After 5 years of hard work, my stepdaughter recently graduated from University with her Masters degree. Back in August of 2013, on the eve of her 18th birthday, she jetted off to a new city and a new set of experiences to start on her university path to first achieve her BA and now her MA in Criminology. I have no doubt that, with her work ethic and professionalism, she will achieve all that she chooses to.

At a departmental reception after the convocation, family, faculty and grads gathered to share stories and celebrations – it was a fun and light atmosphere. A particular young man stood out more than others, but perhaps for reasons he wasn’t anticipating.

Well-dressed and well-mannered, he made his way around to several people in the room he did not know. Introducing himself as Eric, he seemed to be networking very carefully. Standing nearby, I overheard some of his patter, and realized why he was standing out so much.

Eric certainly knew how to strategically network. What Eric didn’t know, however, was when to network.

Not every gathering, not every occasion, not every meeting is a networking event. They are all relationship opportunities but not networking. Eric will learn this in time, all being well. However, I have known many much older business people who would do exactly what Eric did, not realizing they are actually harming their relationships rather than building them.

Regardless of one’s job or position in an organization, being able to strategically network effectively is an important skill to learn and continue to build on. More importantly, though, is understanding when to network and when to simply start building a relationship. There may sometimes be a fine line between the two but the lines are usually pretty obvious.

Action – Do you feel you know the difference between networking and relationship building? Would you be an “Eric” right now? On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your networking skills?

Whatever your answers are is fine. Of course, the key is what do you do next with those answers.

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