Written by Meena Thuraisingham, Principal and Director of TalentInvest, Jan 2012

Much has been written about the importance of networking as well as the correlation between networking and high performance which is clearer now than ever before¹. But providing people tips and tools to network with may not be enough.  Building a deeper understanding about why it is that some network better than others is an essential starting point. Armed with these actionable insights, those who find it a struggle may become more quickly comfortable with the personal changes they need to make and learn to apply it more deliberately to build their personal impact and influence in the organisation.  This, we believe, should be the sole purpose of networking.

The skill differences can be stark as the ‘cocktail test’ demonstrates.  The confident networker stands at the door scanning the room for people they don’t know and then goes up and introduces themselves to them. Whereas the not so confident networker scans the room for someone they know and then plants themselves with them for the rest of the evening. In the latter case it is a lost opportunity to extend and enrich one’s circle of interaction but more importantly a lost opportunity to expose yourself to new perspectives, interesting ideas and a different ‘world view’. It is especially critical for new joiners who need to very quickly learn the ‘genetic’ or ‘cultural code’ of an organisation which they simply won’t learn from ‘meet and greet’ sessions with people shown on the organisation chart. Real knowledge in an organisation flows through a complex circuitry that sits behind the organisation chart. Networking helps you unlock this tacit knowledge early on in your time in a new role or in a new company.

In the extensive work TalentInvest has done with high potentials using FIRO-B, a self rater instrument that assesses interpersonal preferences, we have found 2 interesting patterns (let’s call these personal struggles). In both cases it is the measure of one’s proactivity in engaging interpersonally that appears to be a key barrier:

  • Struggle #1: I feel safer with a topic/task – Some will need a task in hand before they will strike up a conversation with someone and the “but what will I talk to them about” struggle is one they regularly voice.  They struggle with what they may even see as ‘pointless chat’. These are generally people whose task orientation is strong and sometimes in over-drive.  It may also reflect an underlying ‘utility’ attitude to relationships: I interact with people I need something from, rather than I interact with people because of where it may lead us both
  • Struggle #2: I prefer to interact one to one – Some are more comfortable in one to one settings than with larger groups and interacting with or working with larger groups is daunting to them.  This plays out in gatherings they may make a point of attending but will stick with someone they know well rather than someone they don’t know. This preference is often driven by the greater satisfaction they get from deep intimate connections with a few, rather than broad and general connections with many.

FIRO-B also tells you something about the importance of energy. Some people are energetic in the connections they make – they are proactive not just responsive – putting into the relationships as much as they take out.  Seeking ways to collaborate not just when asked to. Whereas others take only, using relationships to get ahead but never giving back in ways that are helpful to the people they network with.  Obviously it does not take long for such relationships to fizzle out and not sustain themselves.

What is clear is that to become better at networking you have to over-ride your natural preferences and predispositions. When faced with these interpersonal style differences, it takes extra effort to unlearn and re-learn some new skills and new habits.  While it requires recognition of the value of networking in augmenting your personal impact and influence it also requires a genuine interest in investing in those that you network with as a 2 way process. Lastly, it is important to retain who you are while at the same time taking yourself outside what is comfortable to do – being yourself but with more skill.

For more on this and other ideas check out http://www.talentinvest.com.au/

¹ research by Rob Cross, Associate Professor, University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce

Written by Meena Thuraisingham
Director and Principal, Talent Invest

Meena Thuraisingham is a consultant, author, executive coach and thought leader in the area of People and Culture. An organisational psychologist by training, she founded TalentInvest, a niche consulting practice, advising global clients in the UK, Asia and Australia in Capability and Culture. Meena is also a regular speaker internationally on leadership effectiveness and culture change.

Her published books are The Secret Life of Decisions, Careers Unplugged and Derailed!. Get Your Copy Today