Let’s be honest. Networking doesn’t come easy for most of us. It can make you feel uncomfortable and awkward. But in today’s world, networking has become a necessity. A mountain of research shows that professional networks lead to more job and business opportunities, broader and deeper knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement, and greater status and authority. Building and nurturing professional relationships also improves the quality of work and increases job satisfaction.
In its purest form, networking is simply talking to people and making connections. But not everyone jumps for joy at every networking opportunity.
A group of researchers at the Harvard Business School say an aversion to networking can be overcome. They have identified four strategies to help people change their mindset toward networking.
- Change your Mindset Most people have a dominant motivational focus—what psychologist refer to as a “promotion” or a “prevention” mindset. Those in the “promotion” mindset think about how networking can bring them growth, advancement, and accomplishments, while those in the latter category see it as something they are obliged to take part in for professional reasons. You can shift your mindset from prevention to promotion by focusing on learning and how you approach things. For example, the next time you have a work-related social function you feel obligated to attend. Instead of telling yourself, “I hate these kinds of events. I’m going to have to put on a show and schmooze and pretend to like it.” Try this approach, “Who knows, it could be interesting. Sometimes when you least expect it, you have a conversation that brings up new ideas and leads to new experiences and opportunities.”
- Identify Common Interests Think about how your interests and goals align with those people you meet and how that can help you forge meaningful working relationships. When your networking is driven by substantive, shared interests you’ve identified through serious research, it will feel more authentic and meaningful and is more likely to lead to relationships that have those qualities too.
- Think Broadly About What you Can Give Researchers found that when people feel powerless because they are junior in their organizations, —because they belong to a minority, —or for other reasons often believe they have too little to give and are therefore the least likely to engage in networking. When people believe they have a lot to offer others, such as advice, mentorship, access, and resources, more than what they can gain, networking feels easier and less selfish.
- Find a Higher Purpose Any activity becomes more attractive when it’s linked to a higher goal. Researchers suggest to frame your networking in those terms to help with motivation surrounding networking.
Andrea Stairs, managing director of eBay Canada, told the Harvard Business Review how by changing her perspective on networking altered the way she felt about the practice, “I had to get over the feeling that it would be self-centered and unseemly to put myself out there in the media,” she told the Harvard Business Review. “I realized that my visibility is actually good for my company and for the image of women in the business world in general. Seeing my media presence as a way to support my colleagues and other professional women freed me to take action and embrace connections I didn’t formerly cultivate.”