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Professional Networking: Networking As A Mingling of In-Groups
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Professional Networking: Networking As A Mingling of In-Groups - Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Networking As A Mingling of In-Groups

Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Networking As A Mingling of In-Groups

In her recent book Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You (Harvard Business Review Press, 2018), author Heidi Grant explains the complicated and tricky science behind our reluctance to ask others for help and others’ willingness to give it. We reviewed this book favorably a few weeks ago and have returned to recently to absorb some of its implications.

Belonging to the In-Group
The book is divided into three major sections. The last section, focusing on in-groups and out-groups, has us thinking about our professional networks. The emphasis in Grant’s book is on how we identify ourselves among others in terms of belonging to groups (our company vs. their company; my school vs. your school; my ethnicity vs. your ethnicity). Our need to identify as members of groups is powerful and it reaches deep into the way we’re constructed, says Grant, as a means of survival in a world full of dangers, including dangers from other groups. That’s a group of bees in a hive, for example, but we’re a group of humans with soft skin. Identifying as belonging to the second group drives us to act in our group’s best interest, sometimes at great expense to the well-being of the other group.

“But the benefits of group membership go well beyond not being eaten” (or in our example, stung), says Grant. “They give us a sense of belonging and connectedness.” They also help us feel understood, appreciated, valued, secure, and empowered to do things we can’t possible do by ourselves.

Celebrating the In-Group
Belonging to a group also gives us reason to celebrate—not only our own accomplishments but the accomplishments of others in our group. We feel good when someone in our groups has a child, for example, because we know how happy it’s going to make him or her, even if we know the new parent’s maternity/paternity leave is going to leave us short-staffed for several weeks.

In fact, the extra work we may have to do reinforces our team, and it makes us feel better about belonging. We feel part of the success of this person’s family, and we’re proud of our ability to keep things going in the absence of a valuable team member. “Groups thrive when individual members eschew what is best for them personally and focus on tending to the group in times of need,” says Grant.

Identifying as a ____________.
But there’s more to it than that, Grant continues. There’s more going on here than just helping the group. Helping the group reinforces our concept of belonging to the group, and that reinforced identity is a huge motivator as well. This is why a good thank-you for, say, an afternoon of community service emphasizes the us-ness of the endeavor. “Thank you all for sacrificing your Saturday so the playground equipment will be safe for our children,” is fine, but “Thank you to each member of the amazing team at First State Bank for working together toward the safety of our children” is even better. Those matching purple t-shirts the boss asked the team to wear on community service day weren’t so the world would know it was First State who did the work; it was to heighten the sense of belonging, like a football uniform or a class ring.

Networks as In-Groups
How this applies to your professional network, which is most likely not centralized or defined in any way as us and them, is a question whose answer might strengthen our ties even more. For years, we have been touting the importance of networking as opportunities to help others, but what if it’s more than that? What if we frame our connectedness as belonging to a special group? If you’ve ever connected one friend looking for a job with another friend in serious need of someone good, you experienced a rush of satisfaction even though you didn’t personally benefit. Could it be because you expressed to the hirer that you belonged to a network of good candidates, while expressing to the hiree that you belong to a network of important employers?

With this power in mind, perhaps some of our networking efforts should come from a place of unabashed feelings of belonging to special groups. Then when we seek help from out network, we might reach out from this place: “Hi, I’m looking for a new marketing manager, and I know you belong to a network of smart, creative people. Do you think there’s someone in your group who might be a good fit?” That person might then turn toward his network and say, “Someone in my network is a really great employer and I think you’d be a good addition to her team.” The intersection and possible intermingling of in-groups could be the powerful thing that keeps our networks healthy and thriving.


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Professional Networking: Networking As A Mingling of In-Groups - Executive Leadership Articles

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