SECTIONS

How to create networks and strengthen professional relationships

Your co-workers contribute to your well-being. [iStockphoto]

If the famous saying, “Your network is your net worth” by Tim Sanders is to be taken seriously, professional relationships and networking ought to be approached more strategically than is often the case.

Starting from the office all the way to clients and business partners, professional relationships, handled well, help to avoid unnecessary conflict, hence create a healthy working environment. By maintaining professional relationships well, you also build around yourself a network of people who can be of help in future.

In order to network strategically, it is important to understand the professional relationships that build into your network. The co-worker and line manager relationships are the most ‘local’ relationships that play a great role in shaping our working environment. Your line manager might be the only referee your next employer calls and it works well if they have a genuinely good word to say about you.

Your co-workers contribute to your well-being by default because of the much you have to interact. Moreover, having a good professional relationship with them ensures a learning experience through healthy discussions and helping each other out, whether within the department or inter-departmentally.

Mentor-mentee relationships are also very important, especially for career and professional growth. Whether from the same organisation as you or otherwise, a mentor is usually one who is more advanced than you in your career and gives you guidance.

If you find yourself in a position where you interact with the company’s clients, client relationships also require strengthening. They are vital for continued business through keeping them as clients as well as getting referrals.

Finally, business relationships refer to any relationships that are exclusively about work. Most of these come about naturally during business interactions, but nurturing them requires intentionality. Also, just like all the other relationships, waiting for them to naturally happen might not get you the people you need in your network. It is important to identify your relationship needs- you need to know whether you need connections for business partnerships, career advancement or other reasons.

Being clear on this, then you can position yourself strategically to form the right connections. Attend conferences, seminars and other functions where you are likely to meet people who are potentially valuable to you. It will be helpful if you also familiarise yourself with particular individuals before you meet them, to make it easy to connect when you meet. People appreciate knowing that you already know who they are and so you seek to connect with them not by chance but knowingly.

Once you have connected, keeping in touch will help to make sure it doesn’t end there. The famous English saying ‘Out of sight, out of mind,’ is especially true with meeting new people. Luckily for us in the tech age, sight may only mean a phone call, email or a message. If you spoke of something such as a way in which you can collaborate, following it up sooner than later is the ideal way to nurture the connection.

Finally, there are three important rules you have to keep in mind if you are to maintain healthy professional relationships. The first is to build trust. Being reliable is a good way to do this. Nobody wants to be around someone who never fulfils promises. Secondly, create a symbiotic relationship. Do not always be on the receiving end. Finally, maintain your boundaries.