People hate the word networking more than the activity itself – does it need a rebrand?

Networking Series Blog 2 –

In a recent survey I conducted about professional networking (completed by 80 of my trusted contacts), when asked how they feel about networking, 44% feel negatively about it and 26% have mixed feelings or feel neutral about it. Only 30% of those surveyed feel positive overall about networking. Less than a third.

As I continue my research project into networking, many people don’t like the word and its connotations, describing the activity as awkward, uncomfortable, forced and an effort.

In fact, I read an article in Administrative Science Quarterly, saying that networking makes people feel dirty. ‘The Contaminating Effects of Building Instrumental Ties: How Networking Can Make Us Feel Dirty’ Tiziana Casciaro, Francesca Gino and Maryam Kouchaki (2014).

When I have explored this in more detail through research and coaching sessions the element people don’t like isn’t the connecting and building relationships, it is the attitude of going into an activity with an agenda, hoping to get something. Even worse is the thought of going into an activity when other people want to get something from us or to talk about themselves and how great they are. Generally, we don’t want to be sold to or feel used. We don’t want to feel like we are investing our precious time in a shallow activity.

One of my coaching clients who has participated in my research survey had been putting off attending an industry networking event for fear of ‘sharky people selling to them’. However, when they plucked up the courage to attend, they had an enjoyable and fruitful evening and found that no-one was behaving in that way. In fact, they described an atmosphere of warmth and generosity.

I wonder whether we can over-inflate the challenges of a networking event in our minds, because it doesn’t play to our strengths and we don’t want to step out of our comfort zone. In my experience, very few people find large events full of strangers energising. Even extroverts can find it intimidating. There are many better ways to build professional relationships than through large events.

Interestingly, the survey showed that even those who feel negatively towards networking want to do it more, and they shared many positive outcomes they have gained from building professional relationships over time which I shared in my last blog 7 benefits of networking according to 80 of my trusted contacts.

So how can we get over this fear of what we call networking? Does it need a rebrand and what should we call it instead?

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