What I Know Now About Networking

Six years ago, I presented a teleseminar series on networking, called Networking Naturally.  My alma mater, Northwestern University agreed to sponsor the series. 350 professionals signed up in two weeks.  To be honest, I made it up as I went along. While I was successful at networking and had written about it, I had never taught others how to network.  I went on to teach over 2000 professionals in 20 countries how to network, with more ease and joy.  Yes, joy, for even the shyest of introverts. Photo by Kathleen Tyler Conklin

I developed a set of principles around networking, which allowed people to be more of themselves, while being more effective in connecting with others. These principles are as relevant today as they were in 2009, at the depth of the Great Recession.

Since then, I’ve learned and experienced more about networking. Here’s what I know now:

  • We are better together than we are alone.  I’ve been blessed with many wonderful people in my life. A few years ago, I realized that it was up to me to make even more of those relationships that I really enjoy. Today, I have regular calls with smart, kindred spirits who lift me up, give me counsel when I need it, and share new ideas. And I do the same for them. I have people who I meet with on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis, not for any specifically predetermined purpose. I trust that whatever I am ready to give and receive will emerge during the conversation.  Sometimes, I do reach out to others, specifically for a purpose, and that’s okay, too.
  • Your network reflects where you are in your spiritual journey.  I’ve grown a lot since 2009, mainly through the graces of going through hard times and coming out the other end, with strength, wholeness, and compassion.  The people I attract today–as clients, collaborators, and friends–are different from who I attracted six years ago or even three years ago, because I have changed.
  • It’s okay to let go of those people who are no longer a fit for who you are.  This can be disconcerting for some. You might even feel disloyal.  And when I have done the inner work to bless others who I am letting go, miracles occur.  True happiness is found in aligning your external life with your new found internal world.
  • Be the person who reaches out, steps up, and shows up.  I developed a model which I call the Network Maturity Model.  It shows the progression of creating mutually beneficial relationships, where each step along the way requires a different set of skills and mindset:
    • Purely transactional. (“I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”)
    • Relationship builder. (“I’m in this for the longer haul, without any expectation of what I will receive.”)
    • Relationship hub. (“Let me introduce you to John.”)
    • Community builder.  (“Who is up for a meetup in San Francisco next month?”)
  • People are hungry for community and belonging. In the Networking Maturity Model, one of the greatest places of joy for me is as a community builder.  Since 2009, I have organized dozens of in-person meetups (a gathering at TEDxMileHigh in Denver, dinners in Chicago, lunch in Atlanta) and virtual gatherings with sparkly names like Summer Solstice Party, Campfire Conversations, and Brilliant Conversations.  Always, I am filled with gratitude when I experience the magic of many-to-many connections and a community forms.  Belonging is a primal need for human beings.
  • It’s not only important to be a good giver, but also a good receiver.  Many of you have heard met talk about “giving first, before asking for anything.”  For some, the giving is easy. It’s the asking/receiving that can be hard.  After experiencing burnout in 2011, I now know that giving and receiving must be balanced in order to be a sustainable cycle.  Recently, I reached out to friends on behalf of my two sons, away at school. One was in search of a room to rent for the summer in Atlanta, where he has a job the university he attends. The other is in job search, for a permanent job when he graduates next month.  With the former, my network came up with leads in less than 24 hours (most of which I’m pretty sure had not been posted on Craigslist, where my son had been looking).  With the latter, a friend who helps job seekers for a living responded to my request for help on my son’s resume with the following, “I am happy to do that. Glad you asked. What a great way to thank you for your support over the years!” My friend articulated something that I had forgotten–when I am willing to receive, someone else is experiencing the joy of giving.

Networking has given me much over the years. As I get older, I see that there’s so much more that’s available to each of us, when networking becomes not just a way to further our careers, but a means of bettering our lives.

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