Networking is a widely used term. And, yet, it is a term that is confusing to many and often misunderstood.
Some think networking simply means asking people for a favor. Other people believe you only network when you need something. Still other people view networking as just something you do when you want to find a new job. Wrong! When you think about networking, remember that business--like life in general--is about people.
We don't live in isolation and we don't work in isolation. We need each other. Networking is about enjoying people, building friendships, helping each other. Networking means showing that you care about someone enough that you stay in contact and want to share ideas, experiences--yourself.
Networking means living life by the golden rule: treating others the way you would like to be treated. Networking is a lifelong process of nurturing relationships, caring for people.
We all have picked up the phone and recognized the voice on the other end of the line and thought, "I wonder what he wants now?" Networking is not using people. Networking is not a one-way street. And, networking is not momentary. It is a long-term commitment to a friendship, the development of a strong relationship.
Clearly all relationships are different and the depth of our relationships will vary from person to person. However, you might be surprised at how many acquaintances can develop into mutually rewarding relationships simply by staying in touch. Or how sharing ideas or seeking to help each other transforms professional relationships into lifelong friendships.
We all network: You have lunch with a friend. You talk with a relative. You strike up a conversation with someone sitting next to you.
Yet, we all have missed opportunities to nurture and sustain relationships. Think about various periods or places in your lives and the people who were important. There are the various levels of schooling--grammar school, high school, college. There are various employers--the people you knew on your first job or on your previous job. There are community organizations or activities--Girl or Boy Scouts, softball or bowling.
Now think about how many of these people you can contact, by phone or mail, or with whom you are in regular communication. If you are like most of us, you have lost contact with a number of these people. We regret losing these friends and these relationships, but somehow they seem to have slipped away.
But by clarifying what networking is and elevating the importance of networking to a conscious, everyday level, you will not only deepen your existing relationships but also expand them. Through the simple process of periodically picking up the phone to talk or sending an e-mail or getting together for coffee, your world of experiences and opportunities are enlarged.
You discover a great restaurant or a weekend getaway that is nearby. You hear about exciting new professional opportunities. You learn how to fix an annoying problem at work. You share experiences to find or maintain that elusive balance between work and personal life.
Think about how your life is enriched by these valued relationships as you share new ideas and opportunities day after day, week after week, year after year. You have enlarged your world of experiences and multiplied the number of opportunities you will see in your lifetime--those opportunities that will help you fulfill your potential and achieve your dreams.
There will be times when you or a friend might need help or advice. For example, you might be a software engineer and you have been asked to lead a software development team for the first time. A friend is considering an offer to move to a different department at his company and wants your perspective.
You have been asked to help identify a public relations firm for your company, but you don't have much experience in working with these types of firms. Another friend is looking for a job and has asked you for help.
When situations like these occur, it is valuable to be able to talk with people you trust, both inside and outside your company--your network. It is natural for you to turn to people you know and have confidence in. Ask for help when you need it but make sure you provide feedback--and try to return the favor.
When you boil it down, networking is about the lifelong nurturing of relationships. People count. Enjoy and care for those around you. Make a conscious effort to sustain and nurture relationships. Your experiences will be deepened, your opportunities enlarged. Networking makes the world go around.