What images spring to mind when you hear the word ‘networking’?
That it’s purely business related, that it’s something sleazy or something that other people do but you’re not very good at. Perhaps you think of those networking events that make you uncomfortable, of too many suits, tedious conversations with feigned interest and business cards.
It’s true that networking is a word which for some people can mean these things – because words have associations and sometimes these can take over from the actual meaning of the word and lead us to have limiting beliefs (such as ‘I’m not good at networking’ or ‘I don’t like networking’).
We do naturally make these associations – it’s part of what makes us human and actually something we need to do to get through the day more efficiently (think of these associations like shortcuts if you like, to save us from over-thinking things all of the time) – it’s how we’re wired.
But – if you see networking as having negative associations such as those described above, then I’m sorry to be the one to break the news to you, but you’ve got your wiring a little wrong on this one.
The good news is that it’s OK, (understandable even) – we can fix it.
You may argue.
You may argue that you’ve seen it. You’ve seen people in action networking and it was sleazy. It’s true, some people go about it all wrong, those sleazy people do exist and they mince around their offices sucking up to the boss, bandying around outdated cheesy catch phrases (‘let’s run that one up the flagpole & see who salutes’) and taking advantage of everyone they can whilst not taking any responsibility for anything themselves (‘teflon suit’/’slopey shoulders’) – and then call it networking. No wonder you got a bad impression. That doesn’t mean that’s the way you need to do it and that’s not what (good) networking is.
As I’ve said many times (and no doubt you’ll hear me say/write again): We are born social animals – and networking is just being social.
Networking is just interacting with people – whether in a business meeting, at an airport, in a supermarket, on an internet site or walking the dog – it’s all networking.
Some Other Dirty Words
Salesman – Some people have similar negative associations with the word ‘Salesman’ (a few years ago this would be a picture of the dodgy sales rep in the shiny suit bothering you at your front door whilst you’re trying to have your dinner but these days is more likely the person with the strange accent and the fake name that doesn’t seem to match ringing you up uninvited… whilst you’re trying to eat your dinner).
Guru/Expert – Or the words ‘Guru’ or ‘Expert’ which have become so over-used that they are less believed at face-value than they used to be (years ago people would be less likely to claim themselves an expert in something unless they really were, these days everybody seems to be an expert).
Guarantees – Or how about the word ‘Guarantee’ – what does that mean? So many people (particularly online) give guarantees these days because they see it as essential for getting business that some people get ‘guarantee blindness’. At the end of the day a guarantee is only as good as the trustworthiness of the person providing it, meaning that some guarantees are actually no guarantee at all!
Brand Names – How about company names, what do the names ‘Apple’, ‘Coca-Cola’, ‘Google’, ‘Wallmart’ or ‘Amazon’ conjure up for you. No two ways about it, Google are an impressive company but not everyone likes them since some of the recent media attention they got about their tax practices, so for some people, the word Google may have conjured up images of butterflies and unicorns but more recently those images changed, for others, the media hype was nothing but hype and the situation was either exaggerated or not an issue at all – but in both cases associations would have been made.
I could go on but do you see how this works?
As human beings we make shortcuts and associations for pretty much everything. We have our own impression of what certain words, phrases and brands mean and what they stand for. These associations affect our thoughts and our thoughts shape our reality.
What Should We Associate With Networking?
Well, the difference with some of the above examples is that the word Networking describes an activity.
Not only that but it describes an activity that we all carry out whether we like it or not, because just interacting with people is networking – so think about it like that.
Where we can make a difference in our lives and in our businesses is by adopting the right attitude towards networking so that rather than fighting against it, we embrace it as something that can enrich our lives and bring us opportunities.
In drawing conclusions or final thoughts, I’ll often give you some food for thought, give you both sides of an argument and ask for your thoughts or comments.
This time, there are no two sides of the argument.
Of course Networking is not a dirty word. It’s a perfectly natural thing and if you stick around you’ll see in future articles (as well as in some of those that have already been published) just how much we can do with this wonderful (and natural) gift we have and how today’s world makes it easier than ever for us to connect like never before.
As always (and even though I’ve just said there’s only one side to this particular argument) I would like your thoughts and comments on this whether below or privately via email – go on, admit it if you thought of networking as a dirty word and let me know if I’ve managed to persuade you otherwise or if I still have more work to do…