By Barbara Mitchell
Q: I’d like to start networking with higher-level people in my organization, but I don’t want to step on any toes. I also don’t have a clue how to get started. Can you help?
A: This can be a great strategy to help you move up in your organization, but you’ve already identified one of the biggest potential pitfalls: You might alienate those around you—especially your immediate manager, if it appears you are trying to establish a relationship “over your manager’s head.” You can mitigate this problem if you keep your manager informed of your networking intentions. Hopefully he or she will see the value of your connections for you and for the department.
Opportunities to interact with senior staff in your organization may come up in both organic and more structured ways. Here are some common scenarios to prepare for:
In the elevator. Imagine that you find yourself alone in the elevator with your executive director. What do you do and what do you say? You should be prepared for such an encounter. It may never happen, but if it does, you’ll be ready to make the most of it.
Your introduction should include your name, your department or function, and something that might interest the other person to know about you. Smile, shake hands if appropriate, and confidently introduce yourself.
Once you’ve made a connection, you need to be up to date on your organization’s challenges and successes so that you can talk with confidence to your new contact.
In meetings. When you’re in a meeting with higher-ups, you have a chance to show what you know and how you contribute to the organization. When you’re called on to answer a question, be prepared to give a clear and succinct answer. You’ll be noticed for your professionalism and your confidence. These situations are natural ways to connect with people you don’t normally work with and build your credibility, so be prepared for every opportunity.
In casual conversation. One of the tricks to good networking is the ability to engage in “small talk.” I once worked for a CEO who was introverted and shy, and, knowing this, most staff didn’t attempt casual interaction with him. One new employee, unaware of the CEO’s personality, one day commented on the CEO’s shoes and started a conversation from there. Finding a common interest, even if it’s something that seems trivial, can help you begin a mutually beneficial relationship.
Once you’ve made a connection, you need to be up to date on your organization’s challenges and successes so that you can talk with confidence to your new contact. Be prepared with good questions, and remember that networking is always a two-way proposition. Ask what you can do for your colleague in addition to what he or she can do for you.Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].