5 Tips to Overhaul Your Mindset About Networking

Despite the plentiful reasons why networking efforts are important, it’s often something that people have fairly entrenched ideas about and, for many entrepreneurs, these beliefs may be holding them back from maximizing the positive effects of network building for their business.

As a professor of organizational behaviour at London Business School, Herminia Ibarra has over 20 years of experience teaching students and executives how to build and use networks more effectively. In her digital article , she suggests that the biggest barriers to optimizing the benefits of networking “are not a matter of skill but mind-set.” The following tips take into consideration common misconceptions about networking that Ibarra argues hold people back the most.

Recognize the value in networking and make time for it

Making time for and actively participating in the activities — attending conferences or small business mixers, or joining your local Chamber of Commerce — involves a fairly substantial investment of time and energy. For many, this can feel like a make-work activity with little immediate payoff.

Ibarra suggests the key to uncovering the real value of networking is to build experience and learn which interactions and relationships will provide the most benefit to your specific needs. “Reaching out to people that you have identified as strategically important to your agenda is more likely to pay off,” she explains.

Having said that, it takes time and experience to figure out what works and what doesn’t. That usually means investing more time up front to try different things, all the while thinking strategically about how you can optimize your efforts.

Nurture networking skills and practice often

According to Ibarra, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for entrepreneurs who are resistant to networking is the belief that “people are either naturally gifted at networking or they are not, and it’s generally difficult to change that.”

Sure, it seems reasonable to assume that an extroverted person would naturally be more talented at networking. But introverts need not dismiss networking as an innate skill bestowed upon their gregarious counterparts. Referencing the research of Kuwabara, Hildebrand, and Zou , Ibarra points out that “if you believe that networking is a skill you can develop you are more likely to be motivated to improve it, work harder at it, and get better returns for your networking than someone with a fixed mind-set.”

Be intentional and deliberate about growing your network

A passive or spontaneous approach to networking tends to result in relationship building within like-minded, homogenous networks.

And while it is undoubtedly easier and more natural to want to surround ourselves with similar people, when it comes to networking, these “‘narcissistic and lazy’ networks can never give us the breadth and diversity of inputs we need to understand the world around us, to make good decisions and to get people who are different from us on board with our ideas,” says Ibarra.

As you build networking experience, focusing very intentionally and deliberately on building key relationships that give you a well-rounded circle of contacts will be infinitely more beneficial.

Don’t dismiss networking as self-serving or unethical

Some people are reluctant to pursue networking because they feel it’s inherently selfish or insincere. Research suggests that the ethical dilemma around networking differs by level, with senior executives much less conflicted because they generally feel they have some valuable expertise to exchange with others in their networking circle.

A subtle shift in mindset that sees “networking in terms of reciprocity and giving back as much as one gets,” is really important and can make the effort seem much more valuable on a personal level.

Actively cultivate relationships on the periphery of your network

One of the wonderful benefits of networking is that you establish close relationships and a strong circle of key supporters within your community. This inner circle of trusted individuals is a terrific source of support and help, but doesn’t necessarily contribute to the ongoing innovation and success of your business.

Actively pursuing connections within the outer circle of your network helps you access “innovation and strategic insight,” explains Ibarra. “Weak ties,” she says, “hold the key to [your] network’s evolution.”

With the right mindset, lots of practice, and a thoughtful approach, networking can be incredibly valuable to the ongoing success of your business.


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