Why You Have to Reframe Your “Networking” Mindset

Photo from http://flickr.com

Photo from http://flickr.com

When you hear the word “networking” a few things might come to mind, and I imagine these associations aren’t positive. You’re probably thinking about words and phrases like: I sound like a saleswoman, insincere, short-term gains, stacks of business cards, and elevator pitches.

However, networking is really about interacting with people and building relationships. It’s making a real connection that will develop over time. Networking should never be about pushing business cards or expecting a sale in return for attending an event. If you are pushing cards or need to yield a sale to justify your attendance, your efforts won’t be fruitful. Plus, you’ll subconsciously exude desperation and people will be turned off by your self-indulgent undertone.

If negative connotations come to mind, it’s time to alter the way you view networking – and take a look through the relationship building lens. You can’t network for the short-term, you have to think about the lifelong community you need to build to be happy, successful, and indispensable.

First things first, when it comes to changing your mind and attitude about networking here are three things you need to do:

  • Before you go to an event, you need to know why you’re going. The answer should involve the fact that you’re interested or passionate about the topic, you want to learn something new, or you believe in the organization or group hosting the event. You’ll be much more satisfied with your ability to foster connections with people in the room if you have a belief and shared purpose for attending. You have to want to be there – and you should be eager to go.
  • The best way to start building relationships is by offering relevant help to the people you meet. To get off on the right foot, lead with generosity and authenticity. This is the way you really connect and prove your value to others – by offering to share your expertise, time, resources and energy. Keith Ferrazzi talks about the lesson he learned about how powerful generosity can be in his book Never Eat Alone. He says, “When you help others, they often help you.” So next time you make a positive connection, don’t forget to ask them, “How can I help?”
  • Avoid keeping score – it’s a mistake that will erode the time and energy you’ve put into developing a relationship. When you offer help, and, deliver, you prove that you’re trustworthy and credible. Since your time is valuable, you should focus on building the right relationships for your success. Don’t have expectations of what you’re going to get in return for the help you offer – expectations show greed and erase any trust you put your energy into building a relationship. However, when the time comes to ask for help, your contacts will be more likely to reciprocate because you’ve earned their trust.

The bottom line is that networks can only be built through relationships, which is why fostering connections with the people you meet should be your main focus. When you commit to spending time in certain communities, or groups, you’re building relationships in your network – and a community for yourself. All of which has the potential to serve a variety of purposes – and that’s more than just “networking” – that’s setting yourself up for a lifetime of success.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: MICHELLE RAYBURNMichelle Rayburn_Headshot

After graduating the University of Cincinnati in 2010, I gathered my things and left my Ohio roots to realize my Boston dream. As a transplant, I learned life in a new city can be a little challenging to navigate from a civic, social, and professional perspective. However, I have a passion for building – and participating in – inclusive communities that empower and encourage women to aspire to achieve greatness. In my day job, I work for a membership organization and help companies utilize their people to strategically engage in the Boston business community. In my free time, I’m committed to developing student leaders in the Eta Theta chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma at Harvard, serving as their coach, mentor, and Chapter Council Adviser. Today, I hope to make it easier for you to get connected to Boston, network, and navigate the City through my Women’s iLab column: The Aspiring Woman’s Guide to Networking in Boston.

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