How Do You Define Networking?
If you were to ask 50 professionals what networking is, you would likely get 50 different responses. There would be some similarities but also many differences. In several surveys, we’ve asked professionals “how do you define networking?” and have summarized the key words from respondents in the bubble below. Do these match how you define networking? What is similar? What is different?
Some of the most commonly used words to describe networking are relationships, connection, people, and business opportunity. While these words certainly relate to networking, it doesn’t provide a clear understanding of networking. Some of these keywords even contradict each other. Words such as referral, revenue growth, and business opportunity are sales-focused, while words such as relationships, people, connections, and cultivation are relationship-focused.
There is a clear lack of consensus on what networking is, and when something lacks clarity, it becomes difficult to know where to focus and how to improve our ability.
The Oxford dictionary defines networking as:
networking – the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.
This definition provides some clarity but includes “personal and social contacts” which does not entirely apply to professional networking. We’re in need of a better definition.
How We Define Networking
At Connection Builders, through interviews with hundreds of professional service providers, we created our own definition of networking based on the core themes we heard in respondents’ answers. We define professional networking as:
The act of consistently establishing, building, and maintaining mutual trust and respect with your professional peers.
Let’s break this down to really understand what it means. Here are the key elements:
- “The act of” – Networking is an action that you must take, and that action is to interact and exchange information.
- “consistently” – Networking is not something that you do once, and you’re done. It is something that must be done consistently over time to be successful.
- “establishing, building, and maintaining mutual trust and respect” – The purpose of interacting and exchanging this information is to build mutual trust and respect with the other person (i.e., build a relationship with the other person).
- “with your professional peers” – Networking is done with your professional peers, not personal or social contacts. That doesn’t mean that you don’t build friendships along the way, but it does mean that we are talking about this in the context of those individuals where there will be synergies to mutually add value to each other in a business setting.
The process of consistently building relationships with your professional peers can be thought of like planting a garden. It involves planting seeds, watering and fertilizing those seeds, maintaining the garden, and eventually harvesting the crop. While we discuss each of these steps in greater detail in later courses, it is critical to have a clear understanding of what we mean by “networking” as it serves as the basis for all that is to come.
What Networking Is NOT
- Just about meeting people and trying to do business with them
- Only work-related
- Something you can do quick and easy
- Only for extroverts
What we really want to leave you with is that all too often, the biggest challenge with networking is that people perceive it as sales, when in reality, networking is as simple as building relationships with people, and it can be quite enjoyable. Giving people this clarity of what networking is all about is often the difference-maker in getting people to start networking.