Friday 28 April 2017

Well-being: Network / net worth

There's no shame in 'establishing meaningful connections'

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I'm slightly allergic to the word 'networking'. It makes me think of laminated name badges and stale salmon blinis. It brings to mind 'networking breakfasts' and insincere small talk. Let's do lunch! Let's not.

Recently, however, I've begun to realise that networking doesn't necessarily have to be inauthentic.

More to the point, I've begun to notice that the people who take the time to widen their circle of acquaintances also open themselves up to many more opportunities.

These people don't attend networking breakfasts. Nor do they furiously self-promote or sycophantically apple-polish.

In fact, they generally don't even use the word 'networking'. They prefer to think of it as 'relationship building' instead.

I know a few master relationship-builders and, without fail, they are the people who have their ear to the ground on the 'hidden job market' - the high percentage of job openings that aren't advertised - just as they are the people who always know someone who knows someone.

What makes this ilk different from 'have a nice day' networkers is that they establish connections wholeheartedly, organically and - crucially - authentically. Put simply, they don't have an ulterior motive.

This type of networker has a generosity of spirit and a genuine interest in people. They wonder how they can help others rather than how others can help them, while trusting that their generosity will be rewarded somewhere along the line.

Keith Ferrazzi, entrepreneur and author of Never Eat Alone, is perhaps the most prolific advocate of this approach. "It's better to give before you receive," he writes. "And never keep score. If your interactions are ruled by generosity, your rewards will follow suit.

"This karma-tinged vision of how things work may sound naïve to those who have grown cynical of the business world," he adds. "But while the power of generosity is not yet fully appreciated, or applied, in the halls of corporate America, its value in the world of networks is proven."

Like many entrepreneurs, Ferrazzi believes we are the sum total of the people we interact with. Robert Kiyosaki, author of the best-selling personal finance book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, is of a similar opinion. He believes that the "richest people in the world look for and build networks" while "everyone else looks for work".

It's easy to forget that people do business with people. Whether we care to admit it or not, we are all more inclined to strike deals with people we have even a vague connection with over those that we don't know at all.

Just think back to all the opportunities that have come your way thus far. How many came via cold calling and CV sending, and how many came via leads within your already established network?

Ferrazzi had an epiphany when he realised poverty wasn't just a lack of financial resources. "It was isolation from the kind of people who could help you make more of yourself." Or, as business mentors the world over say: "Your network is your net worth."

Even so, many of us are still wary of networking. It makes us feel disingenuous at best, vulnerable at worst. It reminds us of the people who hand out their business card at any given opportunity and look over your shoulder for someone more important at social functions.

How do you build a network when you're more inclined to keep yourself to yourself; when you're too proud to ask for a favour and when you would rather hide in the toilets than engage in small talk at an event?

The first step is not to think of it as networking or, worse, 'working a room'. Think of it as 'establishing meaningful connections' instead.

Remember too that we were all natural networkers only a couple of decades ago. We asked the local shopkeeper for credit and we had no shame about knocking on our neighbour's door with an empty milk jug.

In many ways, authentic networkers continue to promote these values. They believe in the power of community and the idea of helping their neighbour. They expand their network easily because they aren't doing it disingenuously.

Self-help author Susan RoAne says "good things come to those who initiate". This makes sense, yet what use is the connection if you don't resonate? If your only interest in a person concerns what they can do for you, then it isn't a sincere connection at all.

The next step is utilising your network. The trick is to be specific. Instead of asking someone to keep you in mind for opportunities, ask them to introduce you to 'X' person or let you know if 'Y' job comes up.

Likewise, if you have access to expert knowledge, use it. Nine times out of 10, people will do everything they can to help.

"Relationships are all there is," writes Ferrazzi. "Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone."

If you're the type of person who would prefer to suffer in silence than ask for help, perhaps it's time you stopped trying to build wealth and started trying to build rapport instead.

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