The longer I work in the field of leadership development and the longer I am a human being, I find that I increasingly appreciate the power of the network. In my experience, networking — a term that many of us dislike and even fear — can be the fastest and most enjoyable way to obtain and share useful information with the good people with whom we work. And I have seen more and more clients paying attention to not only their internal networks within their organisations but also their external networks.
Your internal network is one of the most useful tools available to you. It can be a tremendously beneficial resource and provide support for you in your career development, and it is useful for the overarching information exchange that happens within your organisation. Your external network can bring a range of diverse perspectives to your work, which can help you make more informed and aligned decisions. Best of all, it can stretch your thinking.
Because I believe in the value of networking and the ways in which it can benefit clients and strengthen professional relationships — and because networking is one of my favourite topics to teach — I keep a list of useful networking tips. I share them here in the hope they are also useful to you.
- Be responsible. You share responsibility for how engaging, useful, and informative your conversations with your contacts are, so bring ideas, perspectives, and energy to your interactions.
- Make time. Choose a time to engage when you can truly engage. When you focus on the other person and listen, it is felt. When you are in conversation with another person, it is so important to avoid distractions. Please put your phone down. Don’t multitask. The conversation can be so much richer when both people are in it. Properly.
- Keep notes. Developing your professional relationships requires an ongoing investment of your time and energy. Take notes of when you talked to people and what you discussed so that it becomes easier to see, going forward, where you need to place your energy. When I teach networking skills, people are often surprised to learn that I keep notes from all aspects of my life. These notes remind me of conversations I have with people: Who? What? When? Which topics did we discuss? I am, like many people, too busy. How on earth am I going to remember these chats if I don't keep notes about them?
- Do your share. Do you have a skillset you can share? Are you a subject expert in something and can share that information with a colleague? Do you have a contact who could be useful? Can you recommend someone who can help a colleague solve a problem? Nurturing contacts can be done in many ways, but my favourite way is to be actively conscious of how I can be useful to my network. If I can share any type of knowledge with colleagues or contribute a perspective that might challenge their thinking, I will. Be willing to share what you know.
- Try again. If you have a professional relationship that is not quite where you want it to be, work to rebuild it. During the last two years of the pandemic, people — myself and many of my clients included — struggled to prioritize professional relationships. Now, more than ever, we seek connection. Asking more of a relationship that is not where you want it to be, for any number of reasons, can get you back on track.
It excites me to think about what might be useful or interesting to my colleagues, things I learn when they are not there and that I can share with them when I next see them. I put a lot of thought into what can be useful to my contacts, and I like knowing that many of them are doing the same with me in mind.
Think of the endless source of people you can meet — people with whom you can share information and who will stretch your own thinking. Ask yourself: How often am I engaged in genuinely interesting conversations? If your answer to that disappoints you, try some of the tips above. Give it a go — and see if you can reclaim the power of networking in your own life.
Rachel Halsall, Insight Experience facilitator and an ICF-accredited coach, is an Executive Systemic Coach and public speaker who has gained a unique understanding of corporate life across a range of cultures. After gaining a master's degree in International Relations, she started her career at the Japanese Embassy. Since launching her own business in 2012, Rachel designs and delivers training, coaching, and leadership programs for many organisations. She is also a keynote speaker and covers a wide range of topics, including networking, confidence, and self-promotion.