Since launching the original research and questionnaire on influencing skills, we have had thousands of people self-assess or rate others on their influencing skills. 74% say they could improve on their networking and an incredible 34% cited it as their weakest influencing skill area. So, if you don’t like going to those ‘events’ or fabricating an excuse to go talk to someone while you have more important tasks to focus on, you are by no means alone!
In my experience, I believe that most people have the capability to network, but lack the motivation to do it. They either see it as a pointless activity or a contrived engagement which lacks authenticity (or legitimacy, or both). Despite the pressure from above to network, results count when it comes to performance reviews and the lack of networking is rarely seen as a real performance issue — provided the business results have been achieved!
But I also know, that if you want to become influential, having a good, robust network is probably one of the best assets you can have, particularly in large complex organisations. So, in no particular order, here are some ideas which could help you to get up the motivation to build a stronger network:
- Set networking goals and targets just like you would for every other part of your job. There are two reasons for this. Firstly it makes it easier to get on with it — in many ways it legitimises the time spent. It also helps you to focus more effectively on what you need to do, or rather which events to go to and which to avoid. More time saving there too!
- Create a list of benefits you could get from networking. Unless you expect to gain significantly, you will probably not do it, or it will be half-hearted and therefore much less effective.
- Develop your own definition of a ‘networking’ contact. How many have you got? How many should you have? Where should they be? Time to get real — a Facebook friend is probably not a networking contact. Creating your definition adds a healthy dose of reality and also increases your focus on what you need to do to build each networking relationship.
- Organise your networking effort to avoid it becoming overrun by everything else. Yes, it is part of your job, so plan for it!
- Remember to add value to people in your network. Not even your friends will tolerate you taking from them all the time, so why would a network contact accept that situation?
- Why would anyone want you in their network? What do you have to offer? This may be a tough one to answer, but the closer you can get to an answer the better. And don’t forget, you could always ask them!
- Often, the only person who knows you are nervous at a networking event is you. In fact, in our research this is often one of the biggest perception gaps between what an individual thinks and what other people notice. Maybe they are too wrapped up in their own nerves to notice yours! So relax and have some fun!
When I talk to people about power, one of the most frequently cited assets that help people to become powerful, and thus influential, is their network. So write it into your job description and, even if your line manager doesn’t really care, make it a priority for your career!
Colin Gautrey is becoming the most sought-after expert in power and influence by ambitious and talented professionals who are serious about accelerating their careers and their results. But, Colin is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
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