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Networking: How to Get Past the Myths and Benefit from the Reality

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So, you think “networking” is a new phenomenon? A growing trend? A buzzword? Well, it has existed since time immemorial. Proof: “No room at the inn? Can you recommend a barn…with a manger?” Sound familiar?

Referrals, recommendations, and shared information create the foundation for civilization. The community concept is built on communication. We just need to remember that civility is crucial in networking. How we behave is as crucial as knowing the unwritten rules that must be followed.

As one of my clients, raised on a farm, said, “Susan, we always networked. We just called it being neighborly.” Historically, barn-raisings are the ultimate networking event. You hammer a lot more than your point across.

And careers have always depended upon networking: the assistance of others.

But certain myths about networking must be confronted. Networking is not a work style; it is a lifestyle that can help us personally and professionally.

Myth: I don’t have a network.

Truth: Everybody has a network. We are born into one, went to school with several: elementary, high, college, religious. Lived in neighborhoods. Served in armed forces. Belonged to clubs, bands, teams, fraternities/sororities, service organizations.

Action: Know who you know. Even I don’t have a 100 percent grasp, but as events happen, I add to my list of people I know. Make your own list. Go through the periods of your life, the class photos and yearbooks. Visualize your neighborhoods and neighbors. Write down the names of people you remember. Think about the jobs you’ve had. Who were your colleagues, co-workers, competitors, vendors? You may want to do the activity on your computer. Go through old address books, Christmas card and holiday lists. And don’t forget the people who are in the periphery of your life–cleaner, barber/hairstylist, mechanic, computer consultant, carpool cronies, local merchants.

You will not remember everyone at the first sit-down, but once the list is plugged into your truly personal computer (your brain), you will begin to remember more.

That list is a reference tool. How you use it is as important as when and for whom. It may be to connect a nephew with a potential mentor. Or a colleague with a great mechanic. In time of need, people band together and help. We see it after earthquakes, fires, floods, when friends are stricken with illness. It is not always about us.

Myth: People should know what I need and offer to help.

Truth: Most people don’t know what they themselves need.

How smart can it be to assume that they know what you need? A tenet of life and networking: If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

Action: Remember that how you ask may make the difference between yes and no. The best networkers ask in a way that allows people to say yes and gives them room to say no.

One of my favorite cartoons had a character explaining: “What I lack in know-how, I made up for in know who.” Who we know, and who knows us, is key. How we relate to and converse with those people determines the quality of our connections.

People want to be treated as people, not as contacts. The best networkers don’t even know they are networking–they just refer, match, recommend, bring people together.

Myth: Networking is using people.

Truth: Networking is a reciprocal process.

It is mutually beneficial to share ideas, information, leads, referrals, and tickets to cultural and sporting events, as well as laughter, enthusiasm, support, and joy. Science has a term for it: interdependence. Our grandparents had a better word: helping.

Action: Assess the postings in your “favor bank.” List the people for whom you have done favors. This may be tough because many of us give our favors without strings, and it could just feel unseemly. Do it anyway. Why? Because most people want to clear the slate.

Also list the people who have done favors for you. Whose advice have you sought? Called to check out someone or something? Who’s taken you out for beers or lunch, or offered an extra ticket to the Giants game or symphony? Or like Ben Franklin when he wanted to make a friend, who has loaned you a book? By the way, did you return it?

Know who you know. Know who you owe.

“Networking is not using others; it is a process of utilizing sources and resources and being one yourself,” according to the late Sally Livingston, “femtor” and a pioneer networking advocate.

Myth: I don’t have much to offer, so I can’t get involved.

Truth: We all have something to offer. Our skills, interests, knowledge, avocation, hobbies. While no one has ever asked me for a recipe, I can provide information on great restaurants and take-out! And tips on the publishing and professional speaking world.

Action: List the things that you do well in your job. You may be an ace at Internet research, or a whiz at strategic planning, drafting proposals, or organizing the after-work bowling team or relay teams for corporate games. Have you mentored others? How?

List your hobbies: quilting, fly fishing, rappelling, hiking, biking, car renovations, woodworking, antiquing, gourmet cooking. Maybe you are a great wordsmith or brainstormer!

Knowing what we do well allows us to know what and how to contribute and gives us the confidence that we can.

The Ten Commandments of Connecting®

1. Acknowledge the gifts from others–leads, presents, ideas, information, support. Send handwritten thank-you notes. We all want recognition and to be appreciated.

2. Stay in touch when you need nothing from others: phone, fax, e-mail, U.S. mail, and…in person.

3. Be generous; share ideas, thoughts, support, time, and laughter with others.

4. Be involved; be seen on the scene.

5. Pick up a tab and treat someone to lunch or latte!

6. Observe the etiquette of and (un)written rules for networking (The Secrets of Savvy Networking).

7. “Good-mouth” others; pass on praise you have heard.

8. Keep your sources in the loop; let them get the news from you.

9. Follow up, follow up, follow up in a Timely and Appropriately Persistent (TAP) manner.

10. Have fun! Life is too short and too long to do otherwise.

Susan RoAne is a speaker and author who has worked trade shows, conventions, planes, and the bleachers at Wrigley Field, and taught others to do the same. Her latest book, How to Create Your Own Luck, is just out and her other books include How to Work a Room® and The Secrets of Savvy Networking. To learn more call 415-239-2224, e-mail Susan@SusanRoAne.com or visit www.susanroane.com.

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