You’re networking and you don’t even know it!

What is networking and how do we define it? The most typical definition is the sharing of information and resources between different people. There are two main forms of networking: formal, like online social networking websites or professional networking associations, and informal, like bumping in to someone at the grocery store or meeting a contact for coffee.

The term networking is thrown around a lot in today’s world. Career experts, for example, feel that networking is an important part of the job search. Small business owners know the operation of a successful business depends on their ability to network. As residents of a community, we want to ensure the safety and beauty of the streets around us, so we gather with our neighbors, just another network. There’s a number examples of networking out there and all of them link us to a common definition: it’s about relationships and the sharing of information and resources.

If this is the case, why call it networking? We do that every day, don’t we? Why not just call it part of living?

Networking is much bigger than the simple act of going out and connecting with someone (though that’s certainly important). Networking is a phenomenon that occurs throughout our daily lives. This can be difficult for some individuals, especially when we think of it in a more formal way.

To dig deeper into the phenomenon of networking, we need to look at the concept of the term relationship. Most people in the field would claim that the key to networking is to develop long lasting, mutually beneficial relationships. Of course this is true, but what we don’t discuss is that there is a cost to developing these relationships. Establishing a strong relationship takes time and, let’s face it, time is money.

And we must also be sure, too, that the individual actually wants to have a relationship with us to begin with. The fact that we reach out to someone does not mean they will reach back.

Are most of our relationships built on the concept of utility or transactions? In all likelihood, the number of weak ties is almost always greater than our strong ties. If this is the case, it’s important to build our interaction with others on a foundation of trust. After all, if people trust us, they’re more likely to help us.

Subconsciously, we trust someone will return a favor when we provide them with assistance. If they don’t, we’ll likely refuse them help in the future. This phenomenon occurs continuously, at any time and any place. A child may help his classmate spell a word, trusting that they might one day return the assistance with a needed math solution. A stranger may assist you in picking up a dropped bag of groceries, trusting that he would get help if he were in the same situation. This is networking, and it’s something we do all the time without even realizing it.

The best approach in teaching networking is to focus individuals on the last time they offered help to someone. Why did they do it? Shift the focus, perhaps, to the last time they received help. What transpired? Likely they will describe a typical networking encounter, reinforcing the idea that we’re networking all the time and don’t even know it.

It is when we become more aware of it that we may get better. Once you become a better networker, who knows what can happen!

JP

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John-Paul Hatala
Dr. John-Paul Hatala is currently an Assistant Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology in the Human Resource Development Program, a Senior Fellow at the University of Ottawa and an Adjunct Professor at Louisiana State University in the School of Human Resource Education and Workforce Development, Baton Rouge. Additionally, Dr. Hatala is the founder of the Social Capital Development firm Flowork International and is Chief Researcher at www.snagpad.com. His academic research focuses on social networking behaviors, social capital, human resource development, career development and the transition to the labour market. John-Paul has a recently released a book entitled, The Job Search Cookbook: A Strategic Recipe for Job Search Management and has been featured in such media outlets as the Globe and Mail, CBC Radio and Global TV.

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