Learn to Love Networking

Does the word networking suddenly send a cringe up your spine, making you feel uncomfortable and fake? You’re not alone. Although some people, mostly extroverts and those that adore social interaction have a natural passion for networking, for the rest of us it is a learned skill.

It’s also a skill we must master. Networking is essential to our career, development and has become more important than ever before. Fortunately, if you are someone that typically shies away from networking events there are several fantastic strategies to help shift your mindset and teach you how to become comfortable in and benefit from these situations.

1) Focus on Learning

Within each of us is a dominant motivational focus. Psychologists refer to it as a ‘promotion’ or ‘prevention’ mindset. Meaning, those of us that have a promotion motivational focus see the positive opportunities that networking can connect them to such as professional growth or advancement. Those that have a prevention mindset will view networking as something they are obligated to take part in as part of their employment criteria.

Harvard University conducted multiple studies with working adults and college students to understand the dominant motivational mindset and to document both types of thinking. The promotion focused subjects approached networking with excitement, curiosity and an open mind about the possibilities that could result. The prevention-focused group begrudgingly participated in networking but felt inauthentic, unengaged, did not seek out opportunities and as a result underperformed in their jobs compared to the former group.

As with any mindset we adopt, we have the power to shift it. It’s not always easy and people cringe when the hear the ‘glass half full or empty’ analogy, but it’s true. If you can shift your mindset from prevention to promotion, you will be able to embrace networking as an avenue of learning and discovery versus a dreaded obligation.

Networking can especially be difficult for introverts. While you cannot will yourself to morph into an extrovert for the event, you can choose your comfort zone and concentrate on the positives of learning and how your newfound knowledge and connections can be applied to your job. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem quite as bad.

2) Seek Common Interests

Another tip to shift into the promotion mindset is to think about how your interests and career goals align with the people you meet. Common goals help create meaningful professional relationships and strong, lasting networks are generally established through people working together on tasks, similar projects or deliverables that require one another’s input or collaboration. In fact, further research from Harvard conducted in partnership with INSEAD showed that task interdependence was one of the main sources of positive energy in working relationships.

When your networking becomes about shared interests through research and driven by substantive knowledge, it will feel authentic to yourself and your colleagues will notice the true desire to connect and learn. Common interests with genuine desire are more likely to form meaningful relationships based on the same qualities.

3) Think About What You Can Offer

If you are concerned about having little work experience or being in a junior role within your organization, don’t be. You may not have the same knowledge or skillset as others you are networking with, but that does not mean that you do not have anything to offer. If you are in this scenario, networking is even of more importance to the development of your career and you have plenty to discover and learn.

Research conducted by Harvard showed that people in senior roles within an organization were generally much more comfortable and confident in networking versus their junior colleges that often felt powerless to contribute. The study results are not surprising – when people believe they have a lot to offer, they feel better about the situation that they are in.

For those in a junior position or generally repulsed and uncomfortable about networking situations, they need to consider the resources they have that contain a value to others. Forget about assets that are tangible such as salary, or social connections and focus on positive ones like gratitude and recognition. For example, many senior or VP level associates enjoy mentoring and helping others and when they are thanked for their time or publicly recognized they feel validated as it also enhances their reputation.

In addition, junior associates do have knowledge that can be useful to others that have been in the workforce for a substantial amount of time. Familiarity with generational trends, emerging technology, and new markets are all examples of conversations you can engage in and offer value or insight to others.

When you focus on what you can offer to others versus what you can get, you will feel more authentic and networking will become more enticing.

4) Seek a Higher Goal

As with anything in life, when you want to do something it is certainly more pleasurable. The same goes for our professional lives. When a work activity is linked to a higher goal or personal interest, it becomes more attractive.

Another factor that affects people’s interest level and how well they network is what they determine their primary purpose to be. In a Harvard study which monitored 174 lawyers found that those that focused on the collective benefits of making connections felt more authentic, were more likely to network and as a result performed better in their careers. By shifting the focus to how networking can support your firm, practice, office or how it can help your clients versus a personal purpose as advancing your career, suddenly you have a worthy higher goal to achieve.

It’s probably true that more people are unsettled about networking than those that naturally love it. In this day and age, there is no denying that it is crucial to our career success and unavoidable. By following the strategies of being aware and shifting from a prevention to promotional mindset, exploring shared interests, realizing what you have to offer and gaining motivation from a higher goal, you will be effectively networking in no time at all. Who knows, maybe someday you will become a mentor to someone that needs help learning to love networking.