Networking skills: nature or nurture?

Networking event crowd of people

Like it or loath it, networking is an important skill in any business, and the same is true in the charity world. Networking can result in access to funding, to knowledge, to the best people and advice, and to credibility both for individual charity managers and for the organisation.

We’ve all seen the best at work … the Chief Executive with plenty of gravitas who draws attention when they walk in, introduces themselves to people they need to know and probably already knows most of the important people at the gig already.

We’ve all been there at the awkward moments too! The difficult silences, the non-responsive target of your attention, the failed small talk, the too direct tactless approach.

Nature or nurture?

So is the ability to network well a natural trait, an innate element of someone’s personality. Or can it be learnt – could anybody gain the social skills, confidence, memory tools, gravitas, credibility, respect and relaxed friendly disposition that makes a good networker.

Perhaps a starting point is thinking about what it is that makes a good networker?

For me it’s someone that makes me feel although I matter when they talk to you. Even if, in reality and on later analysis, I know that they don’t know me and perhaps don’t really want or need to know me. It’s someone who I’ll remember and want to follow up with, who appears to empathise and understand, and that I feel relaxed talking to. To do that, that person has to understand my world, be knowledgeable, and have superb levels of emotional intelligence. It helps too if they are well presented, remember or have learnt something about me, and demonstrate a willingness to listen.

Put simply, personality is important, alongside memory, empathy and emotional intelligence. Experience and knowledge count too.

So the answer to our question is … a bit of both!!

Of course it is, the answer was always going to be a bit of both. It takes a certain type of confident, well rounded, likeable personality to work a room of prospective business contacts or charity supporters well, but this does have to be coupled with a good level of knowledge, deliberately applied tact and diplomacy, understanding of body language, emotional intelligence and a trained memory or use of memory tools to make it work.

The point of this piece then wasn’t really to answer the question – we knew all along what the answer was, but to encourage thinking about our own networking skills and where they might be improved. For me personally, I have no hesitation nowadays in introducing myself and starting a conversation – I just need to have those first few words settled in my mind first. I’m reasonably confident. Where I probably need to improve is in what I remember and why, and using that for follow up or at the next meeting. Although sometimes I must confess that “You’ll have to forgive me, I’ve a terrible memory for names and faces, but haven’t we met before …? ”  has proved to be a reasonable starting point over the canapés!