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The Art of Networking: Interests and Goals

The next step in making networking more palatable is to think about how your interests and goals align with those of people you meet and how that can help you forge meaningful working relationships. Northwestern University’s Brian Uzzi calls this the shared activities principle. “Potent networks are not forged through casual interactions but through relatively high-stakes activities that connect you with diverse others,” he explains. (See “How to Build Your Network,” HBR, December 2005.) Numerous studies in social psychology have demonstrated that people establish the most collaborative and longest-lasting connections when they work together on tasks that require one another’s contributions. Indeed, research that one of us (Tiziana) conducted with INSEAD’s Miguel Sousa Lobo showed that this “task interdependence” can be one of the biggest sources of positive energy in professional relationships.

Consider the approach taken by Claude Grunitzky, a serial entrepreneur in the media industries, when he set out to meet Jefferson Hack, founder of the underground British style and music magazine Dazed & Confused. As described in a Harvard Business School case study by Julie Battilana, Lakshmi Ramarajan, and James Weber, Grunitzky—then 22 and preparing to found his first business, an urban hip-hop magazine in London—learned everything he could about Hack.


“I read every one of his magazines, noticed what he was writing about and what kinds of bands he reviewed,” Grunitzky recalled. “I did so much of this I felt I could almost understand his personality before we met.” Armed with that knowledge and convinced that he and Hack had similar worldviews and aspirations, Grunitzky felt much more comfortable approaching the industry elder.


Think Broadly About What You Can Give

Even when you do not share an interest with someone, you can probably find something valuable to offer by thinking beyond the obvious. Of course, this isn’t always easy. We’ve found that people who feel powerless—because they are junior in their organizations, because they belong to a minority, or for other reasons—often believe they have too little to give and are therefore the least likely to engage in networking, even though they’re the ones who will probably derive the most benefit from it.

This problem was highlighted in two studies we conducted at the law firm mentioned above, which involved different groups of lawyers at different points in time. We found that senior people were typically much more comfortable networking than junior people were because of their greater power in the organization. This makes sense. When people believe they have a lot to offer others, such as wise advice, mentorship, access, and resources, networking feels easier and less selfish.

A controlled experiment confirmed this finding: People in whom we induced feelings of power found networking less repulsive and were more willing to do it than people assigned to a condition that made them feel powerless.

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