Lessons From the Court: Networking
By: Jen O’Meara, Ph.D.
I meet and compete against racquetball players from all over the world. Having a strong and diverse professional network is important in both racquetball and business, so it is well worth your time to develop your networking skills.
It is easy to see why it’s important to network with colleagues who occupy positions in the organization chart similar to your own. This is analogous to networking with players of your own skill level in racquetball: while you sometimes square off against each other on the court, these colleagues can be incredibly helpful in identifying strengths and weaknesses in the skill sets of your common opponents. Learn to consider these colleagues as allies rather than enemies. Your ability to find common ground, build trust, and share information may pay huge dividends in the long run.
It’s also valuable to network with those who occupy positions in the org chart that are above your own. This is akin in racquetball to networking with players whose skills are more advanced than your own. While it is unlikely that you would ever compete on the court (and, indeed, if you did, things would likely not go well for you), developing a rapport with these advanced players can indeed pay off. Making a friendly connection with an advanced player about something — not even necessarily something directly related to racquetball — may lead that player to linger behind your court, watch a bit of your match, and perhaps offer a few tips for improvement. In the business world, of course, it can be likewise advantageous to have the attention of someone who could help give you a boost.
Finally, it’s also critical to develop a strong network with those who occupy positions in the org chart that may be “beneath” your own. Note the scare quotes around “beneath,” as that word is belittling and can be very misleading. Some of the most passionate and successful people are those you might misguidedly feel tempted to dismiss, both on the court and in the office. You never know who will be a key connection and score a huge win: it was, after all, freelance graphic design student Carolyn Davidson who came up with the Nike Swoosh logo.
In short, time spent developing your networking skills will not be wasted. Starting with something as small as a laugh or a smile can really go a long way toward helping you develop your personal and professional networks.
Jen O’Meara is an Associate Professor of Business Communications and a 3-time US Open national racquetball champion.