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How Good is Your Network at Work?

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A. People in Your Network

Everyone needs allies – that is, people who will give you information, advice, assistance, and support. The more allies you have, the more you can accomplish. Allies can be grouped into three categories: Friends, Partners, and Connections.

FRIENDS are coworkers who "click" because of common interests or similar temperaments. They simply like each other, for reasons unrelated to tasks, projects, or goals. As you get to know people, these informal alliances develop naturally.

PARTNERS depend on each other to accomplish results. If the quality of your work automatically affects the success of a coworker, that person is your Partner. No need to seek out Partners – they come with your job. Partners will only become allies if they feel that you are both competent and supportive. If you slack off on your work or fail to be cooperative, Partners can quickly transform into adversaries.

CONNECTIONS are people you can go to for assistance or information. In everyday language, when we say someone "has connections", we mean that they know people who can help them get things done. The more Connections you have, the more information you can access and the more problems you can solve. But if you ask them for too many favors, you may wear out your welcome and lose the connection altogether.

B. Evaluating Your Network

Consider the three different types of allies: Friends, Partners, and Connections. Using the chart below, evaluate your contacts in these categories. In each column, check the box that best describes you.

STRONG Network
"I have friendly relationships with many people at work. We enjoy discussing common interests unrelated to our work activities. We know something about each other’s lives outside of work."
"I have very supportive relationships with any colleagues who depend on me for results. They regard me as consistently helpful, dependable, and competent."
"I know a lot of people that I can call on for work-related information or assistance in getting a problem solved. My network extends into most areas of the organization."

MODERATE Network
"There are a few people at work with whom I discuss common interests and share information about my life outside of work. However, most of my interactions on the job relate to the business at hand."
"I have good relationships with some of the people with whom I work closely, but my relationships with others are not as positive. Some of my colleagues may view me as uncooperative or undependable."
"I know some people outside my immediate work group that I could call on for information or assistance in getting a problem solved. However, there are a number of areas where I don’t know anyone."

WEAK Network
"Almost all of my conversation at work is about business. I hardly ever talk about my personal life or non-work activities. I may like my colleagues, but I know little about them."
"When I have to work closely with others, the relationship often becomes difficult. There are frequent arguments and disagreements. We may try to avoid each other if possible."
"I know very few people outside my immediate work group. If I needed a contact in another department, I usually wouldn’t know who to call."

C. Improving Your Network

To build a network, you must cultivate your allies. How do you do that? Here are a few suggestions.

Identify the people you need to know. The most important allies are those who can help you achieve your goals. Decide where you want to go, then figure out who can help you get there.

Seek out opportunities for interaction. Once you know who can help you reach your goals, you must then figure out how to talk to them. Could you make an appointment to discuss some aspect of their work? Or yours? Do you ever run into them in the cafeteria? Would it help to join a professional association? Attend a workshop or seminar?

Try to attract people, not repel them. If people duck into the restroom when they see you coming, you’ll have difficulty building a network. Colleagues should view you as a bright spot in their workday, not a low point. People usually prefer to work with those who are competent, helpful, friendly, interesting, and pleasant.

Strive for predictability. Jekyll and Hyde personalities are stressful to be around. If your mood shifts wildly from day to day, people have no idea what to expect. And when they don’t know what to expect, they are likely to avoid you.

Get outside your comfort zone. People often tend to cluster with their own kind. But if you get to know some "different" people, you will automatically widen your network. Try having lunch with somebody new. Or meet with someone from another department to learn about their job. Invite those above or below you in the hierarchy to give you feedback. Step outside your familiar circle and see how much you can learn.

Look for links. Alliances usually develop from shared interests, experiences, or opinions. Finding these "links" can personalize a relationship and establish a basis for future conversation. Do you both have kids? Pets? Do you come from the same part of the country? Like to travel? Have a similar work background? Learn to notice what people talk about and ask appropriate questions.

Be helpful to others. A "not in my job description" attitude will automatically alienate potential allies. Offering assistance builds bridges, so look for opportunities to help. Can you share useful information? Pitch in when someone is overloaded? Show a willingness to compromise?

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