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Professional Networking: Being (Mostly) Yourself
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Professional Networking: Being (Mostly) Yourself - Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Being (Mostly) Yourself

Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Being (Mostly) Yourself

We’ve seen a lot of evidence recently of how professional networks and personal networks sometimes overlap, and how valuable it is for your connections to know you, not only in terms of your resume, but also your interests and talents. As we discussed in our article about open offices last January, some of the great ideas in science, history, technology, and culture have come about because of incidental contact, unexpected collaboration, and spontaneous sharing of ideas.

Steve Jobs designed incidental contact into the architecture of the Pixar headquarters, and although it was completely unintentional, the lack of structure (and oversight, apparently) in MIT’s Building 20 led to legendary advances in linguistics, radiology, and other seemingly disparate realms.

Now, the concept of open spaces at work applies as well to our networks. Although our social and professional networks don’t occupy actual space, they can mimic the space in an office. Is your network like a cubicle farm, with everyone in one section of the office facing the same way and largely doing the same work? Or is it more like the Pixar headquarters, where you’re as likely to run into a vice-president as the mailroom guy?

This matters, because one reason networks exist is so that you can be of help to others. If members of your network only know you by your job title, you’re limiting your value to your network. But you’re also limiting how others see you, and if a great opportunity comes up that’s right in line with your interests or skills, you may never be aware of it because your contacts may never think you’d be a good fit.

Which brings us to (mostly) being yourself in your networking spaces. This means not just talking about your work, but your play as well. People should know you as that accountant from that firm, but also as the guy who goes mountain biking on weekends, or who worked for a few years on a farming co-op. Whatever else makes you interesting and possibly of value to others is fair game and should be mentioned here or there. When you run into colleagues in the hall, you ask about weekends, and vacation, and whether or not you both saw the big game. These topics are the gateways to knowing each other better, and knowing each other better is how your network gets stronger and more dynamic.

In social media spaces, this might look like making meaningful comments on others’ posts, or sharing the occasional look-what-I-did-this-weekend photo. In real-life spaces, it could be the occasional question about families or free time. The point is that the more YOU you are, the more out there you’ll be, and the more encouraging you’ll be to let others be THEM. Not only does this make your network stronger, but it makes it more fun.

The only caveat (as we’ve shared before) is to keep it positive, no matter your actual tendencies. There’s really no room for negativity in a professional network, which may also mean in your personal network. Similarly, woe-is-me sharing doesn’t help anyone. Be yourself, but be your best public self--this is where the “mostly” comes in--and you may be surprised at how aware you are of what’s going on in far-flung corners of the professional world.


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Professional Networking: Being (Mostly) Yourself - Executive Leadership Articles

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