According to IIBN Dublin member and leading authority on diaspora networks, Kingsley Aikins, there is a hidden cost of COVID that has not been much talked about and that is the extent to which our networks have shrunk. Kingsley shares his thoughts with us here.

You see, normally networks don’t shrink – they churn. We replace old contacts with new contacts but since the arrival of COVID we have tended to hunker down with family and friends and just a few business connections. We have shifted time and attention away from strangers to close contacts – people in our inner concentric ring of contacts with whom we have strong emotional ties to the neglect of the outer ring of weak ties. But here’s the problem – it is often in the outer ring where the most opportunity lies – amongst our weak connections. The harsh reality is that business development is not happening – there is less randomness and serendipity and, accordingly, our networks have withered. In fact, a US Professor in Yale University, Marissa King has written a fascinating book entitled ‘Social Chemistry’ in which she states that, under COVID, men’s networks have decreased by 30% whereas women’s networks have not decreased at all. She explains this by saying that men like to do things with other men like going for a pint, watching sport, playing golf etc. whereas women’s more natural networking style gives them an advantage. They talk to maintain their emotional closeness. Whatever the truth is in this assertion the reality is that our networking muscles have withered and when we finally shake off COVID we are going to have to dust off our networking skills and get back into action…!!!! And that’s why the IIBN is so important.

Having lived and worked in 6 countries I came to realise that networking was not a luxury but a necessity and was the glue that made everything happen. Without a network your success is capped. Also we all tend to have two types of network. One is organic which just happens and is a function of your family, where you live and go to school, the studies, sports and activities that you pursue. However as you progress through your career you need to develop a network which is intentional, thoughtful and strategic. This is a reflection of something which many people fail to realise – as your career progresses the technical skills that you needed to get your job in the first instance, critically important as they are, become less important (because everybody has them and you can’t compete on what everybody has) and relationships become more important. Perhaps schools and colleges are partly to blame for this as progress in those institutions is determined by a grade, a mark or score. And then you get out into the real world and a whole series of other attributes come in to play such as empathy, emotional intelligence, attitude, character, trust, dependability, craic. The one thing these all have in common is that they count a lot but they can’t be counted.

But there are some real problems with networking. It has lousy feel to it and  conjures up images of insincere, inauthentic people trying to get  sale or a job. It is not taught at school or college, companies don’t have strategies for it, it’s not a KPI, it doesn’t show up in the recruitment process and people assume it is all about sociability and is for extroverts. The truth is that introverts can be terrific at networking because they do it with authenticity and sincerity, they ask questions and they listen – probably the number one skill in being a good networker. Networking is important but not urgent and, of course, we all spend our lives doing urgent things.

Networking is critically important because we can’t go it alone – we can’t be successful without other people. There is this myth of individualism that gets peddled. Life is all about the Lone Ranger, the Marlboro Man, the rugged individual taking on the world and winning. However, in truth, it is a myth – life is all about communicating, collaborating and cooperating. As someone put it to me recently – when you look back on your life were the most memorable times spend on a screen or with other people? Opportunities don’t hang around on clouds they are attached to people so if you are looking for an opportunity you are really looking for a person. Also, all the research shows that people who have strong and diverse networks live longer, are stronger mentally and physically, earn more money and are happier. I kinda like all of these. It is also the antidote to one of the great crises of our times – lonliness. Your network will help you get your next job – over 80% of good jobs don’t get advertised. Your network is portable – when you go it goes with you. You built it – it’s yours. And now companies want to ‘hire and wire’. Hire well connected people and wire into their networks. There is a realisation that there is such a thing as network intelligence – an acceptance that there are more smart people outside your company than inside it and your network can be a way to find out what is going on in a particular industry, segment or geography. The number one predictor of career success is being in an open network which underlines the fact that your network can make or break your career – in short networking is a career advancer. In tough times like now experience will not save you nor hard work nor talent. If you want a job, a sale, advice, help or hope there’s only one place to find it – in your network.

In conclusion then put networking front and centre of your personal and business lives. But accept that this will mean taking action – if nothing happens then, quick as a flash, nothing happens. Also always remember the three great questions when you are with anybody. Firstly, what can I do for you (networking is all about giving as well as getting), if you were me what would you do (asking for advice and paying respect and difference to wisdom and experience) and finally, who do you know who….fill in the rest (in other words are you willing to make an introduction which will not happen unless there is trust in your relationship).

So, in short then, what you want to do is to swap cold calls for hot coffees….!!!

Kingsley Aikins is the founder and CEO of The Networking Institute and has run hundreds of networking training courses both online and offline in 15 countries