Here's The One Thing You're Probably Getting Wrong About Networking

by Elaina Giolando
Boris Jovanovic

One of the most overused (and least understood) words in the professional development space starts with N. And that word is "networking."

If I use it in my articles or when working with clients, everybody's like, “Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm supposed to go to events, pass out my business cards, send follow-up emails and suck up to people since it's all about who you know…” And I want to say, “No. Stop right there. We are using the same word, but meaning different things.”

Networking is a horrendous word. It conceptualizes people as objects and characterizes the relationship as entirely fake and transactional.

I know thousands of people from every continent and every industry, and I've NEVER gone to an event and passed out my card. I recently worked with a new client who's an engineer from France migrating into the Norwegian music industry (of all things), and I was still able to put him in touch with relevant contacts from three different countries.

So, what did I do? How do I network? Is there a better way to do it? In my case, I just live my life, move around a lot, naturally gravitate towards certain kinds of people and do as much as I can for anyone and everyone I meet. Whether it be a friend of a friend of a friend who needs a couch in the city where I'm living, or a free resume review or a contact in my field, I try to deliver.

And I'm not shy to ask for help, either. I send out messages on a monthly basis to people on LinkedIn who I think are genuinely interesting. I ask them about their careers in the most unassuming way I know how. Most of them respond and we get on the phone, or grab coffee or exchange emails and it's hugely enriching. Because these people are so generous with their time for my sake, it makes me want to do the same for everyone in my inbox.

I'll also write to someone I haven't spoken to in a couple years and ask if they know anyone in the Mexican real estate industry because another friend of mine needs a leg up, or because I'm tackling a bizarre assignment for work. That person almost always pulls through because they know me, and it's understood that if they needed anything, I've got their back, too.

And why is that? Because they walked into my life and became part of my “network.” Or I found them fascinating and wanted to be friends, so I fostered a natural, human connection and now we know and support one another. I suppose it's also because I try to be transparent and helpful, so I attract others who are the same way.

Now I want to settle this once and for all. My concept of “networking” can be defined as:

Respect, support and promote everyone who walks into your life. Then identify and incorporate more interesting and inspiring people into your life. Support all of these people by being generous with your gifts and pick their brain about their unique purpose and talents, too.

It goes back to the “you, your life, your career and your income is the average of the five people you spend the most time with” equation. So, spend time with the people you want to be like. Find the people you share a common purpose with, and befriend them. And above all, love the people who are already in your life.

Your “network” isn't some artificial thing you put in a spreadsheet or monitor on LinkedIn. It's made up of everyone in your life and everyone who could be in your life if you just made the effort.

You have chances to expand that network on a daily basis. Invite a colleague you don't know very well to lunch, nurture your relationship with your manager, talk to someone new at the bar, stay in touch with old friends, pursue new hobbies or engage in your expatriate community if you live abroad. Pay attention to who's around you, stay genuinely curious about others, communicate authentically, accept and extend invitations, create opportunities for connection and do spontaneous acts of goodwill.

If you do these things every day, you'll never have to “network” again.

This article was originally published on the author's personal blog.