Why We Network

Guest blog by Andrew Hennigan. Andrew Hennigan is a lecturer, freelance journalist and speaker coach based in Stockholm who teaches networking and influencing workshops for companies, business schools and universities. He is also author of the book “Payforward Networking” based on his business school courses and writes regularly about networking and influencing techniques. 

Everyone says that you have to network. What they don’t say is why you should do this, and how. Why you should network is actually more interesting than you think. You know already that networking is important for finding jobs and for hiring people to work for you. You also know that it is useful for finding customers for your business or for finding suppliers.

But networking is also useful in other ways.

Having a strong network makes it easier for you to find information. This might sound irrelevant in the age of search engines, but there are many questions that Google doesn’t answer, or maybe it has too many answers and you need a human guide to tell you which is right. Sometimes your network also gives you answers to questions you didn’t know that you had.

Your network connections give you more influence, too. It is much easier to convince someone to follow your ideas if they already know you and trust you. Someone with a strong network will find it much easier to bring changes, have their ideas adopted by other people and get support for their initiatives.

Indirectly networking helps in other ways, too. When people work together with a networking attitude there is more cooperation in the workplace, so less conflict, less stress and more productivity.

But at a much more basic level networking works for us because it is a part of our nature. Some species survive in their niche by having sharp teeth. Some survive by running very fast. Others survive by having many babies. Humans survive mainly through teamwork. We might think that we can manage on our own, but there is clear evidence that this is not true.

To begin with, when any human does succeed in some achievement without any help we consider that to be an exceptional feat. Look at Robinson Crusoe. When he lived alone on an island it was considered a great adventure. There is also a TED talk where someone attempts to make a toaster entirely on their own, with hilarious results.

Apart from simply having extra pairs of hands to help, we also rely on the shared knowledge of our community. People always overestimate their knowledge precisely because in real life you can always draw on the knowledge of the people around you. Someone working on their own might be able to manage in the end, but they will work more slowly.

Research conducted at Bell Laboratories in the 1990s revealed that one of the key factors that distinguished good performers from excellent ones was their network. A person with good technical knowledge and a strong network could outperform a person with outstanding technical skills and a poor network. Most employers are aware of this.

So a person who has a strong network will find it easier to find work, easier to hire employees, easier to get information, easier to influence other people and generally be more effective in the workplace.

But what exactly is this strong network? Superficially it is about knowing people, but in reality it is more than that. What really matters is having connections. These are people who know you, trust you and know how they could help you. Your connections are your ambassadors and represent you in places where you are not there. Perhaps someone is looking for someone like you. They mention it in front of one of your connections and they either recommend you or tell you about it. That is why the aim of networking is not to meet the people who can help; it is to build connections. This builds in a multiplying factor and it is this scaling up that makes networking effective.

Now we know why you should network and what we mean by networking, but how do you actually do it? That’s a story for another occasion.

Here  you learnt about the “why” but if you are interested in the “how” join Andrew Hennigan for one of his two lectures about “How you Network” at Careers in Health and Life Sciences Expo (CHaSE) March 7 2018. Andrew will also be an on-site networking coach at the event. Go practise!

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