The word network has been developing at a very fast pace. If we look at the beginnings, a network was a compound of threads used to catch fish…
Some decades ago the term started shifting to a technical meaning. At that time we started to get connected by cables, literally. We were part of a LAN or a W-LAN at work and we used the existing telephone cables to reach our service providers and access the Internet. With our modern technology we are now able to access the Internet wireless. In many cities we find free wi-fi access in many public places. We are able to be connected to the world every time and the “world” can reach us every day, every time.
Networking is not only physical. A network is formed by people that are in some kind related to us. Belonging to our network we consider our family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, ex-peers, ex… whatever. The network exists by itself, but if we want, we can dedicate time and care and we can tend it as if it were a garden.
Is this a phenomenon of our modern way of life? Of course not, but the weight we give to the different relationships has shifted. Our main network used to be the family, in some countries it still is and all close or not so close relatives are included. Friends are the next in row and depending of where you live, a big anonymous city or a small town, the community and neighbors are part of the network. We usually ask family members, friends or neighbors, if the know of someone who could fix our tap or paint the walls. Some of us prefer to rely on the knowledge of others and ask more often for “help”. Others tend do exaggerate their independence and almost never ask. Good and bad networkers? What does it require to be a good networker? A network is interconnected, the information or impulses flow from one knot to the next, if there is a hole or a lot of knots are obstructing the flow, then its not stable. How is it then with a human network?
As I was mentioning before, there are good and not so effective networkers… Do you have to be outgoing to be a good networker? No, not really. Does it have to do with openness and communication? To be able to get the most out of your network you need to open and share. That doesn’t mean going to the next party and telling the funniest jokes aloud. However, being a good networker means to share knowledge and help to connect two or more members who would profit from this connection. Some of you may feel that they are using people, if they ask for a favor or help, while others may be feeling used, if they are always being asked for favors and get no retribution. This is also one of the main points, the networking relation has to be reciprocal, not exactly always returning or almost dying in the intent of returning a favor someone did. Reciprocal means that you sometimes give while other times you take.
Can we simply trust everyone we know? Can I trust everyone I will encounter on my way and? No, of course not. You will have to learn to use your antenna and trust your inner voice while trying to get to know the person. How about people I meet online? Are they to be trusted? Same as in the real world, start to communicate and you will be able to decide… (Hopefully…)
I personally think that networking has never been easier. We can reactivate our old schoolmates via Facebook or even find international contacts for our businesses via LinkedIn. And remember, the point is to network, not to make friends 😉 like those 1000 or more “friends” that some people have in Facebook.
There are other ways of networking… Other ideas to enlarge your network would be to join groups with similar interests as your own, for example for those library rats among us, you could join a book club or even organize one, online or in real, as you prefer. If you prefer sports, then you could join the Saturday Bike Club or the Alpine Club (ironically there are only real Alps in some countries of this wide world…)
Do I start networking everywhere and with everyone? If you feel alone, this may be the way, but usually it is easier, if you have a defined goal while addressing your contacts. If you don’t have a defined goal you can just keep in touch saying ‘hi’ or wishing Merry Christmas once in a while.
If we remember the way people in smaller towns used to live. It wasn’t that easy to communicate without seeing the person physically. However, towns or neighborhood were some kind of network. You went to the hairdresser and you heard the latest savory gossip of the village (sorry, hairdresser friends, for using this classical example making you think that all hairdressers like to gossip 😉 )
You went to the market place in your neighborhood and you would also be informed of what was going on. Walmart or the supermarket saves us time because we don’t have to go to several different shops, but we cannot have a small chat with the grocer’s. And our haircut maybe done in one of those fast impersonal chains once here once there. We can spend hours and hours online watching videos or playing games, but without really communicating with others.
Are there cultural differences in the way we network? Are there gender differences? Are men better networkers because there are many men who are more self-confident?
I’ve noticed that it is easier to start a small talk in some cultures than in others. This doesn’t mean that all Americans are this way and all Germans are the other… However, it is very helpful to know what topics may be more accepted or easier to small talk with a Korean. Would you be afraid to start the talking? I think this is a big issue for many people… How can I start talking to a stranger? What will he or she think about me? I think that is the main point. Some of us are very aware and afraid of what others think of us or may think of us. We don’t want to be criticized, if we ask something dumb or if we make a mistake while speaking another language. However, this impediments are almost only in our heads… in our view… There may be a lot of judgy people, but they’ll judge anyway, and maybe they are just that way because they are also afraid of ‘losing their face’. This point has also very deep roots in some cultures. Others take it more lightly.
If you need inspiration fro networking, take a look at a practical and funny article on http://www.wikihow.com/Network.
So, let’s network and make some comments!