There is simply no career development strategy–whether you work for someone else or for yourself-that rivals an expanded personal network. This means you need to learn how to build your network in order to find the kind of career satisfaction you want today–and into the future. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially for women. I’ve puzzled over this phenomenon for a long time because, even though I have an extensive personal and professional network–and I love meeting people!–my network hasn’t always been as helpful to me as some men I know. So what’s going on? Why do women network in ways that don’t always help them professionally?
As a coach, I’ve looked this even more deeply. I used to wonder: Is there something I’m doing wrong that makes my network less useful? Am I meeting the wrong people? For a few years I felt like a fraud teaching people how to network in my workshops and yet not feeling that accomplished at it myself. Then one day I put two and two together and started implementing some of my own advice more intensely and bam! I connected the dots and my network started to perform more reliable. Here’s the essence of what I’ve learned in the process.
Women Network Differently
My challenge might be your own. I recently read Henna Inam’s article and interview, How to Network with Authenticity, and thought she really put her finger on one of the challenges many women have when it comes to “productive” career development networking:
A lot of women leaders I meet have good networks but they have a hard time calling on their networks to help them. Why is that? They say it feels “icky”. They feel like if they use their relationships to help them in their business or careers they are being inauthentic. I believe there is a gender expectation that we all need to become more aware of. The gender expectation is that women are supposed to be caring, cooperative and relationship-building – for the sake of relationship-building. Thus, often when a woman wants to leverage her network for advancing goals, it causes her to feel “icky”. On the other hand, many men are happy to use their networks for mutual benefit. They benefit by networking “strategically”. This of course, has nothing to do with authenticity. It has everything to do with the unconscious gender expectations we take on. Authenticity is about connecting with values and a sense of purpose that inspires each of us rather than conforming to gender expectations of who we should be. – Henna Inam
This was totally me! I got an emotional high from making a genuine connection with someone and adding them to my network, but asking them to help me was uncomfortable and didn’t feel authentic. Of course part of this was the fear of rejection. Most women I know have an irrational and deep-seated fear of rejection and it disserves us in the workplace and business in general. But even more challenging is that most of us don’t really know specifically what kind of help we want. We don’t ask for exactly what we need because (1) fear of rejection and (2) imprecision in our goals. This latter challenge is exacerbated by a (3) lack of mentoring (asking for and/or receiving effective mentoring). And then of course, there are all the confidence and communication skills you need to master: felling valuable, listening, dialog, moving on so you don’t fritter your time away on unproductive chit-chat. You see, it’s a bit of a conundrum for a woman to network effectively because it’s not just one skill we need to master, but a boatload of them!
Now of course some men struggle with some or all of these challenges as well, but I notice that women tend to get stuck at the bottom of a particularly negative spiral, so I want to lay out three particularly powerful things women can do to focus on the 20% of the challenge that can drive the 80% of your success.
TIP 1: Celebrate Rejection So You Can Invest Your Energy In Success
Ok. This is a big one and there are many skills you need to master to feel comfortable seeking rejection, but if you really set your sights on it, you’ll learn them all quickly. Here’s the key concept:
Invest your energy in what works and celebrate rejection because (1) it teaches you what works and (2) helps you spend less energy doing things that don’t work.
To do this well, you need to learn to detrigger your emotions and transform your beliefs about what rejection means, but when you start focusing on investing in success it all makes sense. The key here is to believe that “rejection” is a lack of fit between you and the other person instead of a personal judgement on you.
Let’s say you are on vacation and meet several people who might be able to help you professionally. When you get back you send them all emails and only one replies. Enjoy the fact that there may be one solid connection there and that the others are not going to take your energy up trying to sort it out. Even if the one who replied wasn’t “the most promising,” it was the most authentic and solid, so be grateful for this and nurture that connection as appropriate, conserving your energy for new connections you’ll make in the coming weeks. Trust the Universe that this is the best fit for now and that new opportunities will open if you keep putting yourself out there. If you get triggered emotionally when people don’t respond, work on detriggering. Don’t waste energy feeling crappy and “hating” networking, learn to let go of your triggers so you free up energy to invest in yourself.
TIP 2: Ask For Something Specific, and Doable, From Your Network
This was my biggest challenge for a long time. I had a hard time knowing what I wanted others to do to help me. “Get me a job” or “Get me business” just wasn’t anything others could do for me. It wasn’t until I started breaking those big challenges down into smaller pieces that I started to see success. More specific requests turned out to be things people could and would do for me. These specific asks looked more like this:
- I want to talk to someone in industry ABC to see how relevant my experience in industry LMN is to their needs before I switch industriesI’m looking for information about how to price my product
- I want to talk to someone who’s succeeded in the kind of business I am building
- I want someone who’s “been where I’m going” to share with me all the things they wish they’d known when they were in my shoes
- I need a vendor to help me do XYZ
When I started pursuing specific requests like these I learned that conquering the fear of rejection also meant that I had to let go of the need for others to know more about what I needed than I did. I had to take full responsibility for my needs and desires–and mistakes. Yes, sometimes I asked for help that I learned later I hadn’t really needed. But that became part of the learning process and in the process of learning it, I build network karma that came around to support me in the end.
TIP 3: Invest in Building Network Karma
Building network karma is something that women do pretty well. Most of us are givers and we give to others more than we take. Turns out that’s a key to success in networking. You give to Karla and Jan, and they give to Sam, Kim, Bill and Tomi and on it goes for a long time before Mike does you the favor that makes the difference. Network success is not cause-and-effect, it’s more diffuse than that and you always have to be giving for your network to support you when you need it.
However, where many women network ineffectively (in addition to not asking our network for the things it can give us that will bring us closer to our goals [see #2 above])is that we give too much. We do favors for people that inconvenience us; we use our credibility on behalf of others when we should be using it for ourselves; we say “yes” too often and feel guilty about saying “no.” Pretty soon when you over-give like this, your network becomes a burden instead of a support. The solution to this over-giving is easy, just default to “yes,” unless you say “no.” Make a pact with yourself that you will always say “yes,” unless it’s not possible or comes at too high a price, at which time give yourself permission to say “no” without guilt. You’ll still end up saying “yes” more often than you say “no” but you’ll be checking in with yourself each time you make an exchange to see what you need.
At the end of the day, networking is just something we all need to develop the skill to do in our own, authentic, way. These were my three big lessons. What are yours?
If this is something you’d like to explore more deeply, check out the rest of Henna’s post in which she interviews a woman who has mastered the art. There is lots of great advice there.
Everyone struggles with emotional triggers that make us lash out or draw back in ways that hurt our relationships and personal brand. Register for the free detriggering eCourse from InPower Coaching to help you release these emotion triggers so you can manage all your relationships from a place of emotional calm and clarity.
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