The Art of Networking, from a Born Connector

BlogHer Original Post

Once I was sent on a magazine writing assignment to attend a flirting class. The strangest thing about the curriculum of that class was that it broke down into tactics what seemed like the most natural of skills. But as I saw people struggling with the exercises, such as mirroring someone, showing interest, or just chit-chatting, I realized that not everyone is born a flirt.

I thought that learning to flirt was contrived, but later I appreciated how being a good flirt translated to many other areas of life. Mirroring people and being a good listener makes people feel appreciated; makes them like you. People help you when they like you.

The same thing goes with networking. While some of us are born networkers--we enter a room and just start MEETING people--some of us look for the food or the exit. For others the act of networking seems fake or contrived. We may have many personal relationships, but professional friend-making just seems wrong.

But like flirting, networking isn't just learning to be social. A good networker builds her career, meets new friends, finds a decent caterer, via networking. Networking isn't a social skill, it's a life skill.

And I got that when I read the book of a former boss of mine, Mike Dulworth, who wrote The Connect Effect. I met Mike through, what else, networking. I was out with a friend and some of her close friends. I was talking to one of them, Teresa, about my desire to change my career into something more career-development-oriented.

"You should meet my husband," Teresa said. Her hushand, Mike, was a leadership development expert and entrepreneur who had just bought an executive development firm. I met Mike and was offered a job a week later.

Once I started working with Mike I couldn't help but notice his penchant for networking. I thought I was schooled in the networking arts, but I hadn't previously been exposed to the master. Mike taught me several nuances about networking:

Anyone is networking material. Aunts, uncles, former teachers, even the guys who mow your lawn. Mike made every person in his network count. Just because someone isn't in your industry, or doesn't have budget or experience, doesn't mean they don't know someone who does.

Never burn a bridge. Mike always kept his relationships alive. Even today, he stays in touch with me and our former colleagues. He lets things roll off. He doesn't get slighted. He always sees the potential in people.

Diversity, diversity, diversity. It didn't bother Mike that my background was in media, not executive development. Great, that meant I could help with the firm's books and PR. He met my husband and thought, how great, a landscape architect. He invited him to participate in a project he's developing for homeless women in the city.

It was cool to see that Mike put a lifetime of networking experience into a new book, and that he asked me to contribute my experience to it, and he asked others in his network to do the same. The result, a breakdown of a skill that really isn't as simple as it sounds--networking.

Mike goes into many aspects of networking. This isn't about how to master cocktail coversation, but how to make it an integral part of your career. He covers "communities of practice" a professional practice of meeting with a group of your peers in other companies, virtual networking (I thought he might quote me there, but alas, he stuck to my offline world), and the importance of having a Personal Board of Directors (POD).

Despite some of the insider associations Mike has in the corporate executive development field--Mike can call such executive development and coaching luminaries as Steve Kerr and Marshall Goldsmith friends--having such practical advice from these people is huge.

Even if you are natural networker--or flirt--this is an interesting read.

Jory Des Jardins also blogs at Pause.


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