Three professors decided to study business networking after one of them struggled awkwardly to network with other academics.
In one of four experiments, the professors asked participants to write down their recollections of either business networking or personal networking. Business or professional networking – which the professors refer to as “instrumental networking” – is intended to help you advance your career while personal networking is about making new friends.
Afterward, they completed word fragments, including W_ _ H, H _ _ E R, and S _ _ P, writes Susan Adams in Why You Hate Networking in Forbes magazine.
People recalling personal networking were more likely to write words like “wish,” “shaker” and “step.” People recalling business networking were more likely – twice as likely, in fact – to write “wash,” “shower” and “soap.”
“What they found: instrumental networking literally makes people feel dirty, so much so that they think about taking a shower or brushing their teeth, the way Professor Kouchaki used to feel,” Susan writes.
Biggest Misconceptions About Business Networking
In 5 Misconceptions About Networking in Harvard Business Review, Herminia Ibarra explores the major reasons why people talk themselves out of business networking – and why doing so is a mistake.
1. Networking is mostly a waste of time
Response: Reaching out to people you’ve identified as strategically important can make networking a valuable use of your time.
2. Some people are naturally gifted at networking and other aren’t
Response: If you believe networking is a skill you can develop, you’re more likely to improve it and get benefits from it.
3. Relationships should form naturally
Response: Research shows that left to our own devices, we form relationships with people just like us, and that kind of network offers minimal breadth and diversity.
4. Networking is inherently self-serving and selfish
Response: Networking is a two-way street. It’s as much about what you can contribute to people you meet as what you can gain from them.
5. Our strong ties are the most valuable
Response: While close, high trust relationships are important, those people likely have the same information as you. Expand your circle and expand your knowledge.
Why Should You Network?
While business networking can be challenging, it doesn’t have to make you feel dirty. In fact, it can – and should – make you feel smart and capable.
In Learn to Love Networking in Harvard Business Review, those same three professors who studied business networking offer four strategies to help overcome an aversion to networking.
“A mountain of research shows that professional networks lead to more job and business opportunities, broader and deeper knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement, and greater status and authority,” they write. “Building and nurturing professional relationships also improves the quality of work and increases job satisfaction.”
Salesforce MVP Eric Dreshfield is a believer. He writes a blog series called “I’m the (Kevin) Bacon of the Salesforce Community in which he profiles people in the Salesforce community. The people and the connections they make represent the biggest strengths of the Salesforce community, he says.
“That’s huge because you never know who you will meet and what you might learn from them,” he says. “You might even end up talking to your next co-worker or manager.”
Microsoft and Salesforce MVPs and Nintex technical evangelists offer the following business networking tips:
1. Remember the Reasons Why You Network
Unless you’re a confident extrovert, business networking doesn’t always come easy. Nintex Technical Evangelism Manager Vadim Tabakman gets it. It can feel like you’re the new kid at school worried about whom to talk to at lunch.
That nervousness makes it even more important to keep in mind the reasons why it’s worth walking up to a stranger and starting a conversation. It’s about expanding the people in your world. That world expansion doesn’t just help you. It can also benefit your customers and clients.
“Networking gives you the opportunity to meet different people you wouldn’t necessarily meet during your day-to-day in the office,” Vadim says. “Even if what they say doesn’t mean anything to you then, you might in three months run into a customer who explains an issue that has nothing to do with your product but you can make that recommendation.”
It’s also a great way to establish a reputation in the community as you share knowledge with other members.
“As an individual, the ability to build and maintain relationships within the community boosts your personal brand and status within the community,” says Nintex Technical Evangelist Chris Ellis.
2. Recognize That You’re in a Friendly Group
Approaching someone you don’t know might seem intimidating. But remember that these strangers already share an interest in whatever you’re interested in, whether that’s technology like SharePoint or Salesforce or something else.
Also, remember that everyone you encounter at events is trying to improve their business and their professional life, just like you are, Chris says.
“I was terrified when I got up on stage to present my first session at Dreamforce,” he says, “but as soon as I started talking, I realized everyone was there because they wanted to hear what I wanted to say, and I had probably already had conversations with them online. Oh hey, these people are my friends. Nerves calmed, instantly.”
3. Ask Questions
One of the biggest struggles people have with business networking is: What do I say?
Striking up a conversation with a stranger comes easily to the most extroverted among us. But for many, it can be the most nerve-wracking part of conferences, professional Meetup groups, SharePoint Saturdays and other events.
Microsoft MVP Knut Relbe-Moe, chief technical architect at Advania AS in Norway and a Nintex virtual technical evangelist, suggests easing any networking jitters by asking a question as a conversation starter.
“Just approach somebody and ask them, ‘What do you work with?’ ‘Do you use Nintex?’ ‘What version of SharePoint do you have?’ ” Knut suggests. “Just asking that question about what version of SharePoint they have opens up other questions.”
Salesforce MVP Eric, who’s the founder of Salesforce conference Midwest Dreamin’, agrees that questions make excellent conversation starters when you’re business networking.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to people,” Eric says. “If you are waiting in line for a session at Dreamforce, introduce yourself and start a conversation: ‘Hi, I’m Eric. Is this your first time at Dreamforce?’ BOOM! Instant relevant topic.”
4. Use Breaks to Your Advantage
Many conferences and events offer official networking functions, such as happy hours and parties. Those can be great ways to break the ice with fellow attendees. However, don’t limit your business networking at conferences to the official networking opportunities, says Microsoft MVP Maarten Eekels, the chief technology officer at Portiva.
“During breaks, don’t go somewhere where there’s nobody. Don’t go sit in the corner,” Maarten says. “During breaks, join people in the main hallway or at the lunch tables. Don’t be shy to have a conversation. There are so many people I met just sitting at a table or just having a coffee.
“Just remember all the people visiting a conference, they all have the same purpose,” he says. “They’re all there because they have a passion for the same platform as you.”