Author: Beata Drzazga, a valued mentor and business advisor. A businesswoman with many years of experience in the exchange of experiences allows you to avoid mistakes, but also opens up new opportunities.
Networking should be understood as the process of building lasting, multilateral, beneficial for all business relationships. In the past, building relationships took place during various types of parties, exhibitions, fairs, conventions and congresses. Networking has always been of particular importance in diplomacy and politics. In the 90s of the twentieth century, as a result of the development of technology, its commercial importance increased significantly, then it evolved into various forms of database marketing. Commercial contact networks began to be built by mass methods, by mailing or telemarketing.
Networking has several important functions, the most important of which is information exchange and mutual support. There is no doubt that a wide network of personal contacts is a useful tool in running a business, but entrepreneurs are traditionally divided into two groups – those who like to establish numerous contacts and those who do not like it. Both groups are very eager to rationalize their beliefs. At one point, it turned out that some very influential management specialists were among the opponents of networking as a method of business development. The loudest of these is probably Adam Grant, a specialist in organizational psychology and professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Opponents of networking raised numerous ethical issues, in their opinion, it promotes natural-born speakers with attractive appearance, and not the most competent people. Networking was also equated with a tool of intrusive selling, attempts at manipulation and dishonest intentions of the participants. It is not without significance that many people feel uncomfortable in social situations and during live conversations. Conversation very often forces you to leave your comfort zone, requires an immediate and correct response to the interlocutor’s words, and may be associated with numerous mistakes and slip-ups. Meanwhile, a conversation with a potential contractor is often a very important matter, it is better to think carefully about what you want to say.
No wonder there are thousands of books and guides on how to have a conversation. They are full of simple and right advice like – always have a business card and a pen with you, listen carefully, make eye contact, keep your promises during the conversation. Even if it is true that you can meet a lot of unreliable people at business parties, in the unanimous opinion of specialists, the chances of establishing long-term, beneficial relationships are primarily people who are sincere, helpful, keep their promises and stay in touch.
Harvard Business Review in its famous article “How Leaders Create and Use Network”  distinguishes three types of networking: operational, personal and strategic. In the first case, the point is to ensure that the group performs its tasks properly. The network of contacts is then usually inside the company, group participants know each other very well and maintain long-term relationships, also when carrying out other projects. Personal networking, on the other hand, is more oriented outside the organization. Contacts made within business clubs, alumni associations or local communities can have a huge impact on professional and private life. Strategic networking, on the other hand, is a concept related to finding support, building coalitions and achieving goals. In this case, networking becomes a deliberately used tool.
The approach adopted by the authors of the article shows that the concept of networking should be treated much more broadly than we think. It’s not just about going to parties and networking. Rather, the point is that a great deal of our business and private activities are carried out within a complex network of social interconnections. The question of whether we want to use this network of connections is completely out of place. We are in it, whether we like it or not. The only choice is the form in which we want to use it. If someone is not comfortable with parties and small talk is not their forte, they can use network tools. The more that they are even made for introverts. The ability to hide behind a computer screen, time to think about the content of each post, and the ability to easily find people with similar interests means that Internet networking equalizes the chances. Business is no longer the domain of attractive-looking souls of the party. Knowledge and competences count more and more.
Criticism of networking as a tool used by malicious people is also difficult to understand. If we think about it more closely, contacts established at business parties are no different from contacts made in the office, on the Internet or on other occasions in personal life. On each of these occasions, we can establish valuable contacts, we can also find people who want to manipulate us, we will meet people who will want to sell us something, but we will also meet people who will want to buy something from us. In each of these cases, you need to be careful and realistically assess the consequences of making the acquaintance.