Mythbusting: Networking

Networking has gained a negative reputation – it makes many people, especially introverts, cringe at its mere mention. Simply put, networking is really just a way of building relationships. It seems strange that people would be so uncomfortable with this, given that relationships are at the center of success both in life and in business.

Say it with me again: It’s not networking, it’s about making relationships.

If you want to move past this dislike of networking, and fully take advantage of all the connections you can make while doing so, don’t fall prey to these five networking myths.

Myth #1 – You have to know your contacts really well

Many people believe that they have to establish a very strong tie with someone before making use of them as a contact. There seems to be this assumption that you have to meet with someone several times, perhaps over lunch or coffee, before you can ask them for something.

In reality, you can meet someone at a community BBQ and then reach out to them a week later. Don’t be afraid to take your networking relationship to the next step on your second contact. Studies show that people with weaker ties to you are more likely to be able to help you and guide you. Don’t be nervous about reaching out to these people because they are sometimes more helpful to you than your normal circle of friends.

Weaker ties offer you a variety of people that you can reach out to and might lead to a new client or better job.

Myth #2 – You always have to attend networking events

Networking events are a good place to meet people and talk about similar interests, but there are just as many places to do so that aren’t officially “networking events”. Many people don’t like the feeling of being at these types of events, or the need to talk about themselves endlessly. You can use other situations to practice your networking skills and then just attend the events that you deem necessary.

Use every day occurrences to practice your people skills, like community events, sporting events, BBQ’s, meet ups at the local bar, library evenings, or even trivia nights. It doesn’t matter what event you’re at, or if you’re out shopping for shoes, you will meet people along the way and have the chance to practice building people skills.

As a season pass holder for the local Minor League team here, I love to connect over hot dogs, beer and baseball. I’ve met some great folks there .. and given out many business cards.

Myth #3 – Online connections aren’t as good as offline ones

Making online connections can greatly increase your network size, and contacts are easily found and made. Limiting yourself to only real-life connections will drastically reduce your network size. Try attending some recruiting events held only online, or join some online interest groups. LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook are a great source of possible ties and most groups are easy to join or even open to all. You probably already do something similar every day, but just don’t see it as networking.

Myth #4 – You can’t ask for help, you have to wait to be asked

Many people believe that asking for help, rather than simply waiting for it to be offered, isn’t the right way to tap their networking ties. Instead, they will patiently wait and hope that help will be offered because somehow the other person just knows they should help. The reality is that people are busy and not mind readers, so the only way to let someone know that you need help is to ask them for it. Most people enjoy helping others, so don’t be scared to reach out. Make sure you aren’t wasting anyone’s time with long-winded emails, but just be clear on what you need from them and give specific details.

Myth #5 – You have to awkwardly force constant contact

Lots of people talk about the “right way” to network. They suggest emailing these weaker ties once every couple of weeks, or meeting them for lunch once every month, maybe giving them a call a couple of days after you meet. You barely know these people, so it can sometimes be hard to know what to say to them. If it doesn’t come naturally and if it feels awkward, then just don’t force it. There will come a time when you see something you want to forward to them, or you throw a party you want to invite them to. If that time never comes then that’s fine, it wasn’t the right time to fully establish that connection.

When you build a relationship, build it in a manner that reflects you. Whether you are laid back or the utmost professional, when you connect with someone, connect as the real you .. not some fake “this is how I should act” person. That will inevitably reduce a potential client, or referrer, in your trustworthiness .. and that is not good.

Use your everyday experiences and the people around you to build new relationship ties. You shouldn’t have to awkwardly force networking and it shouldn’t be extremely difficult. Push aside these myths and try to find a way that works for you.

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Image credit: geralt | CC0 Public Domain