I recently attended an industry awards ceremony. The shortlist was competitive, the canapés delicious, the wine flowing and the host jovial. However, I quickly realised that the awards themselves were secondary in importance to the reason most people there had chosen to attend- the networking. Prizes were handed out with swift efficiency, and then we all decamped into a large room to mingle. And mingle people did, staring beadily at badges, charming with intent and dealing out business cards like croupiers. And, despite meeting lots of interesting people, I was left feeling, as I often do in these situations, unsettled.
Networking is the grease for the wheels of many industries, but perhaps none more so than the media. When I first started working I was told by many people that it was a key skill and that I should ‘develop my contacts’. I was a young, idealistic Christian straight out of university, and the idea of deliberately cultivating ‘friendships’ in order to further my career shocked me. How cynical I thought, how ruthless to use people like that. Naive, maybe, but as those called to respect all people equally there is something troubling about the ‘hungry’ nature of networking. It implies working within the world’s ideas of status and has a tendency to make us see people as simply ‘contacts’ who can help us, not whole, complex souls, loved by God and created in his image.
However, I quickly came to realise that not all networking is of this kind. There are ways in which networking can be beautiful and good, a simple connecting of humans with similar dreams, a trusting that we are better together than apart. I wouldn’t be able to do this job if I hadn’t come to the point of thinking it can be a positive force. I discovered that actually, as a sociable extravert I’m a bit of a natural networker, that I didn’t need to ‘act’ and suck up to people in order to make fruitful connections. I could be myself. And so here are my top tips on how to network well, attempting to bring a little salt and light in the process.
- Develop Status Blindness
God’s economy is obviously not based on job titles and salaries. The most interesting person in the room may well be the person serving the wine. A policy of talking to people and being interested in them without first thinking of their position is incredibly helpful; not only does it lead to meeting a greater range of people, it means that when you do end up talking to a commissioner /editor/VIP it feels as normal as anyone else. Because (and this bears repeating) we are all the same fragile, foolish humans underneath.
- Be Interested in People
I imagine, because of the industry you have chosen to work in, you already are. If your first thought is about getting to know the person in front of you (not just their projects or their job title) you will naturally develop a real, human connection. Ask something they won’t often get asked, a non-work related aspect of themselves. People who listen well and ask attentive questions are often remembered.
- Cultivate a Servant Attitude
It obviously isn’t a sin to want to do well in your career and to keep an eye out for opportunities. If you’re a freelancer, networking is essential. However, as with many things in God’s economy it can often work the opposite way to what you would expect. Those who are obviously out touting for work can be off-putting, like a desperate 14 year old at the school disco. This is easier said than done, but I’ve come to believe that if we can maintain a peace in God’s provision for us and instead use our connections to serve others we will find that to give is to be given too. One particularly brilliant networker I know is connected with EVERYBODY, but spends most of her time introducing other people for their benefit. It helps to remember that everyone we meet has needs and desires, you may not in fact be meeting them for your own benefit, but for theirs. Even if it is only an encouraging word and (if appropriate) an offer of prayer, these small encounters can have lasting impact.
- Keep in touch
This is perhaps the hardest thing to do honestly. It takes discipline to get out those business cards and drop people a line in the following days. A bit of old fashioned manners (i.e. it was really lovely to meet you, I wish you well with your project, it would be good to meet up at some point...) always helps. The thing here is, you have to mean it! I sometimes meet people who I’m sure would be really useful to know, career wise, but there isn’t a personal connection and I know any continuing contact with them would be purely cynical. Also, you can only keep in contact with so many people. Don’t overburden yourself, if it’s your style you could pray about who are the most significant connections that are worth investing in. God’s list is probably very different from yours.
All these points are simply my personal perspective, I’d love to hear your own tips, or where you disagree with me. This is a tricky area, but one where we can be distinctive.
Also, this is a brilliant blog post about people and their stories. Well worth a read:donmilleris.com/2010/05/17/want-to-get-to-know-somebody-understand-their-story/