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How the Word "Networking" Negates the Value of Making Connections

How the Word "Networking" Negates the Value of Making Connections

One of my 2020 goals is to change the way we dialogue about making connections, or to use the traditional word, "networking."

Don’t get me wrong. I'm not trying to stop the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts - I'm trying to redirect how we approach the action by changing the language we use.

There are many articles and workshops about how to network effectively with ease, with confidence, as an introvert or extrovert, and so on. I've read the articles and attended the workshops. I've even delivered a few myself, but I've never been comfortable with the word "networking."

We're not even using the word correctly. I would even go so far as to say that the word itself contributes to the fear and dislike many of us feel about the activity. 

Networking: (noun) The action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.

Network: (verb) Networking. (present participle) Connect as or operate with a network.

The article that prompted me to write this was a warm and engaging one by Helen Krug von Nidds titled Lean Out (or a Simple Guide to Networking with Ease). The article was excellent. Helen was spot-on with her suggestions to help make the experience more pleasant.

Networking subject matter expert, speaker, and friend, Jennifer Lynn Robinson, will confirm that I've been on this topic for a while. And don't get me wrong, I wholly support what these highly skilled, professional experts are saying and doing.

Here comes the BUT: I wonder if we all modified our language to reflect a more intentional, authentic, and powerful action, would we be better serving our collective audience?

[Related: Three Questions You Must Ask to Find Your Allies at Work]

It is common knowledge that most of us get nervous just thinking about attending an event where we are expected to interact with complete strangers. Even the most experienced salesperson takes a few deep breaths before making cold calls.

What we call "networking" is essentially making cold calls in person. It's not something that most people enjoy. I understand. I spent a large part of my career as a salesperson and I confess that cold calling was and is my least favorite activity.

Connecting: (adjective) Joining or linking things together, especially so as to provide access and communication.

Connect: (verb) Bring together or into contact so that a real or notional link is established. Provide or have a link or relationship with (someone or something).

How did I change my comfort level in order to become a master connector? I learned to change my attitude and thoughts by changing my language. As Karl Albrecht, Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today:

So can you really change your attitudes about life just by changing the words you use to frame your thoughts? It might sound a bit simplistic, but consider that the structure of your language is the software of your brain—or, at least, one important kind of software.

His article, Change Your Words and Change Your World, is about how to stop using the language of powerlessness. He discusses using words that are intentional and empowering.

[Related: Elevating Female Voices of Color in the Social Good Sector]

Let's take another look at the definitions of "networking" and "connecting." Which word evokes intention and power to you? As speakers and subject matter experts, isn't it our obligation to help our audience and clients bring about change by using language that is meaningful, empowering, and intentional? If you are one who finds "networking" distasteful and stressful but necessary, how do you feel about making connections to build your personal and professional community instead?

How did I change my comfort level in order to become a master connector? I learned to change my attitude and thoughts by changing my language. When I walk into a room, I do so with the intention to do the following three things:

  • Make new connections and begin new relationships.
  • Strengthen existing connections for stronger relationships.
  • Make introductions to initiate connectivity for others because retention requires relationship.

Isn't it simpler to think about building relationships and making friends, than it is to worry about selling something or what the ROI is going to be? Won't you join me on my mission to connect rather than to network, and to build a community rather than a network?

Dr. Albrecht ended his article with the following quote and advice:

The famous motivational psychologist Norman Vincent Peale often said, 'Change your thoughts, and you change your world.' Maybe it's time to update that advice: Change your words, and you change your world.

[Related: 5 Keys to Making True Connections]

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Margye Solomon is the Chief of Staff at Envision2bWell, Inc. She is a master connector who sees connections and patterns in human relationships and in strategic commercial relationships.


Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.

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