Networking equals building trust

By Robert Huffstutler

A network is not created by some mystical formula that a few are able to master while others look on with envy or disdain. It’s not a practice of foraging for people to enter into a web of interaction only to be hit upon for some special favor.

Networks are patterns of relationships that are supported by repeated interaction of members, and each member is able to access the resources and expertise of others in the network.

Developing a personal network is possible whether someone is an extrovert or introvert. Rob Cross and Andrew Parker, in their book “The Hidden Power of Social Networks,” profile features that are common in most successful networks. These include: the need to diversify whom you talk to; the need to stay in touch with members of your network; the need to be in close proximity, either physically or electronically, with others; the need to invest time in others; and the need to develop mutually beneficial long-term relationships between members. People relating with each other is still the best way, no matter how hard we try to take people out of the equation.

The first step is to talk. Casual conversations about shared interests, acquaintances or experiences are excellent icebreakers that lay the groundwork for building trust. It’s known as mingling, and it can be fun once the initial jitters, which everybody has, can be overcome. Casual conversation, a.k.a. schmoozing and mingling, is a learned art. If it isn’t your strength, practice! Utilize resources like the NIU Career Services office, the student organization FUTURE or other student organizations as a way to practice and increase your comfort level with this style of conversation.

In her book “How to Talk with Practically Anybody about Practically Anything,” Barbara Walters describes three general rules to follow when conversing with a person you’ve never spoken to before. Stop – do your homework and learn something about whom you will be talking to. If information is not available, make assumptions based on what you know about people who have similar backgrounds to the person you are schmoozing. Look – establish eye contact. Facial expressions, body language and paralanguage (how you say things) are all important factors in building a positive first impression. Listen – don’t pretend to listen, but really listen. You’ll probably find the conversation worthwhile.

Would you drop the shields that protect you from embarrassment and insecurity without knowing if your efforts would be productive? That’s what you’re expecting from others when you ask for a favor without building trust. Networking can take away the apprehension. It is a process of building trust where everybody benefits through the use of a warm and friendly conversation.

Robert Huffstutler, a career counselor with Career Services, wrote this column.

His e-mail is rhuffstu@niu.edu.

Columns reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the Northern Star staff.