My work finds me speaking to people with a wide range of skillsets and experience, often in the same room. Some people have never felt comfortable networking or have never before considered it to be relevant to them. For them, often the most basic ideas I share are of groundbreaking importance because they have simply never considered them before.
Others are less likely to be easily engaged with the common sense ideas I share. I never claim that I teach anything so technical and complicated that people don’t know how to do it. The term ‘it’s not rocket science’ could have been invented for networking.
That doesn’t make it less relevant though. The vast majority of people I encounter through my work have one thing in common, whatever their previous experience or success. They do not tend to focus strategically on their networking.
The most comfortable networkers know how to build relationships, they are at ease engaging in interesting conversations, they instinctively know when to pick up the phone to a key contact and they often have a strong support network, including mentors. They naturally do much of what I teach already.
They are in a state of unconscious competence when it comes to networking. The Four Stages of Learning model is pretty widely known, so I won’t go into detail here. If you need more background, click on the here.
The most common analogy used to explain this state of expertise is how experienced drivers can suddenly find that they have reached their destination but they can’t remember making each turn, let alone each change of gears, flick of the indicator or turn of the wheel. They are so used to driving that they go through the motions of both controlling the car and following a familiar route without thinking about it.
When you understand how to network, you don’t think about networking. You just do it.
But by doing so are you making the best decisions? Are you giving everything you potentially could to your network or achieving as much as your contacts are able to help you achieve?
If you always drive the same route without thinking, are you missing out on a short-cut you hadn’t thought of? When you don’t take the time out to consider the best route, do you need to wait until someone informs you of a better way before you find out?
Sometimes it can pay to come back a step to a state of conscious competence. To look at exactly what we’re doing and make sure that we are being as effective and as efficient as we possibly could be.Speakers use their knowledge and expertise to help audiences look at their activities and behaviour in a new way. They help them to think more deeply, more strategically and more intentionally about a topic.
For years I have challenged my audiences to do one thing. Once a month, identify your biggest challenge and then ask yourself, ‘who do I know who has the expertise, the ideas, the world-view and the experience to help me overcome it?’. Pick up the phone and invite them to coffee or lunch and ask for help.
What difference could such a focused and proactive approach make to you compared to relying on your instinct?
I intentionally ran this blog past three colleagues before publishing, significantly improving it from the original draft. One of those colleagues, someone I consider to be a very good networker, told me that she has “fallen into the trap of using some networking events to catch up with old friends, which is not actually ever that business focused. So this could apply to me.”
In the introduction to my third book, ‘Recommended‘, I explained how my business is built on referrals and I teach the topic, so I naturally and instinctively know how and when to ask for referrals. Yet, when I take my own advice and keep a record of my referral activity, the number and quality of referrals naturally rises, as does the conversion rate into business.
There’s an easy trap to fall into when things come easily to us. We shift our focus to other areas where we need to concentrate more of our efforts and let nature take its course where we are confident. By doing so, it’s easy to slip into bad habits and lazy approaches without realising it, missing new routes and effective shortcuts because we’re not looking out for them.
Sometimes we want to listen to a speaker or read books to learn something new. There is, however, equal value in doing the same to remind ourselves what we knew in the first place but had forgotten to implement.
So, what is your greatest strength? The area you are most confident about, where people turn to you as the expert? Whether networking or something completely different.
When was the last time you truly challenged and extended yourself in that area?
About the author – Andy Lopata
A business networking strategist, Andy work’s with companies on how to use networking tools to develop their businesses. Networking is not just about sales. Whether for lead generation, breaking down silos internally, recruitment and retention of top staff or developing future leaders, networks and collaboration have a key role to play. Andy work’s with clients to help recognise that role and put the strategy and skills in place to leverage it.
Andy has been quoted in the international press, including The Sunday Times, The Financial Times and The Guardian in the UK. He has also co-authored two books on networking, and his third book, ‘Recommended: How to Sell Through Networking and Referrals’ was published by Financial Times Prentice Hall in July 2011.
For eight years, Andy was Managing Director of Business Referral Exchange, one of the UK’s leading referral-focused networking groups with over 2,000 member companies. He now work’s with companies from one-man bands to global names such as GlaxoSmithKline, BDO and Paypal to help them realise the full potential from their networking.
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