Networking might seem painfully boring -- but that's probably because you're thinking about it all wrong

We know that you need to network to advance your career, but we also know that an awful lot of networking is boring and pointless.

How to reconcile the contradiction? Shift your thinking, advises Salli Setta, president of Red Lobster. It’s a lesson she wishes she’d learned earlier.

“I used to think networking was this thing you did if you wanted to ‘get ahead,'” she tells Business Insider. But networking, she’s discovered, doesn’t have to mean aggressively selling your skills — and it shouldn’t.

Instead, she encourages people to think of networking as a learning opportunity, a chance to figure out how you can do your job better.

The point, Setta says, is to “advance your thinking in areas where you may not be as advanced as other people.” That means exchanging ideas, not business cards.

Salli Setta Red LobsterRed LobsterSalli Setta, president of Red Lobster.

Shifting your paradigm doesn’t just take the awkwardness out of the enterprise — it also helps you figure out who you want to network
with. The people you want to be meeting are the people who’ve mastered something you haven’t mastered yet, she explains.

Those not-yet-mastered skills should be your development goals, Setta says. And while can think about addressing your weaknesses, and you can read about addressing your weaknesses, ultimately “it’s about finding out who in your area is best at the thing you’re working on” and connecting with them.

Not only is it more productive form of networking, she points out — it’s also less a less awkward one. You have a concrete reason to be talking to people besides nebulous ambition.

“To me, networking isn’t so much about trying to get ahead,” Setta says. Instead, “it’s about trying to open up your eyes to the possibilities of what’s around you.” That means harnessing the talents of people in your orbit “to help you see problems differently, to you help solve problems differently, and to build skills that you may not have.”

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