The more we work at building a range of meaningful relationships, the more we’ll understand what others really need or how we can add value to their lives. We should be open to recognising and optimising opportunities to help others and we can do this through networking as it involves linking people with people, people with information and people with opportunities.
In addition to the books and articles I have written on the topic of networking, training in networking or in relationship building is an exciting part of the work that I do. A networking module often forms part of longer courses, particularly in leadership development or communication skills.
These are run for a wide range of different professions and businesses. For example, each year for the last sixteen years I have been privileged to be invited back to present a 12-session course in communication skills for engineering trainees. These young men and women, most in their early to mid-twenties include metallurgists, chemical engineers, maintenance engineers and others. And while their technical skills are good, this company, quoted on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, finds that through these communication skills course, participants’ effectiveness has increased considerably through improving their ‘soft skills’. By the end of the course they are able to report more effectively to their supervisors and teams, get better results when instructing the artisans and generally conduct themselves more professionally. They become more valuable to the organisation.
An added advantage is that their lives are more goal-orientated through building their personal strategy plans. These include tactics for consistently developing their networking skills while constructively developing their personal networks. During groupwork exercises, the participants discuss the benefits of networking as applied to themselves, their organisations, their industries and in the leadership roles to which they may aspire.
In capturing and consolidating the input of the groups of this year’s 30 wonderful young people, I was able to reorganise the elements of their input and capture the essence of the benefits of networking in an Integral way:
How can building positive relationships improve our ‘way of being’ ?
Being exposed to people with different points of view, our outlook may change. By taking us outside our comfort zone, we avoid complacency. Thus instead of being ‘stuck’ in our current ‘worldview’ which influences the way we respond or re-act to experiences, we become more ‘open’ to possibilities. This helps us to recognise and then optimise opportunities for ourselves and for others.
Networking can help us to improve our communication skills in general. By holding quality conversations we learn more about others and by reflecting, more about ourselves. This helps in achieving our potential. Being in a better place also enables us to be more aware of our authentic ‘personal brands’ which we can now protect and we will thus more consistently show our true selves. Networking helps us to promote ourselves. We gain visibility and people may think of us when there are opportunities. For example, a new post may become available and we might be looking for that kind of work. People know us and our capabilities and may nominate us for leadership roles. The benefits are endless.
By having role-models and mentors within our networks, we can more easily reach our goals, achieve higher standards of performance and in general, shift our ‘way of being’ which may benefit all areas of our lives in an Integral way.
In which ways may becoming a better networker improve the way we operate?
We learn new approaches through interacting with others. And from reflecting on what we see in others, it may help us to recognise our own strengths and consistently use them more. In addition, awareness of our strengths enables us to consciously use these strengths to leverage our weaknesses. Through building positive relationships and getting to know others, we’ll be more aware of how their strengths may be used to compensate for our weaknesses.
The more we network, the more we are able to practise those skills that enable us to be better networkers. And the more competent we become, the greater our confidence and we are possibly able to venture forth and participate more fully in new networking areas that we wouldn’t have considered before. An example of opening new territory for ourselves would be that we are now more willing and relaxed when attending functions of cultural groups that are different to ours. Getting to know the culture and customs of others and be more comfortable in their company facilitates greater understanding, usually lowering prejudice and enables us to build healthier networks within a more culturally diverse and stronger framework.
Networking can introduce more fun into our lives and this will reduce stress thus enabling us to perform better in all areas of our lives. In addition, we have a safety net when things go wrong! Our feelings of security are enhanced.
What are the benefits when joining groups or working in teams?
A sense of belonging is important to all of us. Here I’m referring not only to groups that we join or to which we are assigned but also to informal groups that evolve through our relationships. Often we may join groups or organisations for one reason, but friendship and support form the glue that binds us together and we may continue as members long after our original need has been met. An example of this is my membership of the New South Wales Chapter of Professional Speakers Australia. My work involves more coaching and training than it used to, and less professional speaking, but I feel like a member of that tribe and when we are together, I really feel that I belong. Thus I continue my membership and enjoy it even although, living in South Africa, I attend very few meetings and the reason for my joining twelve years ago is no longer a big part of my life.
Building positive relationships helps us to feel that we are part of the group and this in turn means that we most likely will enjoy support when we need it. Having a strong support group can help us to achieve so much more not just because they motivate and encourage us, but also when we want to try new things.
An illustration of this was that, recently when preparing a new talk for specialist doctors, I first invited a group of my friends and business associates to a ‘practice run’. I knew they would give me constructive feedback, which they did and this was very much appreciated. I would not have been able to do this with a group of strangers and may not have trusted their feedback.
In general, networking can give us constructive advice from experienced people.
Within our organisational or work teams, stronger bonds facilitate more efficient teamwork. The task gets done better, the team is happier and the needs of individuals are more likely to be met. And this makes it easier for the leader to work from a position of strength, especially in these VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) times like this where collaborative leadership works well. Leaders can discover new talent and use the diverse strengths of individuals within the team more effectively. Networking can help to enhance a leader’s performance in so many ways.
How does networking have a positive influence on systems?
Networking helps to provide access to general and exclusive information through sharing. We know who to approach for the right advice. In addition, if we know the ‘right’ people, we are far more likely to be told about vacancies, given appointments, introduced to previously inaccessible people, and know how the organisation works. There is always a great deal of ‘tacit knowledge’, that which is not articulated. And by speaking to insiders we learn ‘how things work around here’, what really happens and what is important to those who belong. Others can help us to unearth the implicit and make it explicit. Thus networking helps newcomers to be absorbed into systems and be assimilated into cultures.
I was inspired to write this article through the input of the young engineers. I’m grateful to them. The above are just some of the benefits of networking as consolidated from the benefits which they identified and I have added considerably to their contribution.
My questions for you are:
- In which ways can networking help you to shift your ‘way of being’?
- What should you be doing right now to improve your networking skills?
- Who should be included while you build a stronger network?
- How can you harness the power of collective networking?
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