Networking – for the British anyway – is a word that has many negative connotations. The image that’s usually conjured up in our minds is of a smooth salesperson “schmoozing” their way around the room.
“Schmoozing” itself is a word that’s loaded with negative connotations. It means to “talk in a cosy and intimate manner to someone, typically in order to manipulate them.”
Manipulate implies hidden agendas, exploitation and a complete lack of personal integrity. No wonder then that subconsciously, we make a judgement that schmoozing (a.k.a. networking) is in direct conflict with our core values, principles and beliefs. If we try to network, it feels sleazy. It makes us uncomfortable at the deepest level, so we try to avoid it where we can.
That’s a shame, as intelligent professional networking can be of so much benefit, to the quality of our work, our career and reputations as managers. It can connect us with like-minded people, help us learn something new, help someone else, have a great conversation, test out new ideas that you’re excited about, gain a new perspective on a particular issue or challenge.
So, let’s start consciously breaking this association in our minds of ‘networking’ with ‘schmoozing’. We propose that we re-frame networking not as a code for manipulation, but a code for “making professional friendships”. Building a network of friends who are willing to help each other professionally doesn't have to be hard, and it absolutely shouldn't feel sleazy. In this context, networking means building and maintaining your professional connections for mutual benefit, which starts to sound more like an activity with which we can be perfectly comfortable.
The good news is that we don’t have to attend formal networking events to extend our professional connections. Other opportunities to network will regularly present themselves. For example:
- Professional management associations like the ILM, CMI and their various special interest groups and forums are an excellent way to connect with like-minded people.
- The alumni group from your college or university may offer you a chance to connect with a wider range of interests and specialisms.
- Industry exhibitions and conferences always schedule plenty of time for formal and informal networking.
- Sometimes overlooked, training courses are an ideal way to secure new contacts in an intimate, relaxed and friendly environment.
- Social media platforms such as LinkedIn offer a range of opportunities to extend your network. Try joining some common interest groups and adding your voice to the debate.
- Your company’s sports & social club can be a good way of networking across, up and down your organisation structure…..a s can the informal opportunities that occur around the coffee machines and water coolers….
So, think about what you’re trying to achieve personally or professionally, then start making new connections today. Don’t forget to let us know how you get on!