Redefining Networking: Ignite Growth and Overcome Fears

Redefining Networking

Recently, I encountered two distinct yet revealing instances highlighting a common misperception about networking. The first involved a client amidst a pivotal career transition who, to his dismay, recognized that his networking efforts had been virtually non-existent for the past five years. Now, as he embarks on new professional avenues in 2024, the daunting task of cultivating connections has become a source of stress and anxiety for him.

Contrastingly, during an unexpected Grab ride in a sleek Porsche driven by a suave gentleman moonlighting as a driver to offset his parking fees, I stumbled upon a different yet equally poignant perspective. As we conversed, and I shared my enthusiasm for an upcoming business networking event, his response was immediate and stark: “I hate networking!” He elaborated on his distaste for what he perceived as the insincerity that often pervades networking environments, where people seemingly don masks of pretense.

These encounters underscored a crucial realisation for me: Both individuals, from their unique vantage points, had overlooked the actual value and purpose of networking.

The Misconception of Networking as a Sales Tool

Many perceive networking as a strategy akin to salesmanship, where every interaction is a means to an end – usually, that end being a new client, a job opportunity, or another form of direct personal gain. This approach is limiting and off-putting to potential connections, which can often sense the transactional nature behind the interaction. Networking under this guise can lead to superficial connections that lack depth and long-term value.

The Problem with Transactional Networking

When networking is approached solely as a tool for immediate personal gain, it often leads to short-term, transactional relationships. While these relationships may offer quick rewards, they are rarely sustainable and do not foster trust or long-term collaboration. They are also often one-sided, benefiting only one party, which can lead to burnout and a negative reputation.

 If you perceive going to such events as a mere strategy to ‘hook the next bait,’ you must recalibrate your perspective. At its core, networking is not a hunt for immediate gains but a journey toward mutual growth and learning. This shift in outlook is about changing how you network and addressing the underlying fears and misconceptions that often hinder effective networking.

Overcoming Common Fears in Networking 

  • Fear of Not Knowing What to Say: One of the most common anxieties  is the apprehension of running out of things to say. To navigate this, prepare some open-ended questions in advance. Questions like “What projects are you currently excited about?” or “How did you get started in your field?” can open doors to interesting conversations. Remember, building connections is as much about listening as it is about speaking.
  • Fear of Being Alone or Unapproached: Walking into a room full of strangers can be daunting. Set small, achievable goals, like initiating conversation with at least two people to mitigate this. Remember that others might share your apprehension; your initiative could be a welcome relief.
  • Fear of Meeting People with Ill Intentions: Not everyone you meet in such settings will indeed have the best intentions. Some may undoubtedly be looking only to benefit their business. However, by focusing on building genuine connections and trusting your instincts, you can navigate through and find individuals whose intentions align with yours.
  • Fear of Being Seen as a Salesperson: If you’re worried about coming across as someone who’s just there to sell, shift your focus from what you can get to what you can offer. Be curious about others’ needs and challenges, and think about how you might be able to help them, even in small ways.

Shifting Your Mindset About Networking

  • View it as a Learning Opportunity: Approach it as an opportunity to learn something new, be it about an industry trend, a different career path, or a new perspective. This mindset makes networking a journey of growth rather than a transactional chore.
  • Embrace the Diversity of Experiences: Such events expose you to various backgrounds and stories. Everyone you meet can teach you something valuable, broadening your worldview and enhancing your empathy.
  • Build Long-Term Relationships: Instead of focusing on short-term gains, build relationships that can grow over time. Networking is about planting seeds that can flourish into meaningful connections in the future.
  • Be Authentic: Authenticity is magnetic. Be yourself, share your passions genuinely, and you’ll attract people who resonate with your authenticity.

Shifting your perspective from a tactical game of ‘catch and release’ to a strategic process of continuous learning and authentic connection can transform your experience. By embracing networking as an opportunity for growth, overcoming common fears, and focusing on genuine interactions, you set the stage for building a network that supports your professional journey and enriches your personal life. It is not just about who you know; it’s about who you get to know and how you grow together.

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