Learning Networking Skills: Organized Study vs. “Winging It”

My colleagues and I, as co-authors of my most recent book (Business Networking and Sex – not what you think), thought that it would be interesting to see if men and women learned how to network differently.

So in one of the surveys we created during the course of writing the book, we asked participants about the different ways they learned. Many of them said all they needed to learn came from simply interacting in networking groups. These organizations often have their own training programs and materials, so this is not surprising. It also supports the old wisdom of learning by doing, or learning on the job. People learn most quickly by watching other people, by making mistakes and then by correcting them. Hands-on learning goes that much faster when they are learning a skill that involves interacting.

Most of the respondents chose more than one method of training. Almost half cited just working on their own as a training tool, but many of these people also may have combined that with participation in networking groups or the reading of books and articles as tools, too. More than one-fourth had been mentored, which is widely considered one of the most effective ways to learn anything.

According to the survey, women learn networking using more structured methodologies than men do. The differences weren’t huge, but were certainly statistically significant. What is most interesting is that the aids or tools women used greatly varied, but they all dominated the alternative (that is, working alone). In other words, it seems the biggest thing women had in common is that they didn’t work alone, and the methods they chose instead spanned the range of the many tools available to them.

Ways Women Are Likely to Learn Networking Skills

  1. Reading books or articles
  2. Taking classes
  3. Attending seminars
  4. Being mentored
  5. Participating in networking groups

Ways Men are Likely to Learn Networking Skills

  1. “Working on their own.” (from the survey results)

What a surprise!

When it comes to learning networking skills, this comprehensive survey tells me that women appear to do more homework than men…and that men just seem to “wing it” a lot more than women do. So, although there was a fair amount of agreement between the two on networking learning methods, women were much more inclined to take advantage of structured learning opportunities than men, as opposed to learning on their own.

I enjoyed what Hazel Walker – one of my co-authors – had to say about the results:

I was in a car with a gentleman and we were headed to an event. I asked him if he knew where we were going, and he said that he wasn’t sure, but was pretty confident he could find it. “Where is your GPS?” I asked, and this is the response I got: “Oh, I only use that when my wife is with me. I really like trying to find places on my own and the GPS takes all the fun out of it. In fact, it is kind of like having my wife in the car, telling me how to get somewhere.” I nearly fell to the floor laughing. “Don’t you worry about being late or lost?” “No,” he said, “I am pretty darn good at getting around this city and don’t need someone telling me how to do it!” Men don’t read instructions first. They just go for it. They turn to the instructions only if they really can’t figure it out on their own.

Men learn networking skills “on their own” at their father’s knees from the day they are old enough to understand male bonding and relationship-building. Participating in sports can be key in building networking skills in men. They participate in sports as a player or spectator from a very early age. They do business on the golf course, and talk business in the bar over a beer while watching games. Their fraternities stay connected as a strong business network long after they’ve left school. They learn to network from all the men around them. That the statistics say they learn skills on their own is not surprising.

Comparatively speaking, women are new to the world of business and certainly to the world of sports. Their sororities were more about dating than connecting in the business world. Women do not tend to bond over sports and don’t usually have time to hang out in the bar or on the golf course.

As Hazel states: “We can teach our daughters the importance of networking. When our daughters go to school, leave home, go to college, and get jobs, they will have the advantage of having been taught the skills that are naturally passed on to boys. More women and moms are in the business world than ever before, and they should pass that business acumen on to their daughters as fathers do to their sons.”

What Men Can Learn – Beyond Just “Working on their Own”

  1. Learn to develop stronger relationships that go beyond transactions
  2. Slow down and build relationships based on trust
  3. Set up systems that generate consistent business

Regardless of how much each of the sexes believes they know about networking there is always so much more to learn. Like anything else, networking, and referral systems are always evolving and both men and women must continue to evolve, too, in order to work together and take full advantage of a every networking opportunity that comes their way.

Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author.  He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI (, the world’s largest business networking organization.  His book, Networking Like a Pro, can be viewed at  Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute (, an international referral training company.

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2 Responses to “Learning Networking Skills: Organized Study vs. “Winging It””

  1. Anonymous March 29, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

    Thank you for pointing out the importance of teaching daughters business and networking skills while they are young. The world has changed, and the young ladies of the world need to learn tools to thrive in a new environment. 

  2. Jamie Moran April 3, 2012 at 12:16 am #

    It’s interesting you mention that men could learn to “slow down and build relationships built on trust.” Often at networking events, there is one person who stands out among the mix who shows up with a mission branded on his face. Over aggressive networking seems to do just the opposite of the intention of these events, to build relationships. 

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