Is Your Fear of Networking Costing You Work?

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Devora Zack is a networking expert and author of 'Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide For Introverts, The Overwhelmed, and The Underconnected'. Seems hard to imagine anyone in this day and age isn't already plugged in, but it's true that many people are still shunning the social network... and it could be costing them jobs and promotions.

Devora has some excellent advice for not only those few Luddites left, but also a word or two for those who need to hone their online skills and find focus.

Q. What was the impetus for you to write a book for people who hate networking, and what's the reason they should read it?

A. First off, why do so many people hate networking? Primarily because they think networking is synonymous with manipulation and shameless self-promotion. Not to mention they also think they stink at it.Turns out the majority of people out there claim to hate networking.

Why does networking matter? Think about a big goal. Real networking – resulting in meaningful connections -- furthers your aim.The stakes are that high. And this is the first book to acknowledge there is more than one way to successfully network. Readers can finally embrace their unique personality type (the book includes a self-assessment) and learn customized techniques that work with -- rather than fight against -- one's natural disposition.

This is a huge relief to many readers. People can relax into being themselves rather than assuming networking requires being phony and uncomfortable, then failing at it. The failing part is inevitable if you follow rules that don't make sense for you. My book introduces a new set of rules. No more stamping out your instincts!

I have been a leadership consultant and coach for 15 years specializing in communication, personality style, and teamwork. I have an master's in organizational behavior (Cornell University) and a bachelor's in communication and psychology (University of Pennsylvania). I am a certified practitioner in neuro-linguistic programming and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

Q. Do you see this social networking phase as ever reaching a point of burnout or/and fading away in the near future? Will we be even more update-obsessed, or do you see people getting fed up with the constant influx of unfocused info?

A. Yes. The New Yorker recently published a fascinating article by Malcolm Gladwell on this topic. The upshot was that social networking can never take the place, power, or impact of human interaction.As a business consultant, I see a major challenge facing my clients of information oversaturation. At a certain point, a massive amount of data becomes overwhelming, confusing, distracting, and counterproductive.

Q. Please explain the Platinum Rule; how can we possibly know what someone else wants, unless they tell us?

A. The Platinum Rule kicks the Golden Rule up a notch. Treat others how they want to be treated.

The premise of the Platinum Rule is acknowledging that people process and respond to the world in fundamentally disparate ways. Not everyone wants to be treated the same. For example, when an extrovert returns from a two-week vacation, she may think it is respectful to demonstrate an interest by asking about the trip. An introvert might find the same workplace behavior intrusive and awkward.

Implementing the Platinum Rule requires two high-level skills. The first is the ability to pick up on subtle signals people continually send out about their preferences and temperaments. We miss most cues about how those around us prefer to be treated because we are distracted. By truly focusing on others while interacting, we begin to pick up on this plethora of clues about personality styles.

Another way to gain information about how people like to be treated is simply inquiring. While not everyone has the self-awareness to know how to answer this type of question, it is worth asking.

So, the first step is noticing (or asking) how others want to be treated. You will fall short in your efforts to meet people where they are at; we can't ever be certain how others want to be treated. However, making an effort is generally appreciated.

The next necessary skill is developing the ability to flex your style. To be strong at networking requires flexibility in how we communicate.

Establishing rapport quickly is a critical component of a successful job hunt. The Platinum Rule assists introverts in building a positive connection with potential future employers.

Q. What's Pause, Plan, Pace? How does it work?

A. This is a networking strategy custom-designed for introverts. It is in direct opposition to the "Patter, Promote, Party" rules that are standard for extroverts. Whereas extroverts excel at light banter (patter), introverts do best pausing prior to jumping into a networking event.

Strategize which events to attend. Introverts are much more successful when they go to fewer events. This is in direct opposition to extrovert-centric advice that you should get out there and meet as many people as possible. A much better networking strategy for introverts is to select fewer, inherently interesting events and strive to make deeper connections with one or two people at a time.

Self-promotion comes more naturally to extroverts than introverts. Planning, however, allows introverts to position themselves for networking success. Introverts do well to volunteer at events, as they are more comfortable in structured roles. Arriving early is another fine strategy, before events get crowded and noisy. Invite a colleague of interest to a meal when at conferences rather than being coerced to attend those lengthy, large group dinner outings.

Introverts energize alone. Networking requires a great deal of interaction, potentially depleting energy reserves. Rather than fight against this simple fact, introverts can recognize and honor this need. Regular breaks provide brief time outs -- a walk outside or jotting notes on business cards about the people already met. When at multi-day events, resist the pressure to attend every session. Instead, select sessions of interest -- then slash that list in half. Pacing allows introverts to shine when networking.

Q. After reading your book, what's the first networking site job-seekers should join? (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or... ?)

A. That depends what week they finish reading my book! Online social networking changes so quickly it is impossible to predict what will be at the forefront from month to month.

Where to focus networking efforts also depends on one's specific temperament and goals. LinkedIn is geared to business networking while Facebook has broader appeal. Extroverts prefer a wider, more general reach, so they tend to gravitate toward Twitter, whereas introverts prefer fewer connections with greater depth, so they tend to have smaller social networks with stronger ties.

A key point of my book, with its new approach to networking, is that networking is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Network in a way that complements your natural style rather than attempting to follow hard-and-fast rules that make you cringe.

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