CAN THE OF­FICE PARTY BOOST YOUR CA­REER? A feel­good guide to Christ­mas net­work­ing

A: With the right tac­tics in place, you can build last­ing pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ships over cham­pagne and canapés

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Contents - By FRANCES HEDGES

It’s that time of year when the ex­hor­ta­tion to ‘eat, drink and be merry’ can start to feel less like an in­vi­ta­tion and more like a court or­der. End­less cock­tail events fill your cal­en­dar; your usu­ally or­gan­ised of­fice be­comes a mess of make-up bags and spare pairs of heels; and healthy home-cooked sup­pers give way to a diet of canapés wolfed down sur­rep­ti­tiously be­tween meet-and-greets. There’s no doubt that it’s ex­haust­ing – but at a pro­fes­sional level, it can also be in­cred­i­bly re­ward­ing. At Christ­mas, per­haps more than at any other time of year, peo­ple are more open to mak­ing new con­nec­tions, which, when prop­erly nur­tured, can en­dure well be­yond the fes­tiv­i­ties.

So, how do you turn a ca­sual chat over mulled wine and mince pies into the foun­da­tions of a last­ing busi­ness re­la­tion­ship? For the net­work­ing ex­pert Ju­lia Hob­s­bawm, the key is to ar­rive at the event with a mind­set that is ‘open to what­ever fate throws at you’, whether that means pitch­ing a bril­liant busi­ness idea to an in­vestor or sim­ply chat­ting with the waiter. Which­ever you end up do­ing, give the per­son you are talk­ing to your full at­ten­tion, in­stead of con­stantly scan­ning the space for other prospects. ‘All the neu­ro­science shows we’ve lied to our­selves about multi-task­ing,’ says Hob­s­bawm. ‘The truth is, we are nat­u­ral mono­taskers, so the best thing to do is to make eye con­tact with one per­son and have a proper con­ver­sa­tion.’

That might seem in­tim­i­dat­ing to any­one who is nat­u­rally timid, but hold­ing your own at a party doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean be­ing the loud­est or most out­go­ing per­son. ‘The im­por­tant thing is not to dis­ap­pear into some sort of vic­tim men­tal­ity – ev­ery­one is on a spec­trum of in­tro­vert to ex­tro­vert, so there’s no need to ar­rive wear­ing fake body ar­mour,’ ad­vises Hob­s­bawm. A use­ful strat­egy is to iden­tify the con­ver­sa­tional style that works for you: for some, this will mean go­ing straight in with a re­quest for a busi­ness card, while oth­ers may pre­fer a softer, more oblique ap­proach.

The de­signer and en­tre­pre­neur Lisa Tse falls into the lat­ter camp, ar­gu­ing that women forge stronger bonds when they are al­lowed to bring their whole selves to a work event. ‘We’re of­ten told that it’s un­pro­fes­sional to talk about per­sonal things, but why should we cen­sor what’s ac­cept­able con­ver­sa­tion?’ she says. Tse founded the Soror­ity, a fe­male-only mem­bers’ club, to foster ex­actly this type of in­ter­ac­tion. Of­fer­ing an al­ter­na­tive to the com­pet­i­tive, male­dom­i­nated net­work­ing cul­ture that prevails in many work­places, it prom­ises a ‘mu­tu­ally sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment in which women are free to be them­selves, on their own terms’. Mem­bers are en­cour­aged to talk as openly about their emo­tional well­be­ing as they do about their ca­reers be­cause, says Tse, ‘we un­der­stand each other’s tri­als and tribu­la­tions in the way only other women can. It’s a tes­ta­ment to how com­fort­able peo­ple feel that they vol­un­teer pri­vate in­for­ma­tion when they come to our events – over the years we’ve heard about di­vorces, af­fairs and other great tragedies.’ In ef­fect, the club turns the tra­di­tional net­work­ing model on its head by putting re­la­tion­ships ahead of ca­reer goals, al­low­ing pro­fes­sional op­por­tu­ni­ties to emerge or­gan­i­cally from newly formed friend­ships.

Out­side the safe con­fines of an all-fe­male en­vi­ron­ment, how­ever, a more bullish ap­proach to build­ing your net­work may be re­quired. Tanuja Ran­dery, a se­nior leader in the pri­vate-eq­uity sec­tor, be­lieves that in a fiercely com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment, ‘you need to play to win, not to fit in’, which means us­ing your knowl­edge and tal­ents to stand out. Re­call­ing her ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing at a male-dom­i­nated data-stor­age com­pany in the US, she says that her break­through came when she re­alised she didn’t have to join in with her male col­leagues’ small talk in or­der to earn their re­spect. ‘Rather than try­ing to chat about foot­ball, I’d start from a value-cre­ation per­spec­tive,’ she ex­plains. ‘In gen­eral, women haven’t fo­cused enough on us­ing re­search and facts as a lever for build­ing re­la­tion­ships – it’s less scary and an eas­ier way to shine.’

Ran­dery launched the Power Women Net­work – a cross­dis­ci­plinary group aimed at se­nior fe­male lead­ers – in 2015 after notic­ing that many of her peers lacked con­fi­dence in a net­work­ing sce­nario. ‘Per­haps they’ve felt un­com­fort­able be­ing among men when they’re drink­ing and cigar-smok­ing, or maybe they’ve sim­ply been too busy car­ing for chil­dren or el­derly rel­a­tives to de­vote much time to meet­ing new peo­ple,’ she says. Her goal is not only to bring to­gether like-minded women – many of whom have gone on to men­tor or spon­sor one an­other – but also to equip mem­bers with the abil­ity to make the most of ev­ery net­work­ing op­por­tu­nity, re­gard­less of the con­text. Her ad­vice is straight­for­ward: al­ways ask in ad­vance about the for­mat of an event; ar­rive promptly (‘You shouldn’t feel guilty about leav­ing work to at­tend – men never do’); and go in with a clear idea of the peo­ple you might like to meet. ‘Don’t feel con­cerned about in­ter­rupt­ing con­ver­sa­tions to speak with some­one, but be hon­est and suc­cinct about who you are and what you’re in­ter­ested in,’ she rec­om­mends. ‘Leave ev­ery en­counter with a name or a con­firmed fol­low-up meet­ing. Think about the way sales­peo­ple work – the best ones aren’t nec­es­sar­ily fo­cus­ing on clos­ing a deal, they’re look­ing at how to ad­vance it ev­ery time.’

Most im­por­tantly, says Ran­dery, the di­a­logue musn’t end at the party. ‘If you make a con­nec­tion, don’t leave it there or let it drop,’ she ad­vises. ‘A net­work is like a liv­ing crea­ture – you have to main­tain it and give back to it.’ So, when party sea­son fi­nally draws to a close and the time comes to make your New Year’s res­o­lu­tions, re­mem­ber: your net­work is for life – not just for Christ­mas.

‘Ev­ery­one is on a spec­trum of

in­tro­vert to ex­tro­vert, so there’s no need to ar­rive wear­ing fake body ar­mour’

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