Networking isn’t what you think it is!
What is networking, really? Let’s start by talking about what it’s not.
It’s not collecting a bunch of LinkedIn connections and blasting generic messages to all of them. It’s not going to dinner parties with hidden objectives to pitch yourself to the guests. And it’s not attending endless conferences and handing out business cards to every person you see.
Too often, we think of business networking as a goal-oriented task. It’s quantitative, and your objective is to collect as many connections as possible. If we want to see real results, though, we have to start by redefining networking.
So what does effective networking look like? Here’s our “Brains in Business” take.
Why does networking matter?
Our networks determine our own impact — yep! When we leverage our networks, our innovation, execution, and thrive factor increase. We’re more connected and have more energy to innovate and reach our goals.
Let’s break that down a bit. Social construction theory says there are three levels of reality:
- My reality
- Our reality (the reality shared between two people)
- Group reality (the reality shared within a group)
The more social connections we make, the more levels of reality and possibilities open up. The more we increase our network, the more we can see and understand, allowing us to expand our impact. It isn’t just about bringing new people into our network, it’s about deepening our connections with our current network to further benefit from these relationships.
Here’s a simple example:
You walk outside to check the mail and see your neighbor across the street doing the same. Instead of putting your head down and shuffling quickly back inside, you give him a friendly wave and ask how he’s doing. Given the opening, he shares how excited he is about the new social media marketing company he just launched. You immediately think of your sister who has been complaining about her struggles to promote her restaurant, and offer to put them in touch.
Your neighbor is grateful for the connection and you’re happy to have found someone to support your sister’s business. And voila: that is the power of networking! A simple social encounter opened up new opportunities.
By talking to more people and strengthening existing relationships as well as expanding your connections, networking opens you up to new possibilities that can take you from just surviving to thriving.
The brain benefits of networking
There are several brain science insights that demonstrate the far-reaching benefits of networking.
Opening up perception
We see the world first as we are. In other words, we see the world through our own perceptions. Leveraging networks effectively allows us more diverse insight and lets us see beyond our defaults.
2. Reassessing our biases
Our brains have tons of filters (aka biases) to make split-second decisions and keep us safe, but these biases can hurt our decision-making and insight. Allowing other sources of data into our thought processes gives us an opportunity to validate or modify our assumptions.
3. Being perceived as a friend
If someone perceives you as a friend, your words are processed in the same part of the brain as their own thoughts, instead of more superficial areas. (To be clear, we’re defining a friend as simply a person who is not a threat. They’re a trusted resource.) As a result, you’re given priority, and what you say processes in a more meaningful way. In other words, if my brain thinks you are a ‘friend’ it is like listening to myself… and I listen to her a lot!
Conversely, if someone is irritated by you and views you as a threat, or if they feel neutral about you, this deeper processing won’t occur. This works in both ways: Your ability to penetrate and gain insight is inhibited if you don’t work to make meaningful connections.
Three simple tips to simplify networking
Networking should be about establishing quality connections and strengthening existing relationships. It’s not a one-way conversation where you pitch yourself to another person and leave your phone number. Networking should feel natural.
But, let’s be honest — networking can be difficult to do. Here are three tips to get you started.
Tip #1: Start by making networking intentional.
Most of us might think we don’t have time to network, but frankly, we don’t have time not to. You can start with people you know. Just be intentional about it. Start with one fifteen-minute call a week. Choose someone inside your network, and go into these calls without an agenda. You’re just there to check in, reconnect, and see what happens.
Tip #2: Stay curious.
Approach all networking like a dinner party. You want to mingle and get to know people. Remember, networking should feel like comfortable conversations — not awkward self-promotion.
Tip #3: Networks are all around you!
Don’t think you have to go outside your office or to a big conference to network. Start with your team or people in your company, and then expand. You can meet people outside of work too — like at the mailbox! Think about all the people you know, including your friends, neighbors, vendors, and more.
Networking can be everything from chatting in line at a grocery store, to sticking around after a Zoom worship session or connecting with your neighbor while taking out the trash. Start looking for networking opportunities all around you.
Widen your impact with networking
Think of networking as having conversations to deepen connections and widen your reach. Even though some of our in-person interactions have decreased, and we’re working apart more these days than ever, there are still opportunities to network.
Networking helps us expand our processes and understanding and increases our overall impact. If we start being more intentional, stay curious, and recognize the networks in our lives, we can begin to expand our potential and open ourselves to more meaningful relationships.
Contact us if you’d like to learn more about networking for your professional development or have us speak at your next seminar or event.