Learn to Love Networking—Nurturing and Leveraging Your Network

Learn to Love Networking—Nurturing and Leveraging Your Network

by Felicity Menzies
In earlier posts, I described the qualities of effective professional networks and offered practical steps for making new connections. Successful networking, however, doesn’t stop there. Once you’ve made a connection to someone you want in your network, the relationship must be nurtured and sustained. In this post, I share techniques for building strong and enduring network ties and leveraging your network.

1. Establish Mutual Dependence

Nurturing your network involves fostering trust and loyalty through reciprocity—continuously giving and receiving information, resources, support, and feedback. Building close ties through reciprocity positions you strongly for approaching your network and receiving help when you need it.

You can encourage the formation of reciprocal relationships by sharing information and ideas, contributing your expertise, making referrals or introductions, giving testimonials, lending support to others’ ventures, extending emotional support, offering constructive advice and coaching, and involving your contacts in your new ventures. Other examples include providing support with a career transition, helping to fill open positions, acknowledging and celebrating achievements, extending social invitations.

Building mutually dependent relationships requires that you take from others as well as give to them. Always accept favours and express appreciation when contacts offer to help you.

2. Adopt an Energiser Mindset

The mindset that you bring to networking is important. Cross & Thomas suggest you can increase your network influence and build stronger ties with an attitude characterised by energy, enthusiasm and an orientation towards others. These qualities draw or pull people to you, and with them, more information, ideas, support, feedback. In contrast, approaching your relationships in a self-centered manner, putting your needs at the forefront, turns people off from engaging with you.

Adopting an energiser mindset means:

  •     Being attentive and responsive in your interactions with others. Active listening and respectful questioning communicate to others that you care about them. Make it your mission to find out what drives your contacts, what they care about, what keeps them awake at night. Respond to those interests and concerns in how you serve them.
  •     Following through on your commitments. Keeping your promises builds trust.
  •     Focusing on the needs of your contacts and putting them ahead of your own. You should always be thinking of ways that you can add value to your contacts, not the other way around.
  •     Supporting other’s ideas and ventures. Showing enthusiasm for other’s initiatives, projects or career changes communicates that you care about them and their success. If you have constructive advice, offer it, but don’t criticise. Think about how you can help make to your contact’s goals and dreams a reality.
  •     Driving new interesting and stimulating ventures and involving others. People like to be part of the action, especially anything new and exciting. Involve contacts in your new initiatives early by sharing your ideas and seeking their feedback
  •     Celebrating other people’s wins and acknowledging their accomplishments. Send a congratulatory card, or better, offer to take contacts out for a celebratory drink or lunch.

3. Master the Art of Asking for Favours

If you have invested time in nurturing strong ties of mutual dependence, it will be much easier for you to approach your contacts for favours and you will find them eager and willing to help. Requesting favours can also be an opportunity to strengthen your relationships. Glickman offers a method for making requests that reinforces reciprocity and builds trust:

  •     Be upfront about your motive. Let your contact know that you are asking for a favour. Transparency builds trust.
  •     Give a reason. Contacts are more likely to respond favourably to your request when they understand what it means to you. Sharing a reason also gives you an opportunity to share something about yourself. Sharing personal information develops friendships.
  •     Offer a quid-pro-quo. Offering to return the favour acknowledges the generosity of your contact and reinforces the reciprocal nature of your relationship.
  •     Offer an easy out. By giving your contact an opportunity to decline graciously, you communicate respect and consideration for their time and competing demands and loyalties.
  •     Follow up. After a contact has helped you, get back to them with a thank you. Acknowledge their value by sharing how they helped you accomplish your goals.

4. Build Enduring Ties

Sustaining your network requires effort and vigilance. You can increase your chances of building enduring network ties by paying attention to the following:

  •     First, it is important to remember that your network is a collection of human beings. You should always look for ways to make a human connection. Human connections engage the emotional brain, as opposed to the rational brain. Ask people how they feel, not only what they think.
  •     Regularly review the quality of your ties. Check in with your contacts and seek feedback on your relationship. Do not defend or deny criticisms but seek to understand the other party’s view and to rectify. Have you let some relationships fade? How can you revitalise those connections?
  •     Take a long-term approach to every interaction. Don’t burn any bridges by competing aggressively, being a sore loser, venting strong emotions, being overly forceful or critical. Never criticise a person, only an idea.

5. Engage in Social Networking

Social networking can be an efficient and powerful way of building and nurturing a network. To build an effective online network, focus on the following:

  •     Articulate and express a strong and consistent personal brand. Your personal brand reflects what is important to you, your values, and your purpose. A strong personal brand fosters trust and encourages people you’ve never met to seek you out, give you information, and to collaborate with you.
  •     Showcase your specialist expertise. Demonstrating a deep level of expertise in a specialist area builds trust. Write your own content and comment and share expert content by others in your area of expertise. Don’t confuse or dilute your brand by commenting on a broad range of topics. Be known as the ‘go-to’ person for your area of expertise. Continue to learn and take your connections on the learning journey with you.
  •     Remember the human connection. It’s easier to forget in a virtual setting that your contacts are human but, similar to face-to-face networking, you must seek to establish a human connection with your virtual contacts. Don’t post or share content and then walk away. Interact on threads, include a comment when you share a post, thank people for their contributions, share other’s content, congratulate them on their accomplishments. Imagine your virtual contacts were in front of you—what would you say to them?
  •     Adhere to the same core networking principles that I’ve introduced for face-to-face networking. Above all, remember the reciprocity principle – don’t connect to someone and then direct sell to them. You need to build a relationship first by giving to others before you can expect them to give back to you. Direct selling on social media is a sure fire way to alienate people. Don’t be spam!

Felicity Menzies is CEO and Principal Consultant at Include-Empower.Com, a diversity and inclusion consultancy with expertise in inclusive leadership, unconscious bias, cultural intelligence and inclusion, gender equity, empowering diverse talent. Felicity is an accredited facilitator with the Cultural Intelligence Centre and the author of A World of Difference. Felicity has over 15 years of experience working with and managing diverse workforces in blue chip companies and is a Fellow of Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand. Felicity also holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.