I was looking up the definitions of the term “NETWORKING” and this one came up – “Networking is the process of trying to meet new people who might be useful to you in your job, often through social activities.” This was followed by the statement – “If executives fail to exploit the opportunities of networking they risk being left behind.”

I am part of many networking groups and this week, there has been a heavy discussion on this topic on a few of those groups. I realized why people are struggling with networking, especially women. If their understanding of networking is as given in the definition above, I can see where the challenge is. Let’s try to break down that definition.

Let’s start with this – Process of trying to meet new people who might be useful to you in your job. How does one find out who might be useful to you in your job? Assuming that you find a way to shortlist the people who might be useful to you, how do you start a conversation with them to ensure you are able to tell them that the reason you are trying to befriend them is to get something out of them for your job!

Now let’s look at this – Through social activities. What kinds of activities can you be part of where you will be able to find these people who will be useful to you? And how many such activities can you be part of!

And on top of that, you are told that if you do not network, you will be left behind. With such a “sword” dangling over your head, how can one even try to meet people!

I have a very different definition of Networking. In fact, it’s the contrary of the definition given above.  Networking is about giving. Networking is about what is the value that you can provide to the people you meet. It is about actively helping others and genuinely wanting to do it.

Now, with this definition, how difficult is it for anyone to start networking? You can be at any event, (social or business), and start a conversation with anyone with open ended questions and be a good listener. Listen to understand what the other person does, what his/her aspirations are, what challenges the person is going through! In fact, get to know everything about that person. During this conversation where you are actively listening, you can find opportunities to help out. You might directly able to help or connecting them to someone else who might be able to help out.

When I tell people that Networking is this simple, people want to do it and want to do more of it. Ultimately, the relationship between the two people becomes strong and genuine. It’s that strength of the relationship which enables people to open up opportunities for the people in their network! Also, you can then ask for something that you believe the other person can influence.

I always mention this quote to people – “You cannot dig the well when you are thirsty”. Networking is an effort over a period of time, with extremely genuine intentions to help the other person.

Networking is not something new that has come by. It existed even in the ancient epic of Mahabharata. The story of the Pandavas assembling an army for the war, even after living in exile for 12 years and incognito in the 13th year, is a great example of networking. Through building relationships, and aligning themselves with the right people, alliances were formed which helped them wage the war.

Hence, always remember that Networking is building long-term relationships by meeting and getting to know people who you can assist. And do not wait any longer! You need to start it now!

Written by Neeraja Ganesh