My father once told me, there are very talented people among us who are doomed to fail because they have no one to help them. I disagreed at the time because I thought personal effort was enough, but I finally get him. I’ve realised growing up that getting ahead isn’t always just hindered by a lack of talent or funds. It’s often also crimped by an isolation from the kind of people who can help you make more of yourself.
Success in life is often a combination of a number of variables, among them, the people you meet and what you create together. Your advancement in your career, an increase in your paycheque, among other things are effectively determined by who you choose to interact with and how. Like it or not, your network is your destiny.
The word “networking” has become lingua franca in our times. Much so because it is linked to today’s most valuable currency – social capital, which is defined by the Interweb as the information, expertise, trust and total value that exist in the relationships you have and social networks you belong. So, what is networking then, and why is it necessary?
It’s quite simple, really. Think of it as creating connections and taking control of your relationships, specifically with regard to relationship development and savoir-faire. It is a noble human pursuit, that is inherent to the forces of reciprocity that drive collaborative economy and human development. There are quite a number of benefits associated with doing it well. It helps you get “discovered” and tapped for the best opportunities, and helps you create a life that you love and the network of friends to cheer you on. People with the right networks get the right jobs, the right internships, the right recommendations and possibly into the right schools.
Admittedly, networking has bad rap. It’s been mistaken for schmoozing and brownnosing. When people think of networking, what they picture is the kaftan and leather sandal-wearing, eye-darting, conference commando with a drink in one hand and business cards in the other, glad-handing and hyper contact- building during networking conference breaks. Those people fail to grasp the nuances of relationship building and cannot be said to be actually networking. They’re just filling up their business card bowls!
Networking is so much more. Proper relationship building goes beyond taking business cards. One has to approach it as reaching out to people as a way to make a difference in their lives as well as a way to enhance, learn and enrich one’s own. There are ways to “network right”. From my personal experience, here are a few rules that should help anyone build strong and lasting relationships with people:
Openness, whether it concerns your intentions, your feelings or even your admiration for someone is a much sought-after attribute. It builds trust. If you’re excited to meet someone, let them know! If I’ve been dying to meet someone, I don’t hide my enthusiasm when I finally meet them. “Pleased to finally meet you! I’ve admired your work from afar and was thinking how beneficial it would be if we could meet one another/work together.” Coy games work in bars, not when you’re looking to build lasting relationships with people.
You schmooze, you lose.
Not pretending doesn’t mean you should schmooze. Make sure when you speak to someone, you speak with sincerity. It’s the only way you can bring virtue to networking. Ensure that you seek some sort of commonality between you and the person you’re speaking to. Make the conversation worth their time.
Be of value to others.
What do you bring to the table? Why should anyone want to connect with you? Anyone who is serious about “networking right” needs to figure this out. Offer help and value all the time, and do not keep score. People will be drawn to you. Think of the social media and digital world stars who offer endless, and sometimes helpful content on YouTube or Instagram. Many of them do it for free. And what do they get in return? A reward of trust and a devout following of people. They give and receive. In connecting both online and offline, you’re only as good as what you give away.
Be audacious. Ask!
“Seize this very minute; what you can do, or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
I always say my little brother is the bravest person I know. If he needs it, he’ll ask. As a result, he got whatever (well, almost) he wanted from our parents when we were younger. He taught me very early in life that the worst anyone could ever say is no. The memories of those days have stuck with me.
People with a low tolerance for risk, who are guided by fear, have a lower chance of being successful in creating relationships. Nothing in life will create more opportunity like a willingness to ask, whatever the situation. You want to collaborate with someone whose work you admire? Ask! Want someone to be your mentor? Ask!
Position in life is usually transient. You have to treat people with respect up and down the ladder. I personally cannot stand networking jerks who wield interpersonal skills disingenuously. You’ll not get far in life if you treat people you do not need or those who cannot help you with indifference or disrespect. Progress is fluid. Yesterday’s assistant could very well be today’s influence peddler, but you didn’t need to hear that to be a decent human being.
Create genuine relationships.
It’s not enough to just meet and know people. Follow up after and ping regularly. Contribute your time, money and expertise to your growing community of friends. It’s the fastest way to create bonds and get people to like you.
I learnt my first big lesson about forming relationships when I was young. I was the shy kid who had very few friends and never wanted to attend birthday parties or visit anyone. My best friend at the time, Harrison, moved back to Australia with his family and dumped a truckload of toys at my doorstep. I didn’t need most of them (we always got the toys in twos), so my mother tried to convince me to give some away. I didn’t want to, but we met in the middle –a garage sale! First day was great. My mother’s friends brought their kids through to pick some. Second day, not so much. What changed was that I had to call my school mates to come through, but no one cared to because I never really showed up for any of their special occasions.
Because of that lesson, I came to realise that no one can ever go at life alone. You need people. I was doing something (in this case, business on a much more informal scale), that was a human enterprise – driven and determined by people.
Point is, personal contacts and forming relationships are the key to opening doors and being your best self. And you have to do it a certain way if you want to see results. I’ve lost count of the number of times I got opportunities because someone I knew picked up a phone and put in a good word on my behalf. But it doesn’t just happen. You have to go out there and make those relevant connections. Make a decision that from this day forward, you will start making the contacts and accumulating the knowledge, experiences and people to help you achieve your goals.
Next time you meet someone you’d like to add to your community of friends, hold your hand out and say, “Pleased to meet you!”