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Power Dynamics in Networking

So this is a juicy topic! One I’ve put a lot of thought into recently, and one that can genuinely make or break the networking event experience for people.

The perception of power plays a huge part in networking, and can influence the way we interact with each other. If one person deems themselves more powerful, or more important, than the person they meet, that power dynamic can play out in a number of ways often resulting in someone being left feeling deflated, rejected, overlooked, or even outcast.

Not only is this not a nice experience, it can impact people’s mental and emotional health as well as creating barriers within networking ecosystems and preventing people from attending future events.

This perception of power can come from things such as hierarchy (big player in academia), status, sex, race, wealth, job title, or simply from internalised self-importance. The more powerful we deem ourselves, the more likely we are to disregard people at events that we see as beneath us.

I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times, it’s happened to me! I’ve been at events where people have asked “so where’s your boss?” and “who’s secretary are you?” I take a lot of pleasure in informing them that I’m my own boss and have my own VA thanks very much. But it’s this perception of power that can not only impact the person on the receiving end, but actually the person deeming themselves above others! And here’s why –

By judging people on first impressions and not giving them the same about of time and respect you would someone you see as more powerful (or worthy of your time/respect), you’re potentially missing out on a whole load of good stuff, including – gaining a new potential client, introductions to their wider network, knowledge transfer, opportunity to mentor/be mentored, collaborations, future referrals, and so much more!

You’re also creating an incredibly negative brand for yourself – if you’re rude to someone they ain’t gonna recommend you to others, never mind want to work with you themselves or give you their hard earned cash!

If you work in a sector or industry where this is rife, the best thing to do? Change the narrative. Be the exception. Create your own network of people who are inclusive who are welcoming to everyone regardless of status or title or letters after their names. (Duncan Yellowlees is doing this beautifully by creating COMMunity for academics.) As you progress up your career ladder be the one who looks back to give others a helping hand up – build a personal brand for yourself as someone who will give everyone the time and respect they deserve – start a revolution by simply being nice!

The more successful you become (success looks different to everyone, but in this context I’m referring to professional progression) the more impactful being across the board respectful becomes – who doesn’t love the picture of Obama fist-bumping the cleaner!? It’s the old saying of you should treat everyone from CEO to janitor the same, or that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat the waiter in a restaurant. Well that waiter could be working to fund their start-up which goes on to be the next tech unicorn! You just never know.

We all have to start out somewhere and we always remember the people who gave us that helping hand – be that helping hand, drop the ego, give everyone a chance, and be mindful of how perceptions of power could be effecting the way you interact with others.


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