making it through networking is not fair, not right. You feel people should make it on their own merits, and not because someone gave them a break

There a lot of reasons given for taking a dim view of networking. If you are someone who has a negative view, for whatever reason, I hope you keep an open mind and carefully consider what I am going to say.

From the philosophical to the practical

We can divide this paper session roughly into two parts. The first part is philosophical. It provides the underpinnings, the foundation, for the second part, which is practical.

During part one, we will cover:

  • Networking
  • The network
  • The networker
  • Relationships

Part 1: A bit of philosophy about networking

Networking

Born to network

When a human being comes into the world he or she is tiny, naked and utterly helpless – totally dependent on other people – older people, wiser people, more experienced people – helping people – totally dependent on other people for his or her very existence.

Each of us, as a newborn, is totally dependent on other people even for the most basic physiological needs for food, water and to be physically touched, without any of which, we would quite literally die. And yet, each of us, from the very moment we are born, is perfectly equipped to meet people and get all the help we need to survive.

A newborn is attractive to others, and so people want to help them. And if that doesn't work, every newborn knows how to cry and carry on and otherwise get attention and get help. Being utterly helpless, the newborn must and will do what needs to be done to get attention and help from others.

This is what it means to be human. Every one of us is born totally helpless and totally dependent on other people to meet our most basic physiological needs, totally dependent on other people for our very survival.

Interdependence

Gradually, we come to depend less and less on other people for our survival needs, but at the same time, our needs become more sophisticated. We still must depend on other people to help us meet those more sophisticated and higher level needs. Not only do we continue to depend on other people, we also become one of the other people – the older people, the wiser people, the more experienced people. We become one of the helping people.

This, too, is what it means to be human – to become the other people helping others. Not only do we have a need for help from other people, we have a complementary, higher order need to give help to other people.

No one makes it on their own

Human society is exactly that – people helping each other to meet each other's needs.

Isn't networking really about forming relationships and helping each other? Networking is your first skill. You networked before you could walk, talk or even eat. In fact, if you couldn't network, you couldn't have eaten your first meal. Somebody that you had just met – a midwife, an obstetrician, somebody – had to introduce you to your mother, and put you up on her tummy so she could feed you!

It is not possible to have human needs met without forming relationships with and obtaining help from other people, that is, without networking. It would be utterly impossible for us to meet not only our most basic needs but also our most sophisticated needs without networking. You're a networker from the beginning and you're good at it. You have to be – just to survive.

Networking (defined)

I think it's a good working definition to say that networking is about forming and cultivating relationships for the purpose of helping each other. This is networking as it happens naturally. Isn't friendship exactly that? A relationship in which people help each other?

Friendship

We can say that networking is really about friendship. It's about making friends, and friends help each other. Friendship brings out the best in a person through generosity. If you enter into any relationship focused on what you will get from it, focused on yourself and not on the other, that relationship is doomed to fail. Relationships are about what you put in, not what you take out. What you give, not what you get. The defining characteristic of a friend is that a friend gives, and gives to give, not to get.

Cultivating networking skills

We're all born with some level of ability to form relationships and get help – to network. Like any other human capability. We have it inherently, but we can cultivate it and improve on it by observation, by study, by practice.

As good as any of us may be at networking, we can get better at it. And we'll work to improve if we're convinced that there's value in it.

The human network

What is the network

What is a network, exactly? Speaking rather clinically, we could say that a network is an interconnected system of relationships of organisms in a society. That's true, but it's not very satisfying. And it's too narrow and equally unsatisfying to say that a network is the relationships we personally have with people we know, because at some point, we really are connected through some very small number of other people to absolutely every other person on the planet. Every human life is a part of the whole. And every human relationship is another link in the human network. I don't think anyone expressed this sentiment as beautifully as did English poet John Donne.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. (Donne & Simpson, 2003, p 243).

Involved! Involved!! Involved with mankind. All wrapped up in and around with mankind, connected one with another. In a thousand ways. In a million ways. That's the network – the network that you and I are a part of.

The currency of the network

What is it that moves on this human network? What is the currency of the network? Again, we can take a clinical view and say that it's information. We can say that the network is about moving information from person to person. But isn't it much more than that? The value of the network is in the value derived from this information, to the extent that we use it to help each other in meeting needs and achieving goals.

On being a good networker

A transactional view

Fundamentally, networking, at the transactional level, comes down to three things:

  1. Creating new relationships
  2. Cultivating existing relationships
  3. Helping each other

But a transactional model isn't very satisfying. After all, we're talking about relationships, and so to speak of it so clinically is a little disappointing, even if it gets at some basic skills that are worth cultivating. But those basic skills come more easily to those who have the right interior dispositions. So let's look at what it means to be a good networker, and how good core networking skills flow from core values. What are the characteristics of a good networker?

The characteristics of a good networker

Above all else, the good networker is unselfish. All the virtues of the good networker are really manifestations of forgetfulness of self. The good networker sees him or herself as simply a part of a greater whole, who easily gives to or gains from the network.

In fact, everything that we rightly despise about the ugly networker stands in stark contrast with the characteristics of the good networker. The ugly networker is selfish and sees the network as a tool for his or her own advancement and gain. The ugly networker cultivates short-term relationships for personal gain at the expense of other people.

With the right dispositions, you will be naturally good at one of the most important skills, listening with understanding – what Steven Covey calls empathic listening. (Covey, 1990, p 239).

Note that I am not telling you to lean forward, make eye contact, nod your head, restate what the other person said. If you deliberately do those things, you will only succeed in making people think you took an active listening class. Those things are evidence of empathic listening, but they're not empathic listening. If your heart is right, you'll listen, and the other person will know that you're listening. You won't have to fake it. The thing to work on isn't listening empathically, the thing to work on is on being empathetic. The listening part will take care of itself.

Relationships

The human network consists of all of humankind bound by relationships. A relationship is a bit tough to define, really. It's almost ridiculous to even try, but let's agree on a few things:

  • It's a state that exists between two people.
  • It binds or connects them.
  • It's based on something they have in common.
  • The quality of the relationship will depend on the unselfishness of the participants.

The key to forming and cultivating relationships is to find that common ground, those points of common interest. If we have the right dispositions, if we care about other people and consider their feelings, if we are genuinely interested in them and what's important to them, if we are interested in life around us and things outside ourselves, we will very easily uncover those points of common interest.

A few points of common interest are enough to enkindle a relationship. But to really fan the flames of a relationship takes common experience. If you and I have had similar experiences, we have something much deeper than a point of common interest. We have shared understanding, and shared understanding unites us profoundly.

So the business of cultivating a relationship beyond those first few points of common interest is about finding those areas where we have a shared understanding, based on common experience.

Recapping part 1

So far, we've looked at the following points

  • Networking is about forming relationships for the purpose of helping each other.
  • The network is the entire system of all human beings joined together by helping relationships.
  • The currency of the network is the information that passes from person to person and that allows us to help each other.
  • How to be a good networker, and the importance of forgetfulness of self.
  • How core skills proceed from core values, which are based on forgetfulness of self.
  • How our interior disposition helps us develop the critical ability to listen empathically.
  • How relationships are based on common ground, and deepened by shared understanding.

That's an awful lot of philosophy for one day, so I think it's time for some more practical considerations, so, on to Part 2.

Part 2: Practical advice

In part 2, we'll cover:

  • Professional networking
  • The elements of success
  • The role of image in success
  • Forming new relationships
  • Encountering and meeting the right people
  • First impressions
  • The secret of the universe
  • Finding points of common interest
  • Being interesting
  • Keeping track of whom you know
  • Staying in touch
  • Reconnecting

Professional networking

We said earlier that networking is about forming and cultivating relationships for the purpose of helping each other. We want to take that to the next level. We want to be deliberate, and systematic at it. And for a very particular purpose, which is career success.

So we're going to define professional networking as:

Systematically and deliberately forming and cultivating relationships for the purpose of helping each other succeed professionally.

There's something you'll want to know about success that will perhaps influence your approach to networking.

Elements of success

It's often quoted that a person's success is attributable to 3 things:

  1. Their ability
  2. The image they convey
  3. The exposure that they get

Ability is absolutely necessary but it's also not sufficient. Success also depends, and to a greater extent, on the image you convey, and whether or not people know you have ability. That's the way it is. And you can argue that it's not fair. But it applies equally to everyone. The question is, what are you gonna do about it. The answer is, increase exposure.

Your image

What is it that you want to expose to people? What is it that you want them to see? Well your image is not you. You're you. You're what you are inside you. But that doesn't matter. Because to other people, you are what they see. You have to be sure that they see the right image of you. People have to see an image of you that gives them some indication that you have ability.

I'm not suggesting that you can make people believe that you're something you're not, because you can't. And as I said earlier, a good networker is first authentic. So the thing to work on is not the externals, not the image of you, but what you are. Whatever you are, if it's not expedient professionally for you to be seen as that, then you need to work on not being that. The image will take care of itself.

Forming new relationships

Networking begins with exposure. You want to get to know more people, and know them better – but not just any people, the right people. You want to create relationships with people who share common ground with you in particular areas where you need and can give help. The first thing you have to do to create a relationship is to meet somebody. Before you can meet someone, you have to encounter them, and you encounter people either by happenstance, or intentionally

The right people

Step 1: Encountering the right people

The first problem to solve is to ensure that the people you encounter, either by happenstance or intentionally, are more likely to be the right people. This presumes that you know what you want out of the relationship, what you can give to the relationship and where you are likely to find the right people. Then you have to go to where the right people are. This could mean conferences, the coffee shop, the local pub, the library, the gym, the bus station, who knows. But if you don't go where these people are, you aren't going to bump into them. And if you don't bump into them, you'll never get to step 2, which is meeting them.

Step 2: Actually meeting them

If circumstances or your contriving have put you in the presence of a stranger that you should meet, then you need to swallow hard and just do it. Stick out your hand and say “Hi, I'm (so-and-so).”

Right after that, you reach a critical juncture. You're at the point where two people must learn each other's names. You have to focus. Be interested in that other person's name. Listen for it. If you didn't hear it clearly, ask to have it repeated. Say it out loud to be sure you're pronouncing it correctly. Repeat it a time or two. Use it in conversation.

Make equally sure that you help the other person learn your name, especially if it's an unusual or difficult name. If you forget someone's name, just ask, but ask immediately. It only gets harder the longer you stand there talking to them acting like you remember their name.

First impressions

In 3 seconds, people will make up their minds about you. They will judge you, and they will usually be right, and they will almost never change their minds. (Flora, 2004, p 1). There's no use complaining. That's the way it is, and you do it to other people too.

Can you manage that 3 seconds? Well the better thing to do is to manage what goes into those 3 seconds. If you work on the underlying you, and you prepare for those 3 seconds, you will create a favorable impression. It's about authenticity. It's about being what you would seem to be. And one of the things you will want to be is cheerful. If you are cheerful, then it will naturally be reflected in your face, and so you will smile. And if you smile, you will create a favorable impression. Notice that I didn't say, “Smile when you meet someone.” I said, “Be cheerful.” The smile, what you do, is a consequence of what you are.

Once you have made it past the first 3 seconds. Now your misery begins. Because now you have to actually talk to this person. There's half a chance that the other person is feeling a bit uneasy, even if you're not. If you sense that they are, put them at ease. A few kind words is usually all it takes.

The next several minutes are about validating first impressions, and looking for points of common interest. Now it's about discourse, and the key to the art of discourse is profoundly simple.

Be interested, genuinely interested in the other person.

If you really are interested, then you're ready for the next crucial step, you're ready to employ the Secret of the Universe.

The secret of the universe

I'm afraid that I cannot divulge to you the Secret of the Universe in this paper. For that, you will have to attend the presentation, or else contact me afterwards at: jd@us.ibm.com

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In any case, I will tell you that the Secret of the Universe is easy to master, and once you have done so, you will become…

  • Charming
  • Witty
  • Engaging
  • Delightful
  • A great conversationalist.

Points of common interest

Remember, relationships are built on common ground, around points of common interest and common experience – shared understanding. The way to find these points of common interest is through discourse.

Genuine interest is the first prerequisite and there's no cookbook for this, but let me give you a few starter questions you might ask because of your genuine interest in this person. They might just uncover the points of common interest that could serve as the basis for a relationship.

  • Why are you here?
  • What do you do?
  • Where are you from?
  • Where are your ancestors from?
  • What's your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator?
  • Where did you go to college?
  • What did you study?
  • Where do you live now?
  • Where do you work?
  • What's your religion?
  • What sports do you follow?
  • What teams do you follow?
  • Who do you know?

Use those as starters, but let the dialog, and your interest in the other person guide you. Soon enough, you'll stumble onto something and one of you will say, “It's a small world, isn't it.” Then you'll know you hit the common interest jackpot.

Sometimes the point of common interest may be something they know about and that you don't know anything about. Ask questions to learn more about it, in other words, be interested in the things that they're interested in.

Beyond points of common interest there's affinity. Some of the people you meet will simply be more likable to you than others. This is where common experience and shared understanding lead, and it usually is reciprocal. The people you feel drawn toward typically will feel drawn toward you because of shared understanding.

Interestingly, finding one area of common experience usually elicits a flood of other common experiences. Do you know what I have found? If your question is sincerely motivated, and you're willing to keep your opinion about the answer to yourself, you can ask just about anything. I don't mean you have to agree with it, but sometimes there's no harm in keeping your mouth shut when you disagree.

On being interesting

Being genuinely interested in the other person is one side of the conversation coin. The flip side of that coin is for you, yourself to be interesting. To actually be an interesting person. Why? Well, because you won't ever find points of common interest with the other person if you have no points of interest of your own.

Know about stuff

You can bring a lot of joy to others simply by being interesting! It's not about you. Be interesting for the sake of others! It's also true that the other person may want to know more about things that you know something about. Help them learn! Know some stuff. Be curious about the world around you. Know the answers to the questions they're likely to ask you. Read, study, observe, ask questions.

Know about people

The currency of the network is helpful information. The most valuable information you can possess is information about other people – about what they know, and whom they know. Typically, we can consider a friend of a friend to also be our own friend, for the sake of our common friend.

You can only know so many people. You can only know so much stuff. But if you know that someone you know, knows something or someone that you don't know, then you know a lot. And the more of that kind of thing you know, the richer you are in the currency of the network. So when you're talking to people, pay attention to what and whom they know.

Now what?

After a while, you'll get to know a fair number of people. You then really need to be able to do 2 things:

  1. Keep track of who they are and what you know about them
  2. Stay in touch with them

You want to till the soil of the relationship a little deeper so that if you plant something in it, it will grow.

Keeping track

To keep track, you need a system. A rolodex can work. A business card file can work. But your best bet is probably your contact management system that you use for email. What do you want to keep track of?
Minimally:

  • Name, correctly spelled
  • An email address or phone number
  • Where you met
  • Points of common interest

Staying in touch

When it comes to staying in touch, once again, you need a system. It can be simple, or it can be elaborate, but you need a system. Your goal is to be in touch with people often enough so that neither of you feels awkward if either of you has to reach out to the other.

Reconnect

We've talked a lot about meeting new people and finding points of common interest and experience, and looking for shared understanding. There are a lot of people out there whom you know already. You have (or have had) a relationship with them. You have common experience. You have shared understanding. But you've lost touch with these people. They could be childhood friends, school friends, military buddies or even your own family members. There's an old saying in sales: It's a lot harder to find a new customer than it is to keep an old one. The same holds true for relationships. Preserve the precious ones you already have.

Following through

Every day of your life offers you the opportunity to meet someone who could become one of the most important people in your life, or you in theirs.

  • Will you meet that person?
  • Will you get to know them?
  • Will you find points of common interest and common experience?
  • Will you find shared understanding?
  • Will you exchange contact information with that person?
  • Will you follow up and stay in touch?
  • Will you be ready to help that person – to give without thinking of what you might get in return?

References

Flora, C. (2004, May) Psychology Today Online. First Impressions Retrieved on May 5, 2006, from http://psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20040514-000002.html

Donne, J., Simpson, E.M. (2003) John Donne's Sermons on the Psalms and Gospels: With a Selection of Prayers and Meditations. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press

Covey, S.R. (1990) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York, New York: Fireside (Simon and Schuster)

© 2007, Jim De Piante
Originally published as a part of 2007 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Atlanta, Georgia, USA

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