The Art of Building Relationships

An event devoted to networking can be daunting – particularly initiating conversation with strangers, which I dread. But about to enter the work force, I knew I needed the practice. At the Hilton Stadtpark on a recent Monday evening, the meeting room bubbled with the lively conversation of some 100 women, all here for one reason: networking. If I did this right, I might walk home with a wad of business cards and perhaps a job offer. Right?

WCN has supported women’s careers in Austria for 20 years | Photo: WCN

WCN has supported women’s careers in Austria for 20 years | Photo: WCN

The Women’s Career Network (WCN) celebrated its 20th anniversary on 14 October – “Tips and tools for tangible networking locally and globally” – with networking over drinks and canapés, and a panel discussion of leaders and entrepreneurs. The mood was open and supportive, taking the bite out of the awkward introductions. Which can be especially hard in Vienna.

“Unfortunately I think Austria gets a bad rap,” confided co-president Meghla El-Haque. I smiled gratefully; as an expatriate, I’ve found connecting with some Viennese elusive at best. “People are not unfriendly; they are polite, but reserved.” At the WCN, they make it a point to be welcoming, and to support women at all stages of their careers.

“Who has benefitted from the WCN?” asked moderator Susan Brunner, former president and 19-year WCN member. Over half of the hands went up.

Strategies discussed covered a wide range of specialties and approaches. It’s a system of mutual backscratching, of helping and being helped. “Start by giving, and at some point you will receive,” says Anne Frisch of the European Professional Women’s Network. It’s sincere and it’s long-term, and listening can be as valuable as doing a favour. The key advice was “be honest, and open to opportunities”, “use your intuition”, and be real.

“Networking is an investment that takes time,” El-Haque explained to me. The art is to strike a balance between strategic professionalism and making new, trusting, personal connections.

There was an overriding consensus that men are better networkers than women. It seems counter-intuitive, but women here tend to network without making friends. They talk to make connections, but the moment “networking” is mentioned, women sense an ulterior motive and the warmth is lost. Real give and take comes with a comfort zone that needs building.

One guest asked about talking to men, and the problem of friendliness coming off as flirting. “Use the charm to get the deal without the date,” said panellist Lydia Goutas. So it’s a balancing act of assertiveness and charisma.

It’s about “staying in the present moment”, panellist Dr. Harald Katzmair, founder and director of FAS research, told me. “If you are too focused on your future goal, you lose the ability to see the opportunities emerging before you.”

So I was wrong. It wasn’t the business cards I took home that would matter most; it was the stories that went with them, the jokes, the shared references and experiences that would create my professional network.

 

To become a member of the Women’s Career Network for €90 a year, sign up on their website: www.wcnvienna.org 

 

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