Jan 09 2019
‘Small talk is boring’ – What successful networking is all about

A strong and resilient professional network is key for any successful career. This is drummed, mantra-style, into young professionals from the very beginning of their careers. Over the course of their professional life, executive staff are repeatedly affronted with how essential it is to be 'well-connected’: to get inspiration and input for new projects. To implement disruptive changes and hard decisions in large organizations. To meet the people that are interesting for their team. To have trusted advisors in critical situations. To be aware of new career opportunities.

Nowadays, networking is increasingly done via digital platforms. Does this change the character of 'networking'? And what defines 'successful networking'?

These are the topics that I talked about with Dr. Christoph Walther, Founding Partner of Kekst CNC.

Dr. Walther, what does successful networking mean to you – and what is the key element that adds value?

Networking is only successful if all parties involved consider it a valuable and enriching experience. The joy of mutual exchange must be the driving force. Whoever is networking for the sake of benefit - will soon be alone.

Networking is about cultivating relationships – it is deeply personal. How do you draw the line between 'private' and 'professional'?

It is not the 'relationship to a person', but the honest interest 'in a person', that opens hearts and creates an emotional bridge. The human being is a unit. It cannot be divided into a professional and a private half. Discretion has upmost priority. Eliciting confidentialities is just as much a taboo as spreading of confidentialities.

"If you have to say a lot, you must also be able to listen carefully. Facts, theories and lines of argumentation must withstand critical scrutiny."

Dr. Christoph Walther Founding Partner of Kekst CNC

Are there any rules of thumb in terms of 'best practices' that need to be considered? Or is it simply the right mixture of intuition and interest in people that leads to the desired result? 

Networking is done for the sake of it, not to pursue any goal. You give more than you get -  trust, ideas, openness, personal experience, etc. Don’t expect anything. By this, you cannot be disappointed. And if you get something back in return, you are all the happy. Never be pushy.

Does successful networking require a certain personality – is this only for self-promoters with introverts standing no chance at all?

Anyone who has difficulties in approaching people should not enter this field. You have to be authentic. Any artificial interest in other people will quickly be exposed. Small talk is boring. A bluff does not last long. If you have to say a lot, you must also be able to listen carefully. Facts, theories and lines of argumentation must withstand critical scrutiny. In any case, your input needs to be relevant and interesting for your counterpart.

Is there any gender issue in networking - do women need a protected space?

There are no gender issues in networking. There are special women's networks, just as there are professional associations, parties, and clubs. It’s good that women are increasingly joining forces.

What are the key forums nowadays - big events, discreet meetings or rather digital communities?

Networking cannot be equated to the exchange of knowledge and experience. By now, the latter is predominantly done via digital platforms. Networking always involves an emotional part, which traditionally kicks off with an analog encounter. Thus, all formats with ample opportunities to communicate are suitable. Entertainment events are not as suitable as events where the guests themselves must also contribute to the success of the event.