>Why networking doesn’t work

>Of course networking works….sometimes WE don’t though.  Networking groups and events abound.  With the growth of networking, there is a corresponding growth in written material that tells us ‘what to do’.  There are books, brochures, pamphlets and blogs which lay out the best tips and strategies.  There are workshops with interesting, entertaining and useful powerpoint presentations by dynamic people who know how to work a room and tell us about their successes.  Great!  So armed with all this information and inspiration, why is it that when we go into a room, some people seem to make it work for themselves, but others just get stuck?

Essentially, we are looking to forge relationships when we go to a networking event.  ‘Working a room’ requires a whole range of capabilities which we may need to extend in order for us to get the most out of it.  There is not one of us on this planet lacking in some basic relationship skills: how could we survive otherwise?  But as we go through life, we are constantly faced with new opportunities to stretch our abilities, networking being just one of them.  Furthermore, some people have developed the roles needed to network effectively, while others of us still have some things to grow in ourselves.  More often than not, when we know what we are supposed to do, but can’t mobilise ourselves to actually do it in the moment, this is pointing to some kind of personal growth opportunity.

Networking skills fit in that category of communication and leadership skills which require deep transformational learning processes in order for them to embed.  Information ABOUT networking is absolutely essential; don’t get me wrong.  But knowing WHAT to do is different from really  knowing HOW to do it……like really knowing in our core selves.  We need both the WHAT and the HOW.  We get the WHAT from seminars and books, but we get the HOW with ongoing development.  We get the HOW from learning processes that are designed to confront what is within us which causes us to freeze or run away and to develop the bits that we need to grow.

Experiential action methods, which activate the limbic part of our brains, when applied appropriately, get to the nub of what we want to learn, especially when what we want to learn has significant emotional content, i.e. anything to do with communication with other humans.  To quote Daniel Goleman, “A brief seminar won’t help, and it can’t be learned through a how-to manual.”

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4 thoughts on “>Why networking doesn’t work

  1. >Nice post John. Do you find that networking skills are innate to a personality type (extroverts versus introverts for example) and therefore the application of a "learnt skill" to network effectively comes more naturally to an extrovert? Does the act of "learning to network" risk the tendency to apply such learnings "by the book", and therefore potentially suffer "dehumanisation", or the need for organic connection with people? Are there clear points of difference between ability to network effectively and the need to develop the ability to communicate effectively?

  2. >Hi Sukesh, thanks for your comments! Great, thoughtful questions! This response may be a bit long, but you raise some really relevant points. Firstly, when I think of innate, I think of what we are born with. According to Role Theory, the bulk of what is innate is primarily somatic, i.e. eat, cry, evacuate, etc. The things which go to make up our personality are largely learnt in response to our environment and those in it. In other words, we are not born with a personality; it begins to develop from the minute we are born. So, I'm not sure that something like 'introvert' or 'extrovert' is innate; that comes as we grow, and is dependent on the kinds of relationships we have in our early years. So all the 'micro-abilities' that introverted or extroverted people enact are all learnt and therefore learnable. I agree that in some cases, 'learning to network', which I would class as a subset of communication skills, can come off a little wooden if people are doing it 'by the book', as you say. It's like people trying to learn a script, but as you would know, human communication is not simply a bunch of ritualised or memorised expressions. I am advocating an approach in which people are developing THEMSELVES, not simply learning tips and strategies. Implicit in this is that they are cognisant of 'the other' and are developing good human connection. Your last question is a good one and I would strongly suspect that there is a some crossover between networking ability and the need to develop the ability to communicate effectively, but there would also be significant points of difference. There are undoubtedly some roles (or capabilities) which we need to grow specifically in order to network effectively: these may be roles related to speaking to complete strangers. In other words, while someone may be an effective communicator with people they know, they may have an underdeveloped role related to speaking with people they don't know. Being able to assess this in a workshop environment means that the very roles that people need to develop can be grown in real time. But this can only happen if good thought is put into the type of 'training' programme that gets crafted. Broadly speaking, a transactional type of seminar will transfer information and give the learner useful tools; a transformational workshop will be much more divergent, at times uncomfortable and develop the user of the tools with less reliance on tips and strategies. Both approaches are valid, but each delivers different outcomes. Hope I've addressed the questions you pose, Sukesh.

  3. >Thanks John. It may be a sign of current times; I find that many people are wanting to network simply to "chase more business" one way or another, as opposed to enjoying the process and journey and therefore the experience that good networking can bring. Sales and money in my humble view, is the derivative and will follow "value" that good networking and resulting relationships are based on. I don't think that people at networking events expect to be sold to, and tyet many of us expect to gain sales leads from networking. This comes back to your title of your blog that while networking is natural, it's us people who tend to mess it up for ourselves!

  4. >Agreed Sukesh. If work/money flow out of a mutually enjoyable relationship, that's all good. If we have an overdeveloped role of 'business hunter' when we are out networking, we may take the joy out of a good connection with someone. To my mind, developing good networks is more about sociatry than closing the next sale.

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