I am at an HR event waiting for the session to start. Cluster-seating, notepads, water bottles, mints and the whole works. Attending an HR event is more often than not, akin to hitting your neighborhood pub down the lane. You bump into the regulars. Some are there for the company, some for the food and some for the drinks. On the other hand, some are busy having fun at the other’s expense, as they watch them get stoned and rave and rant about their boss (talk about there being an HR Reality Show on Primetime).
While some of them end up becoming your bosom buddies, others are relegated to just familiar faces whom you recognize as someone from somewhere who you’ve always known and exchanged smiles with. Irrespective of your equation with them, at the core, lies the innate desire for human beings to get to know each other, to basically network.
Ways of networking chats
At one such event, as I sit back and watch the world go by around me, I’m reflecting back on my initial days as I forayed into the HR fraternity. Over a period of time, familiar faces have become acquaintances and some of them, in turn, have become good friends. From being just a face in the crowd, I have moved on to being recognized among the speaker circles as the curious kid on the block whose questions have panelists looking at one another wondering who is going to take this one up. At times, I have observed each panelist having a perspective on my question that they want to share, but restrain themselves.
Over the years, I have realized that the answers that matter more often than not, I have received them after the formal session is over; at the bar. It makes me wonder, ‘Do candid questions get answered honestly only in 1:1 settings? Is it the connection built over the years that fuels bonhomie that yields the truth, or is it the need to be politically correct amongst a large audience?’
The preliminary reason, of course, is that we are social animals. We cannot survive in isolation. That’s just not how we are wired. Even the most introverted of us. We look for others with whom we can get along and co-exist as a part of a larger eco-system. Along the way, as we move beyond being just friends, we start hoping these connections prove beneficial in our quest for knowledge and professional growth.
Networking with those who disagree
You end up bouncing ideas off each other, which in turn helps foster a culture of innovation. However, this doesn’t happen organically every time. In our constant endeavor to connect and bond with like-minded individuals, we usually end up ignoring those who are either not like us or are in disagreement with our thoughts. And therein lies a big conundrum.
More often than not, we realize our shortcomings not from those who agree with us, but from those who don’t necessarily agree with us. It’s just a matter of perspective how we choose to accept the feedback.
Steve Jobs amongst many other known leaders hated “Yes Men” in his team. He was often misunderstood as a leader of being authoritarian in his attitude and adopting the “My way or the highway” approach, but his trusted close associates would acknowledge the fact that if anybody in disagreement with him was willing to reason with him and put across their point in a way that made him see the difference between his idea and theirs, he was more than happy to have it their way rather than his. It was never about ego. This brings us to an important aspect of networking – Never ignore the “No Men” in your life.
Majority of us often feel the tendency to network is strongly related to our personality as human beings. The more extroverted you are, the more your network with connections. While this is true to a certain extent, what is also true is the old adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. To say that introverts will never take the initiative to network is incorrect. The inability to network is often dwarfed by the necessity to network. Some of the most famous public personalities including Bollywood icons like Shahrukh Khan have claimed that they are loners in private. But when they are out there, they have no choice but to reach out proactively. Their business thrives on it. It depends on how dire your situation is.
If connecting with someone to get your job done is the only way out, then come what may, you will network. So even introverts network, just that their style and quantum may differ.
Is networking a manipulative exercise?
Some folks tend to look at networking as a manipulative exercise to use your contacts to get their way. You tend to have many connections with whom you may try and connect with only once in a blue moon. So, while the angel sitting on one shoulder might try to instill a misplaced sense of self-righteousness in your head by trying to color your opinions, a more level-headed and sensible devil on your other shoulder might counter it by suggesting the practice as normal. There are no manipulators in networking. What would not be acceptable is when you keep taking, but never give when requested, if not proactively. Networking is a two-way street. Always and Always.
Networking without an agenda
Freshers, especially those who have just passed out of campus, tend to believe that networking is for the experienced lot. They tend to look at networking as nothing more than a waste of time and forced effort trying to know someone who does not matter in their scheme of things. This is also true to a certain extent with those who possess limited professional experience. Many of us are still in touch with our school friends. When we met them for the first time in school, did we think of it as a waste of our time then?
Networking at work is a lot like making your first friends way back in kindergarten. Just as we figured our way around and eventually decided who our desk buddy became and who didn’t, in the corporate world too, we figure our way around and eventually decide who becomes our mentor or our lunch buddy and who stays just as a colleague.
Networking as a fresher always gives you a hefty long-term intangible ROI, just like Systemic Investment Plans.
I just realized that I had zoned out for a while gathering my thoughts and didn’t feel the tap on my shoulder. It’s an old buddy of mine wanting to introduce me to someone I’ve been looking forward to connecting with for a long time. The post-session dinner conversation already looks promising. As I sign off, always remember, your network is your net-worth.
Don’t forget to connect, without an agenda. The bar is just around the corner.