Dr Phil Hammond, GP, lecturer and presenter of BBC2's Trust Me, I'm a Doctor

What is networking?

Networking is ingratiating yourself with someone who might enhance your career prospects under the pretence of exchanging ideas and information for the common good.

So networking is just a power game?

Oh no, it's far worse than that. It's a disease. It can kill.

How come?

Well, for a start there's the self-induced whiplash. Successful networking demands that you never look at the person whose net you are working, but you're always on the scout for someone more important.

This requires continuous craning of the neck to see over the shoulder of the boring Quality Monitoring Officer in the Care Services Directive in case the much more exciting Senior Strategic Manager in Non-Combustible Purchasing appears. It invariably results in a crick neck which, along with the 17 glasses of industrial strength cider disguised as Summer Fruit Cup, severely impairs your ability to respond to other road users.

But that's not true. A lot of people look straight at me when we're networking.

That can mean a number of things. You might have something worth looking at, like jug ears or unsightly nasal hair. Or the looker may have a glass eye or a squint, or have died standing up (a very common occurrence in Quarry House).

But worst of all, your companion may have read some awful garbage like How to Win Friends and Influence People or How to Appear Interested When You'd Rather Be Mounting a Water Buffalo.

These books teach people to behave in ways that make those on the receiving end think they care about you (getting your name right, active listening, meaningful eye contact, remembering that your grandmother is in secure accommodation) when they frankly couldn't give a toss. Far better to be honest and look over your shoulder.

So how come you know so much about networking?

Because the medical establishment is founded on it. From day one at medical school, the person who delivers the turgid lecture about the physiology of excitable membranes could be the chap who decides your career. So don't go up and say 'That was a load of incomprehensible balls and completely irrelevant to the needs of a working doctor'; say 'What a fascinating and concise treatment of a complex subject, sir. May I exchange some ideas with you for the common good.'

Oh yuck.

It's true I'm afraid. Medicine takes bright idealistic students and turns them into spoon-fed sycophantic conformists, shorn of any ability to think or feel independently. They spend their entire lives surrounded by people who've been processed similarly so they never gain any insight into how sad they've become. All networking does is recycle old jokes and dogmas, and reinforce the hierarchy.

But surely networking with people of equal status can be useful?

Not if you're in competition. Say you've discovered a fab new way of managing urinary dribble that has enabled you to clean up the business in your patch, attract extra contractual referrals from the moon and award yourself a performance-related bonus of 900%.

Do you want to share your success with your rivals? Or do you want to keep it as secret as the recipe for Coca Cola?

Networking must be useful for something, surely?

Oh yes. When the Summer Fruit Cup kicks in, it becomes counselling by the back door. People stop having inane conversations about locally focused leaders in small responsive organisations with reduced clinical overheads and start being honest about what a tough old job they do and how they could do with a bit of kinship. Then they start hugging each other, and offloading their worries and their clothes.

Yep, if you can't afford therapy there's a lot to be said for networking. Just don't drive home afterwards.

  • Dr Phil Hammond is author of the best-seller Trust Me, I'm a Doctor (£9.99, phone orders 0500 418419)

Guidelines in Practice, May 1999, Volume 2
© 1999 MGP Ltd
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