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Networking skills to make personal connections

January 1, 2010
by Yael Sara Zofi and Susan Meltzer
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Long-term care (LTC) professionals are well aware that our jobs, our facilities, and our patients' expectations have radically changed in the past few years. Although the technical and medical changes in the LTC environment have been profound, our social mechanisms have evolved more slowly. (This is not a unique phenomenon!) With the expanding networks of local regulatory agencies, healthcare providers, community organizations, and fellow providers, to name but a few, we communicate with a wide variety of organizations and individuals in the course of doing our jobs.

What can you do to break through these somewhat impersonal, bureaucratic, or frenetic organizations to get what you need quickly and efficiently? Not surprisingly, you'll find most people are responsive when they have a personal relationship with you. That translates as building solid networks to draw upon to get results. Connections are the coin of the realm, and the secret is to know how to make those connections work for you. In other words, develop your networking skills to make personal connections that can make your job easier.

What is networking?

Networking is really small talk with a target. Networking is one of the critical skills necessary to be successful on your job. Even if you would characterize your current networking abilities as effective, you may feel that certain areas could be improved upon. Some examples are: ways you communicate, how you handle personality differences, or persuade others. The secret is knowing how to turn casual conversations into useful connections.

Networking Is

Networking Is Not

Making contacts

Selling

Promoting something of value

Being impersonal

Asking assertively and offering graciously

Manipulating

Giving with no expectation

Keeping score

Serving others

Using others

A way of life

A technique

Networking is…

  • …the deliberate process of exchanging information, resources, support, and access in such a way as to create mutually beneficial alliances for personal and professional success.

  • …building the right relationships with the right people to provide information, support, influence, and development.

  • …creating collective environments where people learn from each other, share resources, and build positive working relationships.

Types of networks

Human beings are social animals and we engage in a variety of interactions with others. Therefore, we have several different types of networks to enhance our personal as well as professional lives. Here are the four types of networks that define our relationships with the many individuals on whom we rely, and who, in turn, rely on us.

  1. Personal networks. Your family, friends, and close associates. You usually choose these types of networks through mutual interests, liking, and long-term connections. Personal networks are more social than other types of networks, and are based on exchange of help and support.

  2. Organizational networks. Business teams, project groups, committees, and councils. These networks are focused on whom you need to know in your facility in order to meet objectives within a specific time frame. These networks are based on power, knowledge, and influence. One strategy when joining a new department or facility/provider is to identify as quickly as possible the organizational network-especially those with power (overt and covert) and influence.

  3. Professional networks. Colleagues, peers. Professional networks are based on common work interests and tasks in the world of long-term care, and are about what people know. They can be internal or external, such as professional network organizations.

  4. Strategic networks. External contacts and connections. With increased complexity, regulation, and patient expectations, look to form or join alliances with individuals from organizations as varied as community institutions, local regulatory agencies, nearby hospitals, or clinics.

To summarize, networks are…

  • comprised of people and groups

  • flexible and permeable

  • powerful for generating solutions, seizing opportunities, and getting things done

  • vehicles for professional development

  • keys to dispensing high-quality care

Four stages of networking

Now that you are familiar with the different types of networks, it is important to understand how your networking relationships get established. Networking is a process; it is the opposite of an instantaneous or isolated incident. Networking takes time, effort, and careful nurturing of the relationship to bear fruit. That is, after selecting a group of people who can contribute to your professional life-and to whose success you can contribute-you work on building the relationship.

Consider the networking process as consisting of four different stages: Getting, Exchanging, Understanding, and Mutual Benefit. This process is a building block of four steps, with Mutual Benefit being the highest step, or stage. Look at each stage:

  • STAGE 1: Getting

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