We’ve just taken on a new rescue dog, Joe. He’s a big smart friendly chap, impeccably behaved at home and in his regular haunts. He loves his family, enjoys his friends and recognises the pecking order of the dogs he meets frequently. He knows their interests and their foibles and they rub along just fine.
However, Joe’s a dog who likes routine and isn’t so keen on the unknown. He is quick to sense when others he doesn’t know well or are strangers to him, feel the same way. This makes him nervous so he over-reacts to make himself seem confident or even brave. But he’s too noisy, doesn’t listen, won’t stand still and can’t wait to get away. All in all, it’s clear he’s not relaxed enough to actually communicate attractively and find out how nice everyone else is – especially the newbies like him who are in the same boat – and so he misses the chance to make great new friends and enjoy lots of nice stuff.
Does this ring a bell? Are you a Joe when it comes to networking? Do you let your nerves get the better of you? It’s easily done. It’s not only Joe who would rather be hanging out at home or exploring a new place on his own without interruption. Our lives are busy and socialising is something we all feel should be fun.
Well, ‘professional socialising’ – networking – can be! First of all, let’s get rid of the distinction between professional and personal activities. In this day and age, with the emphasis on cultural fit, emotional empathy and intelligence in the workplace we should be more confident of the kind of relaxed informal relationships with our colleagues that we have with our friends.
Secondly, the opportunities to network are much greater than they ever were. Open plan offices with breakout areas, the chance to pop out to grab a coffee or lunch whilst staying connected and regular remote working are now the norm.
I recently bumped into three people I knew from different networks in one tiny coffee shop. The challenge in this situation was remembering everyone’s names as I made introductions, but it was a lovely dilemma to have!
Just like bumping into friends doesn’t automatically result in a conversation of life-changing importance, a networking chat might appear quite superficial but this is fine. It might lead to a significant exchange but if it doesn’t it’s not a wasted opportunity, another will arise. Take it from Joe, it’s much more acceptable to take a gentle initial sniff than pile in with a loud bark!
One enthusiastic sniff will be reciprocated by all but the most ungrateful and you’ll be surprised to find how often the encounter develops positively. In fact, this must be the case because I’m often asked how do I know when it’s time to go. Well, if you can introduce two people to each other as I did in the coffee shop you can use the opportunity to say your goodbyes.
However, things don’t always play out like this. Much like Joe in the park there will come a point – sooner or later – when you will start to feel that enough hounds and lamp posts have been explored. If treats are available you might break away and follow your nose to them, or use the excuse of a bus or ball to catch to make your departure.
Poor Joe, however, has much more of a challenge when it comes to networking than we do. If he’s keen to follow-up with a new chum he has to wait until he bumps into them again; we, have email and social media to take the friendship forward!
Caroline Evans FCIS, is founder of MindLeap, a corporate governance boutique. Caroline partners with several organisations providing expert advice and practical support, connects and collaborates across the corporate governance community and gives guidance as a company secretary and corporate governance speaker at conferences. She also offers coaching on career decision-making for company secretaries, governance professionals and aspiring NEDs.