Why might networking be beneficial?

I personally find the idea of networking at events to be daunting and when I attend congresses I will be the person standing on their own looking a bit lost. However, when I do talk to people I will find that I will have a great conversation and not be at all terrified. What is holding me back is fear of the unknown and worries like: What if they do not want to talk to me? What if I sound like an idiot? What if I have nothing to say that they want to hear?

This fear of the unknown has held me back at many times during my life. I have not joined clubs that I maybe wanted to; I have not spoken to somebody and regretted it later; I have resisted using a technique that eventually turned out to be extremely beneficial to a project. If I had been courageous enough to do these things, the first time the opportunity presented itself I can safely say that my life would have been completely different. Nowadays, I have taken a few steps towards overcoming this problem, the first of which was admitting to myself the reason why I was not doing things that I wanted to.

Indeed, talking to people I do not know at events has become a bit easier since I realised one thing. That one thing was that many of the people I could talk to at events are in exactly the same position as me. They do not have anyone with them to talk to, but worry about talking to strangers. If they are at the same specialist event as me then we likely share some interests and this can be used to initiate a conversation. If this is a congress and they are presenting a poster, then often you have to be present at least for a while and will often be keen to talk to anybody. The exception to this I always feel is the big names in the area, who will know lots of people and will have lots of people wanting to talk to them. There might not be an opening for you to introduce yourself. Nevertheless, once again there is a way, you can use your own contacts to introduce you. It might be that you have a colleague who knows them, or can introduce you to someone who does. Often specialist communities are quite small and you will likely have some degree of connectivity. Even if you don’t, by talking to other attendees you may meet someone who could eventually introduce you to a person who could change your career.

Networking does not have to be done in person, and can also be done online. If someone has done work that interests you and you have questions you want to ask, you can always write to them and let them know. They will appreciate your effort and if you are discussing the work then they are more likely to respond to you. This can lead to a ‘conversation’ and a connection to someone who you have never met in person.

Why being nice can be a great strategy at work

When I was at school, one of the things that my English teacher would tell us was that we shouldn’t use the word nice. He considered it bland and thought that there were more descriptive words that better expressed what something was like. However, I think that nice can be extremely good at times, especially when you are considering your interactions with other people.

Why should you be nice?

The world of academia/work is quite small and it is likely that anybody you meet once you will meet again if they remain in the same area. However, when we next meet them they could be in another job or publishing work we find interesting. If this is the case then they are probably someone you want to talk to and potentially collaborate with. However, if when you met them the first time you were rude or brusque, then they may remember this and be less inclined to spend time with you. As the cliché says “what goes around, comes around”. Conversely, if you were pleasant when you first met them or provided help or advice they will remember you favourably, and good things may come from the next meeting.

Surely this is a cynical approach to the world

This may be considered cynical, however, it is also a valid approach to life, and if you start making a conscious effort in this, it will eventually become a habit. Furthermore, if you are consistent you may develop a reputation as a helpful individual who is good to know and opportunities may come your way that you were not aware of.

A very good discussion on this appears in the book Have Fun, Get Paid: How to Make a Living with Your Creativity. This book focusses on creativity and creative industries, however, I feel it is applicable beyond this area and would recommend it.