Pursue What Matters
Episode 45: Change Your Approach to Networking
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
What comes to mind when you hear the word networking? Do you die a little bit inside? Do you hate networking? Is it the bane of your existence? Well, I want to help you challenge some conceptions of networking because a lot of us are hurting ourselves and our career development and the reason is networking.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:24
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. Networking? Do you think of cocktail parties with large groups of people standing around awkwardly trying to make small talk? Oh, is that? Does it call up memories of junior high when you were standing in the lunch line with your tray of food and wondering where you were going to sit? And if anyone was going to talk to you? You know, do you kind of Are you the one that stands by the like the ficus tree in the corner of the conference hall? Oh, no. Do you think networking is a hassle that it’s something that takes you away from your more important work. So if you’re guilty of some of these beliefs, then this podcast is for you. It is time to change your approach to networking and some of your beliefs about it. So today, I want to talk about this pesky issue. And in particular how there are some major blocks, especially for women, when it comes to networking. And, you know, first of all, I just think the word networking is problematic. People think of it and they just think like this is such that, like there’s just a block around that word.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:00
So this is a definition that I found of networking. Networking is defined as the act of making contact and exchanging information with other people, groups and institutions to develop mutually beneficial relationships, or to access and share information between computers. So so that’s funny. So here are some examples. An example of networking is handing out your business card and a social event, which is designed to provide opportunities for new business collaborations to form and to bring together prospective employers and talented new people that may be looking for a new employment position. And an example of networking is exchanging contact information with people who have interest in similar areas. An example of networking is sharing and acquiring information between different divisions of the same company to share information and solve business problems.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:57
Okay, I kind of feel like I need a shower after reading these definitions. And seriously, I like LinkedIn. But sometimes, that’s how I feel if I spend too much time on LinkedIn, it can like feel very transactional. And I don’t like it like it feels very off putting, like, sometimes I get messages from people on LinkedIn, and I just feel like it. Like, it’s just so transactional, and like this robotic networking thing, and I don’t like it. And I think I don’t think I’m alone. Like I think a lot of people feel that way. Right did a really quick search about networking. And seriously, like the top articles that that came up, were all focused on like how to hate networking, less how to tolerate networking without losing your sanity.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:49
So, you know, I’m definitely not alone, because they like all of them had the word hate and sanity in the titles. So networking is hard. And it’s not just for the introverts in the room. Like it’s kind of, it’s kind of hard or miserable for lots of people. So I also came across a really and this wasn’t just in my search, this is actually an article that I came across a little while ago, really, really good article that I will link to from Harvard Business Review. And this is…it is all about networking, right? So it’s an it’s probably a hard truth that you don’t want to hear. And it’s this: that you need networking.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:33
So there’s mountains of research that shows that professional networks lead to more jobs, and business opportunities. It leads to broader and deeper knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement and greater status and authority. So you know, our ability to build and nurture professional relationships also improves the quality of work and increases job satisfaction. And so I think, I think we get that, like, we understand that and, and networking kind of feels like a necessary evil. And so I like you can tell I kind of had a bad attitude about networking. But I think we just need to shift our perspective about it. And who knows, maybe we need to come up with a new name about it.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:22
So what I really want to focus on today is how this challenge shows up specifically, for a lot of women in particular. So, you know, some of these factors can also present for men, for sure, but they really predominate for women. And here’s the thing, it can unduly impact a woman’s ability to progress in her career. And we do not want that happening for you. So the other thing that we know is that there are a lot of factors that contribute to a woman’s advancement, there are plenty of gender issues, unconscious bias, but networking, and the issues inherent in networking can be some of those factors. And there’s a recent study out that takes a look at some of these issues in particular. And I think it really does have some good lessons for all of us. So I think it’s absolutely worth our time to understand it better.
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:21
So whether you’re a woman looking for specific ways to help yourself, or whether you are a leader in an organization, and are looking for ways to support those you lead, you know, or whether you’re a man and recognize that some of these factors apply to you as well, or you support women where you work, pay attention, because the findings of the study can be really helpful for all of us. So, you know, historically, when they’ve looked at some of the reasons for the lack of advancement for women into executive positions, the main culprits have included women’s lack of access to informal organization and industry networks. So Additionally, you know, unconscious bias when it comes to gender issues has certainly been noted, right. So, for instance, hierarchy, men tend to connect more easily with other men. And that’s just, that’s just true. And so we think about the role of unconscious bias. And then the other reason that has been cited has been that personal and professional obligations that disproportionately fall to women have left them with less time to cultivate professional relationships. Any woman who, who works outside of the home can tell you that it can just say amen to that. So all of this is in a recent Harvard Business Review article that reviews the findings of the recent study. So let’s dig into some of these obligations a little more specifically. So some of these advocate obligations include office housekeeping, and child rearing. So think about this, ladies, for those of you who work full time is probably not very common for you to linger after work to socialize, right? I mean, you probably do not stick around after work to hang out and shoot the ball. If you’re like most working mothers, especially you are beating a path out the door, because you’ve got kiddos to pick up from childcare or you’ve got you got to run kids to soccer practice, or you’ve got to pick up some groceries on the way home. And so, you know, your obligations require you to get out the door. And what we know is women, by and large, still are managing the household responsibilities and the childbearing responsibilities. Like we’ve seen a shift and men are definitely doing more at home. But women are still carrying the bulk of that responsibility. And one of the other responsibilities that we’re seeing for women is what what they call office housekeeping. And which I think is, I mean, it’s maddening. And it’s kind of hilarious to me. But if we think about office, birthdays, celebrations, even basic housekeeping around the office, that may be invisible, except maybe to the women in the room.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:28
So maybe this is like party planning celebrations or, you know, runs to the grocery store or something like that. So one example of this, so, okay, my kids are currently obsessed with the office. And every time I’m like, Oh my gosh, like are you seriously watching another episode of the office? The argument that always comes back at me is Netflix is going to take off at the end of the year. So we have to we have to get our show of it. Okay. Never mind that they can quote the entire series. And they’ve seen every episode probably at least two or three times, like, they just keep watching them. But anyway, the episode that comes to mind for me because it’s like, running on in the background all the time and like, I don’t watch it, but it’s like in my psyche now is the episode of the dirty microwave. And I don’t know if you know this episode, but Pam notices that the microwave in the office is frickin dirty, and, like disgusting, and it’s all that she can do to not clean it out. But she like takes a stand because she’s like, I’m not gonna be the one that’s always cleaning out the microwave. And I don’t know how many of you ladies have had this experience at work. So she tries to like on the down low, she like tries to point it out to everyone. And so like, I think she, I think she like makes a sign or something to try and get people’s attention. And then she even tries to talk to Ryan, because Ryan is like the intern and he like make some excuse that he’s an incompetent intern. And so he, he doesn’t think he can tackle it. But like, none of the guys will clean it out. And it makes her crazy. And I can’t remember exactly what happens. Like I don’t know if she breaks down and like she finally cleans it out. But that would be an example of office housekeeping that women disproportionately take on.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:36
So these are actually some of the things that do get in the way of women and advancing and just like having time to network at work. So it kind of seems a little bit crazy, but it’s true. And it’s one of the things that they found with this research. So the other thing, though, that they found with this research is that some female leaders do establish strong networks. And so I want to discuss the the study and the findings, because I think it’s really it’s very helpful and gives us some really good practical recommendations. So there are four characteristics of strong female networkers. So I’ll just list them off, and then I’ll talk about them in a little more detail. So first, they’re efficient, nimble, boundary spanning and energy balanced. So let me explain a little bit more what that means.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:35
Okay. So first of all, with efficient, so, right, women generally absorb more of the collaborative demands in the workplace than their male peers do. Men and women are more comfortable going to a woman to collaborate. You know, we see the same dynamic in the clinical world that men and women are more comfortable seeking out a female therapist, because they see women more as nurturers for like that clinical role. And so maybe that parallel is there in work in terms of like they see women as more collaborative, and maybe kind of a safer person to collaborate with. So women at work have more demands for their time and for their attention. But the female managers with the strongest networks recognize that every yes means a no to something else. And one of my favorite quotes, it was my theme last year, and it’s by Jeff Walker, which is every Yes, must be defended by 1000 no’s. And so the strong female networkers recognize that every yes means a no to something else. And so you cannot say yes to every collaboration. And so they prune non essential appointments, they deflect low priority decisions and requests, they run streamline meetings, they insist on efficient email norms. I love that one. And when I reviewed the book, deep work a few weeks ago, he actually talks a lot about how to clean up your email, and insisting on efficient email norms is actually a really big one. So that’s good because it, it really streamlines the work required of you. And then they also set aside time for reflection and high level thinking, which also was a big theme from deep work. So at the same time, the strong networkers make the most of their collaborative strengths and inclinations, by working with others in a way that establishes or enhances key relationships. So they are definitely very collaborative, but they are very intentional about their collaborations. So they do not say yes to everything. So they played their strengths, they don’t try and do everything, they abandon the nice girl stereotypes. So sometimes we say yes, because we want to be perceived as the nice girl. But ultimately that would that could absolutely undermine your ability to do your best work. And to, you know, it could undermine your ability to progress and ultimately help more people along the way. And, you know, this, this actually reminds me of Adam grants book, Give and Take. And he talks about this, like being intentional about your collaborations, and really paying attention to where you can best contribute. And recognizing, like, if you’re always saying yes, that you’re not contributing at your highest level, and these high level, strong female networkers recognize that that’s great. And and so these, these networkers were more strategic and thoughtful about how they spend their time. And so that’s great. And so one thing that leaders can do is they can recognize women for their collaborative work, because a lot of times collaborative work within the organization is invisible work. And so women who are very collaborative at work are not getting recognized for this work. And so when it comes to advancement, or when it comes to urine reviews, they’re not getting this recognition, and so it doesn’t push them forward in their career. And so it’s often invisible work at the office, which is like household work at home. And so, you know, again, they could be punished for being collaborative, which we do not want to see happen. So for those leaders at work, make sure that collaboration is made visible, and that it is rewarded, meaning it’s part of, it’s part of that advancement process, and it’s part of the Year End review. So, so that people are not punished for being collaborative, so reward what you want more of. So that’s, that’s really important.
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:23
Okay, so the second characteristic of strong networkers is that they are nimble. And so what what the researchers found is that most women’s relationships, especially with female peers, are stickier than men’s growing stronger, more mutual and more inter woven over time. And so this can, this can sometimes be a positive, it can sometimes be a negative. But if you’re always relying on the same people over time, this can hurt your performance. So that’s one way it could actually undermine you. But successful female networks are more fluid, and they, they de emphasize old connections in favor of new ones over time. Because right, like, if you think about, you know, where you’re at, and where you need to go, if you’re relying on the same networks, to get where you want to go, you’re not going to get where you want to go. And so effective female networkers are able to look forward and pay attention to who do I need to be connecting with? And who do I need to be cultivating connections with in order to get where I need to go. So you’ve got to think about your goals and who will help you reach them. And, you know, one of the, one of the issues that came up with the research participants is that, you know, some women find this inauthentic. But, you know, men don’t have this disconnect, they interpret the same behavior as putting their work first. And so, you know, the idea is that it’s a 10 year, bell curve, right? in professional relationships. And so, you know, you just recognize that your career, there’s like, there is a bell curve, and that is career development. And that, it’s, it’s not that you don’t care about those relationships. But in order to grow and develop in your career, like us, your network has got to grow and change, like it just it does or you’re gonna stagnate. And so there’s nothing, there’s nothing inauthentic about that. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t care about those people. But it’s just a recognition that, like your network has to continue to grow and cultivate and change over time. So the strongest networkers consistently initiate new connections, and that the organizations can help them by instituting processes such as network reviews, and opening up opportunities. So right now I’m part of a Career Development Series. And one of the reasons that I joined that is to build and strengthen my business network, especially among women. And so, you know, I’m creating a whole new business network for myself. And it’s been really great. And I was actually visiting with a woman at that Career Development Series yesterday. And I asked her about her, her decision to join this Career Development Series. And she said that her, her boss was part of this series last year. And so she, you know, she wanted this individual to do it this year. And so, right organizations can see the value of their employees joining these networks and building their communities. And so they’re sponsoring them to build these networks. And so that’s a really great example of how organizations can support these network reviews and collaborations and communities and several, several of the women in that Career Development Series, that’s, that’s how they have actually become part of that Career Development Series. So it’s cool, it’s very cool to see.
Dr. Melissa Smith 21:15
Okay, and then the third characteristic of the strong female networks, networkers are that their networks are boundary spanning. So they connect with people in a wide variety of functions, geographies, and business units. So their boundaries are not rigid, but they move across boundaries. So this is so critical to accessing new information, leading innovation and pursuing advancement. So they kind of asked themselves the question, who is not in my network, but should be. So you know, as I was having this conversation yesterday with this woman, you know, one of the things that I said to her is that I have a very strong network when it comes to psychology and kind of the clinical world. But and, and I have a strong network with, you know, my cohort from from the business school, but when it comes to female business leaders, that was a gap for me, and I wanted to fill that gap. And so that was actually one of the reasons that I sought out this, this network opportunity. And so you know, we’ve got to be able to self assess, and, you know, kind of look at, like, Where are the gaps and who isn’t in my network, but should be, and so that, that could be a good question for you to look at.
Dr. Melissa Smith 22:39
Okay. And then the next characteristic is that the networks are energy balanced. So I like this. So the highest performers are seen as the most energizing people in their networks. So they’re seen as the type of colleague who makes the work more engaging, which then drives better performance. So they bring they bring energy to their networks and to their relationships. So they demonstrate both competence and warmth, both intelligence and emotional intelligence. So they’re able to build trust, the most successful women do not downplay their knowledge, skills and accomplishments. So that’s really important. They show evidence that they can do things, but they also use humor, presence and small gestures to signal caring and positivity. And they employ listening skills to spur creative thinking among their colleagues. So right, I mean, when I read that, I think emotional intelligence, so they know how to cultivate relationships, these are people, people, these are people skills, so they have really strong people skills. And so that is the last characteristic of the strong female networkers. And so that’s it, that’s really great to pay attention to. And so now let’s think about solutions.
Dr. Melissa Smith 24:17
So things that you can do to change your approach to networking, okay, solution, one, I want you to challenge your thinking. So, when it comes to your career development, self interested does not make you selfish. So you really need to be self interested and you need to be watching out for your career development. And I think sometimes for a lot of women, especially when it comes to networking, like part of that icky feeling, or that need to like you know, like I need to take a shower is because they feel uncomfortable promoting themselves and not that you’re promoting yourself but like connecting with people and not being afraid fraid to talk about your skills or talk about your strengths or to collaborate with people, because it might feel selfish, or it might feel like oh, well, like Who am I to talk about this. And, you know, you’ve got to be able to acknowledge and recognize your strengths, because you do have strengths that you bring to the table. And so one way to think about this is that as you progress in your career, you are better positioned to help others. And so if you are not tending to your career development, you’ll actually lose opportunities to be of effective use to others. And the truth is that the further along, you get on your career path, the more power, you have to influence other people. And so like, if you are undermining yourself, when it comes to networking, like your, the reality is, you’re going to be of very little utility to other people. But if you know if you can find a way to hone these networking skills, and to further your progress on that career development path, like you have, like your ability to help others, on their way, grows exponentially. And so one way to look at that is that you are going to be of greater service to other people, as you get yourself in gear. And so it does not is not selfish at all. And so if you want to look at it that way, in terms of like, you know, bang for your buck, like you will be able to help more people, as you as your career develops, that can be a really useful way to look at it.
Dr. Melissa Smith 26:45
So solution two, there is a time to collaborate, and a time to close the door. And like, you just have to do that. So you need to balance your time and your commitment. So you can’t do everything. And you really need to make wise decisions about the collaborations that you can take on. So some questions to ask yourself. So there are three questions that I want you to ask yourself. So what opportunities can you best serve? And what can you best contribute to? So what are you really passionate about? Because you know, you might have a lot of skills and a lot of competencies, but what are you really passionate about? Because you’re going to have lots of requests on your time? And where can you do your best work. So I want you to pay attention to those three questions, and recognize that there are trade offs and that you can’t collaborate on everything. And if you’re like most women at work, you’re going to be asked to collaborate more than men especially right. Like, that’s what the research indicates from that, that HBr review of that study.
Dr. Melissa Smith 27:56
Solution, three, learn the power of No. So you know, we want you to think in terms of a simple no and an empowered No. So you don’t owe others an explanation. You don’t owe them excuses. And honestly, like, the more simple the know, the better. So there’s no need to hammer ha, you know, you’re competent and capable. So you’ll always have more requests than you can possibly accept. So you’re just gonna have to deal with it. So you will have to say no to others. And, of course, that’s going to disappoint others. And so you’re just going to need to overcome any need that you have to seek the approval of others. Because if you need to be that person in the office, that has to collaborate with others, then you’re going to absolutely undermine yourself, and your ability to do your best work. So sometimes we need to be, we need to be the person that is kind of the hero. And, you know, in the process, we undermine ourselves, so you kind of need to get clear on that. So this is definitely where clarity about what matters is going to be really essential, because you will need to wade through a lot of requests for your time, and really figure out what is the best use of your time.
Dr. Melissa Smith 29:17
And then solution four don’t shy away from your strengths, but share your light. So you don’t do others any good by shrinking from the light. So you definitely have strengths and skills, and you have an obligation to bring them to the table. I really do believe that that we each have gifts to share. And that we owe that to the world to bring those to the table and to share those but bring others with you. So I do want you to collaborate and invite others in. Put others at ease and let them know that you see their strengths. And you want them to also have a seat at the table. But never ever ever apologize for your accomplishments. Don’t ever shrink, don’t ever shrink from your strengths don’t ever shrink from your light, but share the light, bring others into the light don’t shrink from the light.
Dr. Melissa Smith 30:16
Solution five. So if networking is painful for you consider joining a more structured networking group. So, you know, for example, I talked about the Career Development Series that I am part of. And that’s a, that’s a very structured group, we meet once a month, we have a lecture, we have lunch. And so it’s like, I know, it’s like built in once a month I go, I’m gonna get to know more people, more women in business, and it’s good, and it’s just on my calendar. And so a structure like that, and the focus of a group can decrease anxiety while also broadening your connection. So those sorts of things can be really, really good. So some of the things that I’ve done over the years, so you know, I’ve done like women’s leadership golf clinics, I’ve done like women’s MBA alumni, Learning Series, alumni lunches, and ongoing education, I get together informally with my some of my MBA friends, that’s, that’s like some of the best networking right there. Women’s Leadership Institute, the Career Development Series that’s here locally, in Utah, which is excellent, I’ve really enjoyed that. I also have an accountability group through through online learning that I’m doing. And that’s been really great. I meet with women from all over the world once a week. And that’s been a really awesome network for me. And then I’m also part of a group of Dare to Lead certified facilitators, and I meet with them occasionally, not as frequently now used to be like, a couple times a month. But that’s also a really valuable network, for me, with people from all over the world. And then in the past, I’ve been part of a trauma consultation group where I’d met with other clinicians, like once a month to go over cases, and just receive professional support. And that was also a really great network for me. So you know, think about, think about your needs, think about the gaps in your network, and then, you know, get proactive, and this is where I think it’s really important to take ownership, for your development as a leader to take development for your learning, and for your growth, because it’s not just, it’s not going to just happen. So don’t, don’t leave that to anyone else. But really take ownership for that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 33:05
Solution six, don’t think of it as networking. So right, like if networking leaves a bad taste in your mouth, you know, I call it building relationships. So when I shifted my mindset and just said, I’m getting to know people, I’m not trying to sell myself, because like, if that’s gross, it totally took the pressure off of me and I was more authentic. And guess what, you know, I, totally started making friends and having fun. So our mindset really matters here. Your mental blocks will obviously get in the way, if you let them. So also think of your purpose. When it comes to networking events or professional events? Is it to learn is it to connect? Is it to compare? So what is the purpose of you know, the event that you’re going to so set your intention from the outset. So if your purpose is to collect as many business cards as possible, I mean, you might reach your goal, but I don’t know that that will be a very meaningful experience for you. So if your goal is you know, what I like, I’d like to, I’d like to make some meaningful connections with people or I could, I’d like to see if there might be an opportunity for some meaningful collaboration with someone, then, you know, your intention is set and it can really shift your mindset.
Dr. Melissa Smith 34:29
Okay, solutions, seven, focus on learning. So instead of thinking of networking as something you have to do, think of it as an opportunity to grow advance and progress. So from the research when you do this, and you can approach your networking with curiosity, excitement and an open mind, rather than as a necessary evil, like it really totally opens up. So right what from the research they found that those who saw negatively underperformed in networking and Those who saw it as a chance to grow, they actually did grow. And they become they became more effective in their role. And they advanced in their roles as a result.
Dr. Melissa Smith 35:11
So, solution eight is to identify common interests. So consider how your interests might align with someone else. So that networking becomes meaningful, rather than an empty activity to check a box. So, of course, networking is most effective and lasting when people are able to collaborate on activities that require the contributions of both parties, right, so you have something that they need, and they have something that you need. So look for alignment, and contribution. So what are the strengths of each individual? What do they bring to the partnership? And how does it create a synergy that benefits the whole, so you really want to think about task, interdependence, and that will make the collaboration much more effective.
Dr. Melissa Smith 36:00
And then solution nine is to think broadly about how you can contribute. So if you’re lower ranking, don’t underestimate the contribution you can make. One of the mistakes that individuals making these situations so like if you’re younger, or lower ranking, is to assume that you don’t have anything to offer. So you definitely have a very unique perspective. And so don’t sell yourself short. And you know, your gratitude goes a long way in a mentor relationship. So if you consider it a mentor relationship, like being eager to learn, and having gratitude really makes a big difference, because a lot of people who are who would consider themselves mentors, like they’re in a position where they do want to give back, they do want to contribute. And so your gratitude will make a big difference there.
Dr. Melissa Smith 36:52
And then solution 10, is find a higher purpose. And that’s always a theme. So connect to a higher purpose of your networking rather than a purpose that might feel like it’s just selfish. And again, I want to challenge this idea that it’s selfish anyway, that for instance, you know, I want people in the community to be aware of our services, right? I mean, that is a higher purpose. And that’s something that can be very meaningful and can shift, again, your mindset and your intention, as you look at those networking opportunities. So there you go, I have 10 solutions, to help you change your approach to networking. And in particular, you know, for for women out there who sometimes my undermine themselves a little bit in their approach to networking.
Dr. Melissa Smith 37:44
So I hope this is helpful for you. And make sure you head on over to my website to check out the show notes with all the great resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-45. And on the website, I have the links to the HBR articles where it documents some of this research, I think it’s really interesting. So if you want to deep dive into the research that I cited here, you can find those article links on the show notes. And then also I have a link to the digital course in E course that is going to be launched later this year, a confidence to lead and I have a waitlist going right now. So if you want to do that, that that e course is going to talk all about some of the skills that I’m talking about here. So it’s all about building the confidence to lead and so it’s geared towards how to not undermine yourself in your leadership. So it’s talking all about the communication skills, you know, how to advocate for yourself, how to say no, how to have an empowered know, how do you collaborate effectively without undermining yourself? You know, how do you watch out for your career without undermining yourself? And so if you want to learn more about that course, you can link to that in the show notes as well. So again, www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-45 I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work in love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
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