The #^@!!&+%>’/! word “network”. Slap it in the title of your book and well, everyone gets freaked out and wants to talk…networking…as in working the room…as in elevator pitches…as in “go to” ice-breakers and conversations starters…as in…
Take. A. Step. Back. From. The. Networking. Abyss.
The way you’re instructed to in a yoga or meditation class.
Acknowledge the networking fears and how-do-I confusion then tell it to bugger off now — ’cause you need to clear your head that is full of networking nonsense of everything you have been lead to believe about “networking” and you need to focus your attention on building networks.
Networking. Building Networks. No, they are not the same thing.
Here’s the deal: always focusing on networking “how-to’s” and quick & easy fixes to networking phobias doesn’t get you out of the whirlpool of panic. The cycle usually evolves this way….
· You’re feeling awkward at an event, having RSVP’d to attend because someone told you “go out and network”.
· You feel you have nothing to say. “It must be me” you think.
· “If only I had practiced my elevator pitch” you tell yourself.
· You vow to get better at “working the room”.
· You read a “10 ways to become a better networker” article then commit to memorizing 5 or 6 “ice-breaker” questions that you can whip out at a moments notice.
· You RSVP for another event on the “you MUST attend this” recommendation of a “friend”.
· You walk in. Finding yourself face-to-face with a room full of strangers (that friend didn’t show, RSVP or plan to attend), you amuse your sweaty palms by telling your fears “no worry, I’m ready with my intro”.
· You test out your 30-second elevator pitch on the bartender.
· You roll-out the standard ‘ice-breaker’ questions in the line for your next drink or the bathroom.
· You continue to feel awkward. As if your name-tag was upside down or your fly undone.
· You have no idea why you’re there feeling this way.
· You’re annoyed that this networking sh#t doesn’t work. “Screw this! I’ll get a desk job where I never have to meet anyone!” you shout to anyone who will hear what is going on in your head.
· You’re then equally annoyed as you trudge out of the event, having wasted an evening that could have been perfectly well spent doing something else. Dinner with an old friend, maybe? Drinks with former work colleagues or the intern from 2 (or was it 3) summers ago? Skype with the college roommate who has relocated to London?
· You leave the event thinking (once again) it is me. “I’m just no good at “this”” you tell yourself…then a few days later you RSVP again for that “must attend” mixer…and the cycle repeats itself. All. Over. Again.
Fixating on networking doesn’t lead you down the path of building relationships. And you know what? Relationships are the stuff that adds meaning to our lives, advances our causes or projects or careers (or all of the above).
Take another breath.
You now know what you need to do.
Become obsessed with building relationships. Long term. Long lasting. Relationships.
Start easy. By fixating on the relationships you already have.
Such as the old friend you passed on having dinner with. Or the summer intern seeking your mentoring advice. Or scheduling the Skype with the former roommate from college.
Focus on how you’re showing up everyday — and whether, maybe, just maybe, if you made a few tweaks say, to the tone of an email or actually saying a real hello to the folks you pass on the way to you desk or stepping up to assist someone else with a thorny problem or showing up early (or at least on time) at the next team meeting (then putting away your mobile device for the entire duration of said meeting) — and you’ll soon understand that relationships — the kind that open doors and solves problems — are made day-in and out.
It’s routine. It’s not a mystery.
It’s making a choice to notice. To be present. To care about the people you interact with regularly.
You do need to be rigorous, however.
You need to give a damn — about other people. People who have in some way shape or form have given a damn about you.
This is the foundation of a network.
You need to be rigorous because Your brand. Your career. Your opportunities. Rest on building a network not on whether or not you are a good at “working the room” (barf!).
Can you show up each day just a little better than the way you did today?
It’s your choice.
Will you go on flailing in the networking pool or will you choose to build your network?
This post originally appeared in BUILD YOUR DREAM (my weekly newsletter). Don’t miss my next musing by signing up to get BUILD YOUR DREAM in your inbox.