The Foundation of Networking – Work In Sports Podcast

Hey everybody, I’m Brian Clapp V of Content and Engaged Learning at WorkInSports.com and this is the Work in Sports podcast…

Just a quick personal vent — not a big fan of changing the clocks. I think it is purely mental, but I get the worst night’s sleep for about a week after the clocks change. My 12-year-old daughter was up at like 5:30 this morning, so clearly I passed this trait down to her as well. 

Not a fan. 

What makes it even worse is staying up to watch your team stink on Sunday night Football… but I digress, as fully recognize that no one feels sympathy for Patriots fans like me. I would just like to again state for the record, I am from Boston and therefore my fandom is legit and earned through decades of sucking… 

Alright now that we’ve cleared up the massive problems with daylight savings and sucking on Sunday night football.. Let’s get to a question, shall we?

I get all types of questions — but this one from Teague in Oregon stuck out to me this week:

“Hey Brian, I suck at networking, can you help?”

You know I respect the brevity of this request. There is no flattery, no sugar coating, just straight to it. And while I love it when people say “hey brian, you are awesome!” sometimes a good old “I suck can you help, really cuts through the BS.

OK, so this is a big subject, this networking things here, and I don’t want to go on for hours and hours, so I’m going to focus this a bit. If you want more I have an entire course on networking as part of the Work In sports Academy… but for now, I’m going to go at this like I approach most things, I flip the conversation on its head. 

Let’s reverse engineer the heck out of this thing…and ask the question — what makes someone become your friend?

Does that seem to be a weird question to ask in regards to networking? Well, let’s think about this — as I analyze my network of contacts, the only ones I would rely upon, disclose things about myself too, give deep time and effort to helping when asked… are those people I would consider more than just a connection, I’d call them a friend. 

So how do you build more industry friends? That is the key to networking – it is the depth of the relationship, not the number. 

So I’ve moved around a bit in my life, and I’ve figured out that it can be pretty hard to make friends when you get older. 

You have shared experiences. Shared schedules. We’re all on the same career status entry-level. Less responsibility. You can go out all night and not have to worry about things. It makes it pretty easy to connect with people.   

But as you get older, it gets harder to break in with people. I left my cushy world in Atlanta to move to Seattle knowing no one. I’m 28, the new boss, and everyone you meet already has a circle of friends they’ve been hanging with for years. We don’t have shared experiences. We all have different job levels, more responsibilities, life is changing…and this tends to make people lean into the group they already have. 

Networking is the same damn thing as making new friends. 

Just connecting with someone. Or just engaging them in small talk at a conference. Or just liking their posts. Isn’t going to cut it. The person you do that with, isn’t going to stick their neck out for you next time you need a job, or need advice, or need a hand. 

Building a network is the creation of multiple mini friendships. Maybe not your tell them everything and complain about your spouse best friend, but it follows the same rhythm. In life, we aren’t trying to make 5,000 friends, we’re trying to make the right 20 friends.

Networking is the same thing.  

I have 6,536 connections on LinkedIn, I know very few of them. These people are opportunities to network, but they are not a network. They are lumps of relationship clay that I have done little to nothing with yet. 

Many people compare their network to the expectations they have in their heads. I don’t know the VP of the Red Sox so my network stinks! I need more high profile people in my network!

I actually think very differently about networking. I think the greatest impact and greatest relationships comes from getting to know people, really getting to know people, at your level or one step above or behind you.

Remember how I talked about my time at CNN/Sports Illustrated? My network comes from those relationships with my peers at the time, who have all gone on and out to new opportunities. 

Your network now may be fellow interns, peers in class, professors, adjunct professors who are in the workforce, intern coordinators — and people in entry-level jobs. 

Imagine for a second you are in school, approaching graduation, and you have it in your head you want to work in sports marketing when you graduate. Why in the world wouldn’t you try to connect with a Marketing Coordinator for the local sports team, or in your athletic department, or in the minor leagues? 

My advice to everyone in networking is to remember it is about the depth of the relationship, not some imaginary number of connections, or some perfect small talk script, it’s about building a relationship. 

So let’s get deeper there —  ask yourself, as we reverse engineer this process — why do you like someone? Why does one person become your friend, someone you want to hang out with, and other people just become a recognizable face that maybe you give a fist bump when you see them?

What is that calculus? Why does friendship happen and how can we relate that to a networking mentality?

According to Psychology today – friendship usually starts with proximity – friends are often those who cross paths with regularity; our friends tend to be coworkers, classmates, and people we run into at the gym.

Ok, so now go back to my earlier point about networking with people at or around your level — you are going to be in the same circles!

Start there with your networking. Who is in your proximity? Professors? Adjuncts? Business people? Team reps? Minor league teams? Agencies? Fellow Interns, others in your major, etc.  

Now, after proximity friendship evolves through shared experience, passions and hobbies. Common ground. 

Ok relate THAT to you networking — again, remember my idea for networking with marketing people connected to your local teams. You have common ground, likely discussion points, etc. 

Next step – self-disclosure. 

Think about it, when you’ve started to build a friendship with someone, share some laughs, have some interactions…and then you ask them a question, possibly a vulnerable one, that signals them you respect their opinion and value their input…that inherently deepens the relationship. 

Alert Alert Alert — I am not saying to bare your soul to a new contact. Just know, when the time is right, honest self-disclosure is a major growth step.

Many of you hear that, self-disclosure, and think asking someone for help getting a job is self-disclosure. It is not. 

Self-disclosure in this instance would be saying something like “ I feel like I am doing so many things right in preparing for my job search, but I am really scared I’m not going to be able to find a good opportunity”

That is showing some vulnerability, and vulnerability is important to developing a friendship…and a network. 

Teague, I want to wrap this up a bit — 

You will have people in your “network” that you develop through social media — I love this, I see the value in it, it is an incredible tool to connect with people. 

BUT – the strength of your network will come from your peers, or close to peers,  you develop a real friendship with. Think always about how you like to be treated as a friend — you want someone who listens as much as they talk, who reciprocates sharing, who doesn’t demand, who is kind and shares experiences…. If you can say “hey, that’s what I like in a friend” chances are that’s what someone else would like too — so be that person when you are networking.

Alright, that’s it for today — coming up on Wednesday — Kurt Landes President and GM of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies — and winner fo the 2019 Larry McPhail Award for being the top promotional team in minor league baseball…

It’s a great interview and I’m excited to share it with you all — see you on Wednesday..now get back to work, and remember networking is about relationships and having the same approach to building a friendship.

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About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

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