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CareersIn a class discussion recently, the guest-speaker was talking about the importance of social skills in the workplace as a critical aspect of a successful career. I was aghast at the number of students who thought it to be “not necessary” if you worked in areas such as finance or manufacturing. “Social skills,” they argued, “were needed in sales, human resources and marketing only.” The speaker and I reacted by asking: “So, don’t you need this in your personal life as well?”

The truth is, the lines are blurred in terms of developing networks professionally as well as personally. As this is the season for everyone to be out and about at weddings and parties, we are sharing a few tips on how to go about ‘making those connections’ which are mandatory for career progression, no matter what your profession is.

Get out of your comfort zone. Too often, we use shyness as an excuse to limit our interactions with new people because ‘we don’t have anything in common.’ If you are at a reception, you already have something in common – your host or the purpose of the gathering. That is a great way to start a conversation with someone you do not know.

There are others there exactly like you. Everyone who attends a reception is not necessarily part of some group or the other. There will be others like you who may be shy or ‘alone.’ A friendly “Hello, I’m Leon,” is a simple way to get started. You will be surprised at how friendly people are.

Six degrees of separation. This is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world. Therefore, a chain of ‘a friend of a friend’ statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. Sooner or later, you will find that you know people in common and this will reduce your feeling of being an outsider.

The crossover between professional and personal relationships can be very rewarding. Remember, if you choose to remain anonymous, you deserve to be ignored.

– Leon Menezes
The writer is an executive coach, senior HR practitioner, professor and writer.

First published in the Careers Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on December 22, 2013.