A networking guru on the art of female contact-building

Lucy Marks, managing director of Norfolk Network, in her office at St George's Works, Norwich. Pictu

Lucy Marks, managing director of Norfolk Network, in her office at St George's Works, Norwich. Picture: Simon Buck/simonbuck.com - Credit: Simon Buck/simonbuck.com

As head of one of Norfolk's most well known business networks, Lucy Marks knows a thing or two about working a room.

She has managed Norfolk Network for the past 14 years, mingling with men and women in established and up-and-coming businesses across myriad sectors.

And in this time she has noticed differences in the way men and women tackle such situations, and the subsequent relationships they form.

Ms Marks said she approaches networking in a 'psychological way'.

'Women naturally have a higher level of emotional intelligence – for example, when I am talking to people I am very aware of how I feel, and I can read people quite quickly and see how they are reacting, whether or not I am engaging them and whether they are interested in me.'

She has recently taken an interest in the sociological theory of 'strong' and 'weak' personal associations.

'With a strong tie you become very close to someone, either with colleagues or friends. The weak ties are not superficial, you are in regular contact with them, but are less close.

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'Someone once said I was a master of weak ties. In my role I have all these connections and I balance them and bring them into play.'

She believes women have a natural preference from strong ties and can use them 'effectively'.

'They invest a lot in friendships and share values quite strongly. There is a sense of wanting to help, to the point where they could be sacrificing an opportunity to put themselves forward,' she said.

'They are interested in collaboration in their relationships, and I see that in myself, but you do have to be careful that it is mutually beneficial.'

So how do men and women approach networking?

Ms Marks quotes a definition of the act of networking given to her by a friend: 'a combination of confidence, inter-personal skills, amicability, language fluency and emotional intelligence'.

'My experience of men is that they get to the point very quickly, and they know what the goal is. But so do women,' she said.

'The small talk is important for women as a way to create an instant rapport. They have an idea of the kind of contacts they want just as men do, but they form that stronger friendship first.'