The term “networking” has developed a negative connotation over time, associated with building relationships purely to get ahead in your career or relationships that help you. This has led to a lack of quality in our relationships in our personal and professional lives. Aiming for relationships that are sincere and authentic will lead to excitement, inspiration and increased energy.
Networks are personal and authentic
Personal and professional relationships require us to care and be interested in the other individual genuinely. Maybe it isn’t a new baby you discuss, but rather a project, an idea, or an experience. The mere fact you have something in common that excites you both can create a dynamic energy that carries you forward in your own life.
Sometimes we have people in our lives merely because we have known for a long time, or they are a natural part of our lives through work, or maybe we brought new people into our lives who end up draining our energy. The best thing we can do in these circumstances is to apply the theory of the Network Matrix.
By using this tool earlier this year, I understood that there were people in my life who were draining my energy or not lifting me to higher possibilities. People who were at different stages in their lives so could not relate to my goals or vision. People who were always the “victim”, i.e. everything happened to them, and it was never their responsibility, never an opportunity for growth. People who lacked self-awareness and have no desire to learn or grow.
My next step was a tough one, but with respectful conversations, I was able to extricate myself from some of the deeper relationships, hold boundaries with those that I did not want to remove entirely and increase time spent with inspirational and supportive people. By maximising time with the people, I admired or wanted to be like, I inadvertently opened up space for good things to happen!
The Network Matrix
By first identifying the relationships in your life and then categorising those that bring you energy or drain energy, you can help you identify where to increase frequency and engagement with people and where to downshift where you spend time that is not good for you.
How to use the Network Matrix
In each quadrant, write down the names of the people whose relationships fit the description.
The two measures are frequency and desirability.
For example, if you have a friend who always raises your energy, and you do not see them enough, they would be in the top left quadrant.
Now that you have filled in the matrix, you can start to action each quadrant.
Explore the four categories
1. Frequent and Desirable
Wonderful category; let’s start here. These are your friends and family who identify with your current identity and help you move forward in all you desire and your future ambitions.
ACTION: Appreciate and amplify the energy in relationships here.
2. Infrequent and Desirable
These network contacts also help you move forward in your desires and ambitions but may not be in your life frequently. Increase your frequency of contact here, this might require some work but will inject more and more energy into your life.
ACTION: Inject energy into relationships here.
3. Frequent and Undesirable
This is the category that requires the most work. These may be colleagues or family members you don’t see eye to eye with but must interact with, this means you need to take energy to manage these relationships. Reduce reactions and increase patience here.
ACTION: Accept and manage relationships here.
4. Infrequent and Undesirable
These people in your network are potentially disabling you from moving forward. Luckily they are not in your life too often, so removing or reducing interaction with these individuals will not be too difficult to manage.
ACTION: Remove or reduce relationships here.
3 tips for improving your professional networks
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said, “we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with”, so this Network Matrix can help you to narrow down on who you admire, who gives you energy and who you want to be most like. Then increase your time with these five people.
Some tips to remember when it comes to your overall network.
1. Quality, not quantity
It is not a numbers game. Quality is always going to win over quantity. People see through inauthentic connections, and very quickly tire of one-way value add relationships.
Having said that, anyone you develop genuine chemistry or relationship with is important and worth having in your network. Whether that person is the CEO of a major corporation or the waiter at your local restaurant is irrelevant, they are your network. And you never know what that waiter might be working on personally; you might have an opportunity to connect with the next Richard Branson!
Don’t judge people by their social status; get to know them, and if you click with each other, and give each other energy, expand the time you spend with them.
2. Authenticity, not acquaintances
A valuable network comes from investing in your existing relationships and building genuine relationships with new people you meet.
Artificial conversation at a surface level, “How are you? What do you do?” is useless to everyone, but discussing things you have in common, things you are both excited to be involved in, will interest you both. You may be meeting in the context of a conference or an event, so there is already a common interest. Once you start talking, you’ll quickly gauge if you have common ideas or are interested in the same things.
It doesn’t matter if you are introverted or extroverted for this process. Introverts will have longer, deeper conversations with one person, and extroverts will have shorter conversations with more people, but both provide the opportunity to develop relationships. Just remember something personal or something that clicked about every person you meet.
3. Connections, not casual intros
Reciprocal relationships are the strongest, the most beneficial and the most rewarding; they are a constant exchange of ideas and information. Seek long-term, meaningful connections with people you are genuinely interested in and you want to know a year, two years, five years, or ten years from now.
Once you have meaningful connections, expand your network by expanding theirs. Take time to curate your relationships to ensure you gain value and give value in every relationship developed. The satisfaction you feel when you introduce people who click, develop relationships, and create value for each other is brilliant. Aim for that. And trust me, it will come back to you.
As Brian D. Evans would say, “Remember: at the end of the day, people do business with friends.” So use the Network Matrix to improve your existing relationships so you can make room to meet more interesting people you want to spend time with…and build your invaluable network.