You’ve heard the saying, “It’s all about who you know”, and in business this is particularly true. But the implications of this gives the concept of networking a rather cold feeling – as though we only network in order to meet people who can help us get ahead.
And it’s true that networking can feel oddly impersonal at times, particularly at “speed networking” events where people stand around sipping wine and trying to enter and exit conversations in two-minute intervals.
But if that’s all we think networking is, we’re looking at it the wrong way.
A new approach
In fact, let’s forget the term “networking” for a moment, and phrase it a different way: meeting people you admire, you can learn from and share common interests with; people to build meaningful personal connections to. Doesn’t that sound nicer?
The shift from networking to “connecting” is a popular train of thought, as seen in this great article by Fast Company. CEO Nnena Ukuku talks about connecting with people “on a heart level”, while Britt Morgan Saks, previous Head of Artist Services for Spotify says: "My immediate reaction to meeting a brilliant, creative, inspiring person is always, ‘how can I help this person accomplish his or her goal?’”
How do we meet?
Meeting other professional women – and men – happens in so many different ways, from using tools like Twitter and LinkedIn to joining groups online and off, and of course simply attending events in person.
One such group that’s doing great things in New Zealand is the Women’s Collective, a network of professional women founded in 2014 by Sasha and Taryn Klajkovic.
The Women’s Collective hold an event once a month in Auckland with a guest speaker each time, and the overall goal of “promoting collective wisdom, and encouraging women in leadership.”
Taryn describes the Women’s Collective as, “An intentional expression of what we do naturally: which is talk and connect.”
How do we make those meetings meaningful?
Sometimes it’s emotional reasons that can hold us back more than practical reasons. We feel shy, or we don’t like talking about ourselves. We might worry that we’re annoying someone by reaching out… or we’re just lazy.
Here are four suggestions how we can get better at connecting with women we admire:
All too often we sign up, but we don’t show up. Make a goal of committing and contributing to events and discussions.
Make the first move. Reach out to people in your LinkedIn groups; get better at introducing yourself to new people at events. Reply to someone’s tweet – even if they don’t know you in person. Twitter conversations can lead to some very real business relationships and friendships.
Sometimes finding common ground with a new person requires being a little vulnerable. It might feel uncomfortable to bring up something you know the person is interested in because you’ve been following them on LinkedIn, to compliment their funny tweets or say you admire something about them, but it immediately establishes conversation and rapport.
Experts like Brene Brown – who gave an extremely popular TED talk on the power of vulnerability back in 2010 – would tell you to embrace being vulnerable. She describes vulnerability in her book Daring Greatly as “showing up and being seen”, and encourages people to own their vulnerability, “understanding it as the birthplace of courage”.
Keep the lines of communication open
It’s all about the follow up. Put aside some time every day to keep a line of communication open with someone from your network… or whatever the next buzzword for a group of great connections with amazing people might be.