Claire Labrum discusses how to harness your networks more effectively
When I first set up my business, Strictly Finanical, I was surprised at where (and who) I got business from. It wasn't necessarily the people I expected. Now Tanya Menon, business school professor, has explained why this might be the case in a TED talk. And she gives us some tips as to how to make the most of the network of contacts we do have …
Firstly she points out that we are creatures of habit. We tend to do the same things at around the same time and we have favourite routines. This extends to our friendship network – we tend to spend most time with people who are similar to us and who have similar views and backgrounds. She terms this social narrowing – it is natural to seek out people who are similar to us. But this does not help us when we are trying to build a diverse network or create new links. The people who we are closest to are often of least help to us – becuase they know the same people, go to the same places and do the same things as we do – and so they are of limited value and unable to 'contribute' anything new.
Rather, we should be looking towards people with whome we have weaker ties – the chance aquaintance or occassional buddy. These people are more likely to have networks that reach further – and can help put us in touch with new opportunties.
Tanya gives three strategies to expand our sphere of influence, and harness the power of our networks more effectively.
- Take steps to bump into new people by varying your routine – go to a different coffee shop, have lunch in a different place, take a different route home, sit in a different place (change desks?), vary the time that you do things. This approach simply gives you the opportuntity to meet new people. And when we do meet those new people, engage with them rather than filtering them out. Typically we automoatically make judgements about people when we meet them – whether we think they are interesting or 'like me'. But the whole point of this exercise is to enlarge your network – so find someone who typically you would not find interesting and have a chat with them. Force yourself to engage with different people and actively try and create a more diverse circle of aquaintances
- But doing this takes a lot of courage – putting yourself 'out there' is a very brave thing to do. This is particulalry the case if you are feeling vulnerable – like when you are starting a new business and trying to build up a client base! The tendancy (well, it was for me) is to reach inwards, effectively limiting our networks. It is important to value your own skills and be confident in what you can contribute, and at the same time make sure that we do not inadvertantly limit ourselves by only contacting those people within our immediate comfort zone
- Always seek opportunites to strengthen relationships. This means applying a little BE theory to our interactions – so, if you have helped someone, rather than just saying 'no problem', say something like 'No problem, I know you would do the same for me'. Giving people a subtle reminder that you might need a favour in future is no bad thing. Equally, acknowledging it the other way around has the same impact – 'thanks for your help, if I can help you in future, just let me know' or 'Thank you, I look forward to working with you again' – or if you can, given them something that they might find useful (I find a link to published report or copy of a newspaper article is useful – they may already have it, but the fact I have bothered to send it to them shows I am thinking about them and trying to be helpful). Here we are simply reinforcing our ties with other people by signalling that you respect them and are open to further communication in the future.
Tanya's article is very interesting and shows that with small changes in attitude and behaviour we could all become much more effective networkers.