I facilitated a business networking course this week on making connections post-pandemic. It made me consider the nature of connecting, why we do it and what we get from it. If the purpose of networking is intentional relationship building, what stops us from doing it all the time? After all, we’re social animals hardwired to connect.
What networking is (and isn’t)
Networking is an exchange between people, not a one-way street. So often we get caught up in delivering our elevator pitch that we forget the reason we do it: to build social connections that we can use to facilitate our work.
Contrary to social media belief, networking is less about the number of connections than about the quality of them. Having 500 LinkedIn “connections” doesn’t matter if I know nothing about 498 of them. Quality means knowing more than “the stats”: name, job title, company, years of experience. It’s knowing something memorable about Jane so you can connect with her on that topic.
Why we do it
Dan Pink discusses the value of self-disclosure in The Power of Regret. Study participants received three choices: disclose beliefs about themselves, listen and judge the beliefs of others, or answer a trivia question. Despite various monetary inducements deliberately offered to nudge results in one direction versus another, 195 trials proved unequivocally that, when given these options, people chose Option 1. In other words, people love to talk about themselves!
Self-disclosure provides physical, behavioural, and neural benefits. For example, it decreases our blood pressure and improves our coping skills. I discovered that self-disclosure builds affinity not judgement. It makes us realise we’re all in this together, and we can learn from each other’s mistakes and successes. Don’t you find it helpful hearing someone describe a mistake and how they handled it? It’s like getting a roadmap that you can follow (or not) depending on your perspective of it.
What we get from it
Connecting with others feels good. We step up the Emotional Guidance Scale. At the higher rungs of the ladder, we project a different energy to others, certainly a more positive one, that makes others want to be around us.
Neurologically, mirror neurons allow us to learn through imitation. When we feel good by connecting, our mirror neuros signal to the other person’s mirror neurons, creating a positive, virtuous cycle.
By intentionally building connections, we feel seen and heard. So, listen carefully, the way you’d like to be heard. Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” For more on listening, read my comments from this article on effective listening.
What stops us
Fear, plain and simple. We fear:
- putting ourselves out there;
- making ourselves a target;
- feeling mocked;
- being the centre of attention;
- saying the wrong thing;
- being vulnerable.
How to do it authentically
Authentic connection happens by asking questions, demonstrating interest, and expressing openness. No tricks or magic required here. Approach networking in this manner and you’ll see great results.