One of the most misunderstood or least understood tools in the professional growth toolbox is networking. It is not well explained in any of the writing I have seen and little or no discussion is brought to bear during most folks college career.
Often it is pictured as attending business parties or luncheons and shaking peoples hands and while that can and should be part of the equation it is not the only or most important part of networking.
As usual it is easy for me to fall into the give you a lecture part, I have been on this path and have made tons of mistakes as I progressed. So, don’t think for one moment that I am any better naturally than you or anyone else. I do like people and talking with them, that might be my only advantage. I have found that most people like other people, but some have had experiences that left them unwilling to take a chance on getting hurt. If you are in that category, please read “The Four Agreements” my Miguel Ruiz. (Actually, even if you are not in that category, if you have not read “The Four Agreements” yet, please do it – there is another post about that.
So what does networking really mean? All of us understand at least the basics of the technical term “network”. The human relations term is similar. The difference is primarily that we have to discover the interconnections between us and other folks. Along the way I found that the key is to look for the similarities to establish rapport and look for the differences to establish a path to helping each other.
If you and I have military service in common, that will establish a connection. It may be different branches and experiences it might even be different places in the culture. You might be a dependent and I active duty, Navy vs. Army, wartime vs. peacetime, but we were part of the greater community: the service. Our differences outside of the community may include ethnicity, age, relative rank in this life. We can then use those differences to find ways to help each other.
As an older veteran, I did not serve in the war zones, but share the military family with those who did. I can and do offer guidance for problems in the civilian work force. I ask for help understanding things as varied as video games and Reddit. The key for me has always been admitting I don’t know something and asking for help. The funny part is that brings me closer to most folks than offering or providing help does. Still, I am willing and able to help my work mates whether it is technical or more general how to get along in this business help.
To get to that place, the place that I had those opportunities I had to find ways to interact with my co-workers (nearby ones or across the business in other groups). There are almost always groups to join. These groups are not lifetime commitments, so join or visit different ones. In the Northrop Grumman world there are recreation clubs, which cover a wide spectrum of interests. Try different clubs. Once I settle on one I become part of the leadership of the group. Before long everyone knows my name. I have a wide variety of folks in my network, because I have been a Toastmaster club officer, a Boy Scout Leader, a Non-Profit support . Go join a club!