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Episode 101: “The Secrets to Better Networking” with Michael J. Hughes

The importance of networking as a business strategy is the subject of this episode. Everyone knows relationships are the key to success in business and in life but the question is – how do you do it? Well, helping us to do that today is Michael J. Hughes and he will give us his secrets to better Social Networking.

Michael is known as North America’s “networking guru” and he has spent almost 50 years in the business world as an entrepreneur, a business coach, a trainer, a professional speaker, and author. Michael is a specialist in utilizing networking as a business strategy and we are very delighted to have him as a guest.

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Transcript from Episode 101: “The Secrets to Better Social Networking” with Michael J. Hughes


Would you tell us a little bit about your own proprietary networking philosophy and methodology?
Like many other people, I came to this back way, around the barn and I tell people that at the peak of my corporate career, I was literally and figuratively fired into success. When that happened, I told myself I will never put my future in someone else’s hands. So, I decided to start my own consulting and training practice and I bounced around for a few years. Quite frankly, I was starving to death. At some point, I remember sitting with one of my mentors and lamenting about my situation.

He said, “Michael, you’re a one-person-company, you gotta get out there and network more, you gotta work your network.” Like many professionals, I heard that word before and I respected this person, so I decided to take his message seriously. I started researching networking, I started reading every book I could get my hands on. I started to watch all of those successful people, I watched how they acted and I started applying those principles I read about, and I started my own strategies in my own life and in my own business.

And over a period of time what happened was that I started to achieve more and more of the success. And as I started to achieve more success, people started to ask me “Michael, do you have a course on this? Is there a book I can read?” So, over the years and I’m pretty pleased to tell you that I spent now over 25 years passionately, someone would say obsessively researched networking as a business strategy and as a professional competency. I help professionals and executives understand what networking really is, how it works and how to utilize it more effectively.

What are the most effective networking strategies for career advancement or expansion?
In many cases, it’s really just an awareness piece. One of the fundamental principles is that just about every one of us networks every single day. We kind of think of networking as this formal thing we do you know, once a quarter, at the regional meeting, once a year at the annual conference.

There is no question that we do that, but networking is a fundamental activity that we are involved with every single day, with everyone that we know and everyone that we meet. So if professionals listening to this podcast are interested in advancing their careers, what are my recommendations is to think more in terms of the conversations you have every single day because those are the interactions that have the most impact on your career.

So, being more conscious, more intentional is the word I use, about every conversation having an incredible impact on your future and then achieving what you want. Many of the large corporations worldwide now are having their up-and-coming executives, not only design a career plan but a network plan the coincides with that, to help them determine who are the individuals that they need to connect with, that they need to build relationships with in order to achieve the success that they want and need.

So, the most effective strategy I recommend in the corporate world is to recognize the value of the corporate network, identify those individuals that can help you achieve the results you want and need, and focus on connecting with those people and building solid relationships that you can use to help advance your career.

How can managers or leaders use networking and this kind of strategic networking to build relationships in today’s geographically dispersed environments?

People say “What I think, the networking is attending events or meeting people that are right in my sphere of influence” But in any project management environments, the teams are now geographically dispersed and people say “It’s difficult, if not impossible for me to build relationships when we are only talking by phone or via Skype or in Google meetings” and my response is always the same – nothing could be further from the truth.

There’s no question it is more difficult when you are geographically dispersed but the fundamentals of relationship building and restoration, project management is 80% people and 20% process. People talk about project teams and teamwork is really just a series of great relationships. And when it comes to relationships, the fundamentals are trust, value, and contribution. It’s building trust continuing and ongoing basis, it’s listening and confirming the value and it’s about contributing.

So my recommendation the people and I just had a conversation about this about a week ago with someone who has geographically dispersed teams and his difficulty and his inability to be able to use that to build a relationship, is to focus on intentionally injecting in every conversation, in every electronic connection, a time to actually focus on building relationships. That’s finding out about the person.

When it comes to technology, we’re more prone to be driven, to be disciplined, to communicate effectively and “let’s get down to business” But when it comes to achieving results, we buy people first, ideas second, and things last and in that order. When it comes to achieving project success, especially when you talk about individuals who are not with you live, it’s about injecting into every communication a component that will actually focus on the personal area and building contacts with that individual.

Do you that networking is related to personality or can it be learned or is it the good old argument of nature versus nurture?

When it comes to networking, people tend to think it’s all about these extrovert individuals, the person who is the loudest at the party, and in fact, there is some history where people have actually said that being an introvert is a weakness when it comes to career progression, to career advancement.

All the research that is coming out now in neuroscience is confirming the fact that the most effective leaders are introverted leaders. And the reason for that is because they are more focused on an individual person. I mean the fact that you’re uncomfortable in large crowds or that you don’t feel comfortable making a lot of small talk with people is not a determinant. What it means is that you will be more focused on individual conversations.

And networking to build relationships is more a quality activity than a quantity activity. I keep reminding people it’s much more effective for you to go and have fewer conversations, to have deeper conversations with those individuals that you can use as a starting point to ignite the relationships that represent your future success. We are all different. Every one of us has our own unique and individual personality.

Every one of us has a varied and diverse network. It’s who we are social beings and I keep reminding people that no matter what your personality is, you have the ability to build your own network, you’ve been doing it your entire life. So my recommendation is to focus on what are your strengths, what are your comfort areas and to build from there in the conversations you have.

Can you tell us what are some of the common misconceptions around networking?
I keep telling professionals that the networking is one of the most misunderstood and abused business strategies and one of them is that people think that others will either hire you or refer you or work on your behalf after a 30 second or 3-minute conversation and the reality is that that just doesn’t happen.

Nobody goes to a networking event to get solitude. So whether you’re in career transition or looking for that next contract and my recommendation to you is to change your mind set. Networking’s true purpose and its fundamental premise is to bring two people together and acts as a catalyst for the powerful relationships that is the basis for successful business and in life. That’s what it’s designed to do.

Where can we network?
One of the important pieces to understand is that networking is hard for people, it’s a time-constrained, anxiety-filled activity. And part of that has to do with how we feel and we have a natural resistance to walk up to other people. I see it all the time in the events so I will stand in the front of the room and I will watch people in the room and the first thing they do is to walk to someone they know, they will rather sit by themselves than talk to someone else and that’s because we are predisposed to back away from someone we don’t know.

It’s a natural fear of rejection we have. It takes courage and it takes discipline to get over that. But as soon as you do, you realize that meeting others is a natural, normal part of what we do. Let’s face it, we’re social beings, we’ve been doing it since we were small children. When you walked with your friends, you were networking.

When you graduated from school, when you got that first job, you were networking. So, networking is a natural thing, normal social activity we have been doing our entire life and the difficulty and stress comes in is when the business piece comes in. When we have to ask for a job or look for a promotion.

Can we practice this until it becomes almost natural even though a nurtured trait?
Absolutely. I talk about networking as being a learned skill. And there are three skills I speak with professionals. The first one is what I call business skills. It’s recognizing networking as much as a strategy, as an activity, recognizing that networking is a formal strategy you can implement in your career or in your business and you can utilize on an ongoing basis. Identifying those individuals that you want to connect with, having conversations with them and building relationships. So that’s the foundational skills, to see networking as a business strategy.

The second skill is what I call relationship skills and that’s understanding that every conversation you have contributes to the relationship in some way, shape, or form. The third skill is what I call the interpersonal skills and interpersonal skills and the mechanics of networking, it’s what you do, it’s what you say, it’s how you act. And all three of those skills areas are interconnected.

Being so hung up about the interpersonal skills, they don’t get the chance to use those interactions to advance the relationship process towards the outcome they want and need. I help professionals better understand how to develop their skills, to understand what happens during the process because relationship building, relationship management is a process. I used the social process that actually helps professionals better understand what’s happening during a networking interaction, how to manage it more effectively with overcoming psychological barriers and the emotional issues that we have to deal with to advance the relationship process towards the outcomes that we want and need.

If you think about relationships being about trust, value, and contribution and everything you say and do either contributes to trust or takes away trust. And there are two kinds of trusts, the professional trust and that’s the letters behind your name, that’s an experience you’ve acquired, it’s easy to trust.

The more important trust, the more powerful the trust, the more difficult the trust is personal trust. And that’s just the same in every interaction you have with someone, it’s doing the things you say you will do, it’s honoring your commitment and that proves to people that they can trust you. The second piece is value and we also we have great value, but the value was like an onion it’s gotta be peeled back over time. And the third piece is a contribution and it’s recognizing that you can advance relationship strength, value, and trust by contributing to another success.

Is it just like building blocks?
Absolutely. I keep remaining professionals that networking is a dual strategy. It’s focusing on the people you know, your existing network which is very powerful and can help advance your career. But at the same time, it’s also about expanding your network with people that you meet it’s putting yourself in a position where you can exponentially grow your network, which grows your opportunity and your leverage capacity.

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