Employed or unemployed. Corporate or entrepreneur. There’s one activity they all have in common that seems to cause a level of stress and resistance like no other: Networking.

We all know how important it is. We all know we just need to re-frame how we approach it, so it’s less painful. We’ve all heard the pep talks:

    Just be authentic!

    It’s not how many people you talk to, but the quality of your conversations!

    Ask open-ended questions!

    Be of service!

And that’s exactly what we do. We remind ourselves it’s less about collecting random business cards and more about relationship-building. We focus on the quality of our conversations over quantity. We motivate.

But when it’s actually time to go to that early business-building breakfast meeting or alumni speed-mentoring event, it still seems there’s nothing we dread more.

What’s to be done? Can we ditch networking, and all the advice on that goes with it once and for all?

[Read more: You Made The Connection. Now What?]

The truth is, we cannot.

Networking, no matter how much you slice and dice it, continues to be one of the most important professional activities you can do. Whether you refer to it as networking or by some other more acceptable name (i.e. “relationship-building”), it’s here to stay.

And whether you are in investment banking or academia, an independent contractor or best-selling author, the head of market research or a stay at home parent, networking is as critical as ever if you want to reach a certain level of professional success, if you want to grow your business, and certainly if you are seeking a new job or career path.

With a new season here and a new round of networking opportunities coming your way, here are a few tips to keep in mind when it comes to easing the pain of networking:

  1. Network at events you are already interested in: Networking does not always have to take place at uptight business conferences or formal “lunch ‘n learn” events. You can just as easily network at your son’s soccer game or your Soul Cycle class. If it’s truly about “relationship-building” and not about shoving your business card down someone’s throat, striking up every day conversations in every day situations is a great place to start. Once you form a relationship, the topic of work will eventually arise in an organic, more genuine manner.
  2. Network at work: While it’s certainly important to find connections outside of your current professional situation, it’s just as vital to pay attention and be strategic about the relationships you form within your workplace. Make a point to introduce yourself to new hires or someone outside your immediate department or realm. If you have to go to work already, why not consider targeting some of your networking activities there rather than having to schlep to another event or location? Make sure, however, that whatever you end up doing, you’re still sincere and being of service; don’t just invite someone out for coffee or stop by his/her office just to get something out of it that will only benefit you. The ol’ Networking 101 advice on being authentic and genuine still holds true, whether the conversations happen in or out of the office.
  3. Network online, or offline: Changing things up from what you currently do can add some additional motivation and interest. If you typically network at in-person events and they’re starting to feel stale, consider dialing up your online presence through social media groups or personal emails. If you already do most of your networking online, find at least one in-person conference or event to attend this quarter that looks interesting and fun.
  4. Network with YOU: Huh? This may seem unusual, but you are only as interesting as YOU think you are. If you are going to events feeling bored, unenthused, insecure, and not present, that’s exactly how you’ll come across to others, even though you may try to sugar coat it with a prepared elevator speech or polished small talk. So, take some time to get to know YOU and what you bring to the table. Take inventory about what genuinely excites you about your business, skills, life experiences, etc. so you’ll be fully engaged and looking forward to sharing them with others when the opportunity comes.

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Jennifer Faherty is a Certified Career and Executive Coach specializing in helping women define success on their own terms, make the best career decisions for themselves, and find work they love. For more information, be sure to sign up for your free copy of “Six Questions to Ask Yourself When Work Just Isn’t Working”!