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Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Social skills are useful at close range only. They help you to form relationships with people who you have been introduced to, or whom you have a good way to meet without assistance, but they are not so useful when you are seeking to meet someone you don't yet know. When you need to meet people whom you don't yet know, the best way to do this is to network.

Networking occurs when you meet people through other people you know, for instance, when a friend or acquaintance introduces you to one of their friends. Having the introduction occur provides structure and conveys trust. You trust that your friend has introduced you to someone worth knowing, and the new person you've just met has a similar understanding. Some of the mutual trust you both have in the friend you has introduced you is extended to each other, making the meeting much warmer and friendlier than it otherwise would be. Having the introduction makes the new relationship more likely to succeed.

Networking is highly useful for meeting new friends or potential romantic partners. It is a great way to locate people who share special interests. It is one of the very best ways to find a new job, or to find new people who might be interested in buying a product or service you happen to be selling. If you require a product or service, you might want to network in order to find the best person to supply that product or service.

It is likely that you already network with great frequency. Consider that you are networking when you answer classified ads, look for a date for your friend (or ask your friend to look for you), contact a job broker, buy something through eBay or read a book about good places to travel to (the book is acting as your broker in that case, introducing you to new ideas that you would not have otherwise come across) etc. If you go to a trade show and hand out fliers about your projects, you are networking. If you advertise you are networking.

There are essentially two ways to network: 1) through friends, and 2) through professional brokers, such as match makers, real estate agents, and travel and employment agencies. Either sort of networking may occur in person, by way of actual interaction with other human beings, or by way of networked software programs on the internet, including "social networks" like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and numerous shopping, dating, travel and employment oriented websites. If you are seeking to date someone, for instance, you can ask friends, fellow worshipers at your religious community or co-workers to introduce you to people, or you can sign up with a dating website or match-making service. There are serious advantages to using online broker services for finding people to date. For one thing, online networks are much larger than home-grown friend networks; they have the potential to introduce you to many more people than would otherwise be possible. The downside to online networks is that they are less personal. You don't have the benefit of the trusted relationship with the person who is introducing you to someone new.

Networking is actually fairly easy to do. You just have to ask a friend or a broker to help you look for certain kinds of relationships or opportunities. Though networking with a friend is likely to be an informal process, this is not so when working with a broker. Brokers will typically charge you a fee for their services, and may ask you to fill out forms describing what you are looking for in great detail.

Some people are afraid to use networks, particularly broker networks that deal with personal areas of their life like finding a romantic partner. The criticism is generally that such match-maker brokers are artificial in nature, and that use of such networks is a personal admission of failure to find a partner through more natural means (e.g., informal friendship-based networks). Though is is certainly nicer to be introduce to a potential lover by a mutual friend, when you consider that friendship networks are typically tiny in size, you start to appreciate the real benefit of working with a very large commercial social network; dating is truly a numbers game and commercial networks can offer you more people to meet! Commercial dating networks are now very socially acceptable, and there is absolutely no reason to feel ashamed at using them today.