An interview with Diane Darling about
Networking: The sauce that sweetens careers
By David Hugh Smith
This is the introductory article in a four-part series about Diane Darling. Diane is founder and president of Effective Networking, Inc., a Boston-based company. She has written two books on networking. Diane will be presenting a course for the PDC on Friday morning, January 19, at the Marriott Residence Inn in Watertown.
Do you have a hard time networking – talking to other professionals you’ve never met before? If you need an excuse for why, blame it on your parents.
Diane Darling, networking expert, points out that every child is told not to “talk to strangers” when heading out the door. Of course Mom and Dad weren’t trying to release a torpedo that later could blast a hole in their kids’ careers. They were trying to keep them safe.
“At a conference [for example]…there are going to be a lot of people in that room we don’t know,” Diane says. We “need to have this grown-up moment where we accept our adulthood and say, “I can walk up to this person” and introduce myself – because I know I am going to be safe.
And not just safe, but the beneficiary of having met someone who might be able to use our professional skills – or help us meet our own professional goals.
So how do we push ourselves to be willing to proactively meet other people? “As much as I…don’t like to teach or work from a place of fear, I suggest thinking of the consequences of not having this mindset.” In other words, professionals should consider the consequences of not shaking someone’s hand who might later provide a crucial career link.
Diane didn’t start off as this uber networker – this woman who has done presentations for such companies as Fidelity Investments and Cisco; who even was asked to teach interaction skills to students at MIT. And who has been interviewed by some of the country’s most prestigious publications (including, now, the PDC Post).
Diane has been a tour leader, a fundraiser, a project manager, and a teacher. But then the 9/11 tragedy happened. Right before that time, she’d liquidated her retirement accounts to launch an entrepreneurial effort to create a system to help airlines and hotels track lost-and-found items. But after 9/11 these companies “were less worried about a lost hat” and more concerned about identifying people who might try to create a catastrophe.
“I think the world was in a daze, and I was in a daze,” Diane says. Nonetheless, with her savings and her company imploded, she needed a way to earn a living.
“I was volunteering at an organization I’d helped get off the ground for women and technology. And someone there asked me to deliver a talk about women and networking. They wanted to see how I [managed] to put together meetings” and connect with new people, which ultimately helped enable the founding of this worthwhile non-profit.
“I had no idea what they were talking about,” Diane says. “In fact, I had felt that in some cases, networking was bad, sleazy. Kind of [like] manipulating people and asking them for favors.”
But her professional friends “helped me see this was a skill I didn’t know I had…and was teachable.” And that this teachable skill was not just good to have; it was crucial.
Years after this epiphany, her view now is that networking skills are essential because “we don’t do anything alone. We do things as a community. We don’t live alone, and we don’t want to live alone.” Bottom line, Diane says, all people must network— network effectively…or not effectively. And effective networking boosts every aspect of their lives.
In Diane’s case, efficacious networking even helps her at home. She has used her skills to mediate differences among other residents who share her apartment building — differences that were threatening to unravel harmony among her neighbors.
Bottom line, Diane says, everyone can learn to network— even the partition-wallflower whose most happy and comfortable place to be is working quietly at his or her desk.
“An exercise I give people is to go out for a walk and talk with people who have dogs. Ask about the dog. The dog is a prop. [In fact some] people have dogs because… the dog [helps them to] talk with other people.”
Another place where there are “props” to enable the flexing of networking muscles: at the airport, going through security. The process of lining up, getting everything scanned, and making it through to the departure gates, can be an opportunity to connect with others.
Professionals might wonder why, for someone who has a job, and whose job is going reasonably well, there is the need to network, especially if networking doesn’t come naturally for them. But according to Diane, professionals always should be networking, strengthening their connections.
“Very few people I know get a job and stay in that job for the rest of their lives. The reasons why people want to network when they have a job is so that they can figure out where the next place is for them [to work].
Subsequent issues of the PDC Post will provide the rest of this interview with Diane Darling, along with a look at one of her books, The Networking Survival Guide.
David Hugh Smith serves as editor of the PDC blog. He also is a freelance writer/editor/oral historian. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.