By Meghan Casserly
Why women make small talk and men shoot straight.
Whether through online social networking or face-to-face contact, women are meeting, sharing and connecting in ways that men often shy away from. The result is lasting relationships that are the building blocks of future job placements, sales leads and partnerships.
We're dissecting the ins and outs of the way women network differently than men--with the experts weighing in on the how, why and a lesson on building connections with the guys.
Do women network differently than men?
In a word, yes. "Men don't actually network the way women define networking," says Gail Blanke, a life coach and author of Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life. They do what she calls "a straight shot."
The narrative looks like this: A man thinks, "Who do I know who has what I need right now?"--could be a job, investment tip or tickets to the game--and then he asks for it. Simple.
Women are generally more complex. "We see things from a lot of different angles, not just one straight-lined route, and so we take a roundabout route," says Blanke. In an effort to personalize professional networking, women normally try to create connections or friendships. "Before we think, 'What can this person do for me,' we ask, 'What can I do for her in order to get what I need.'"
In many cases this give-and-then-take style of networking builds long-lasting relationships. "Connecting is what it's all about for women," says Blanke. Think LinkedIn: "Even if she can't help me, maybe she knows somebody who can or will think of me at some point in the future when she needs somebody. In other words, the connection is not wasted, even if there's no immediate transaction."
What are the benefits of building these relationships?
"Women are really good listeners, and, even at a networking event, we listen to what the other person needs so that we can help to make that happen," continues Blanke. "Out of that comes trust. And out of that--perhaps--comes a new business contact, new boyfriend or play dates for your kids. That works for women."
Underscoring the point, Sonya Shelton, a leadership consultant and founder of Being Present to Win, describes women's style of networking as mutually beneficial "added value."
"Women help each other build our businesses and our networks," says Shelton . "We can also share what we're learning, reach out to each other as thought-partners and have more access to best practices within our industry."
What's the downside to making personal connections when networking for business?
"I love your handbag," says a woman next to you at an industry event as you're waiting in line for a glass of Chardonnay. By the time you've tipped the bartender, you've discovered she shares your favorite designers and also has two elementary school-age kids. You exchange business cards and part with a new friend.
Now that you have a personal connection, you recommend her for a job--or perhaps hire her yourself. Well, it's really uncomfortable if it doesn't work out, right? After all, she's your "friend."
"Sometimes creating these intimate connections in networking can backfire," says Dawn Todd, founder of Wildly Successful Woman Network, a membership-based network of female entrepreneurs. "Still, if you've developed a real and honest relationship, you can go to her and say, 'My experience with your service didn't accomplish what I thought it would. And as someone who cares about you, I want to help you.' Now your relationship--both personally and professionally--can move forward."
Where's the line between networking and friendship?
It's called pragmatism. "Many women would benefit from drawing a harder line between networking relationships and personal relationships," says Karen Burns, author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. In networking, your goal is to "sell yourself" so you appear responsible, reliable and smart. Sharing TMI that makes you look otherwise can backfire. Off the table: sex, politics, drinking escapades and, well, you get the picture. "Yes, it's good to be open and real but keep the impression you're making in mind."
How do I develop networking skills with men?
Men and women have very different brains and they do network differently, says Helen Fisher, Ph.D., biological anthropologist at Rutgers University and author of Why Him, Why Her. "The male brain is more compartmentalized; they get straight to the point, they know the goal. They tend to decide right away, with little to no small-talk, whether they will work with you or not."
If you know what you want, ask for it. Drop the small talk. And if you are going to make small talk, make boy small talk, not girl talk. And get to the point
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