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Five Tips to Improve Your Network

Building effective network relationships provides opportunities and resources for your lab

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Networking is all about building connections with a wide range of people you can help—and who will help you. It’s the ability to elevate these people from strangers to acquaintances. Most people won’t ask strangers for help, but they will ask for help from people that they know. Networking is a leadership skill that combines meeting new people and supporting existing relationships. It’s also about how to reach out to people in your network to get the help you need. 

Here are five tips to help improve your networking skills:

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Growing your network

The best way to grow your network is to meet new people. Many lab folks are not confident about how to effectively approach strangers and make connections. There are many different opportunities to meet new people, including local events, conferences, and visitors to the lab. Each time you encounter someone new is an opportunity to incorporate them into your network.

Growing your network is more than just collecting contact information. It’s important to actually get to know your new connections. An effective approach is to ask questions, share things about yourself, and look for ways to offer help.

Cultivating your network

“Networking is a lot more about farming than it is about hunting,” says Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, the world's largest networking organization.

Building an effective network requires you to cultivate the relationships in it by getting to know the people better, enabling them to get to know you, being generous with your expertise, and being curious about them. 

One of the best ways to nourish your network relationships is to generously offer help to others. That help could be knowledge, experience, connections, time, or simply listening. Offering help builds trust, deepens relationships, and makes others more willing to help you.

Developing a diverse network

Including people with different experiences and expertise in your network provides new ideas, opportunities, learning, problem-solving, perspective, and support. Having access to different perspectives gives you multiple approaches when help is needed.

Expand your network in different places and at different events. Seek out people with different knowledge and look for the opportunity to meet people who think differently than you. Make sure to interact with people at varying levels. It’s not just the senior contributors who can provide the help you need.

Making use of your network

In the complex world of modern science, networking isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. There is too much for any one person—or lab—to know everything needed for success. You need opportunities to connect with other people and bring their ideas, knowledge, expertise, and connections into your lab. Asking people from your network for help will enable you to solve problems faster and more creatively.

Networking as an introvert

Many scientists struggle to make useful connections with strangers. Here are a few tips to overcome that challenge:

  • Use a warm greeting on meeting
  • Make eye contact
  • Ask questions out of curiosity
  • Be a good listener
  • Initiate conversations of interest to you
  • Join a conversation that has already started

Take advantage of the smart, talented, and experienced people you encounter as a lab manager. By feeding those relationships, you can access a wealth of support. Starting can be as easy as offering to help someone else.

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