I'm finding this guide to networking rather germane right now. True, I've never much cared for the word "network" (connotations are a bit corporate-ish* for my tastes), and this is a guide specifically for PhD students, which may or may not be something more strictly applicable to my life in the nearish future. Meanwhile, though, some of the opening bit...resonated for me.
...you are already encountering two fundamental principles of professional social life, both of which will recur throughout this article. The first one was already well-known in classical rhetoric, and I will call it "articulating commonalities". The point here is to develop relationships with people. And relationships are founded on commonalities. These commonalities might include shared values, shared research topics, shared goals, or anything else of a professional nature that you might share with someone. To articulate a commonality means formulating language for it. This will not always be easy. Because the people whose work you cite will often inhabit worldviews quite dissimilar from your own, you may have to draw on the full resources of language in order to identify the large, irregularly shaped patches of ground that you share in common. The recipe that I just provided for sorting elements of your work into foreground and background is one simple method of doing this, and you will develop other, more advanced methods as you go along. Think of yourself as growing and evolving a distinct language for every one of your professional relationships. Having done this, you can then proceed to explore differences, disagreements, debates, and other stimuli to clear thinking. Many people avoid conflict because they want to preserve relationships. As a result, they become unable to assert their opinions and their distinctive intellectual contibutions in public, professional fora. And indeed, disagreements that are conducted outside a framework of articulated commonalities are most often confused, destructive, and a waste of time. Lacking such a framework, the combatants will lapse into projection, stereotyping, sloppy thinking, and other such junk. The principle of articulating commonalities is the secret to getting along with people.
The second principle of professional life that you are encountering here is a concept from sociology called "structural holes". (See Ronald Burt, Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition, Harvard University Press, 1995.) A structural hole, intuitively speaking, is a bunch of people who don't know each other but ought to...
*Speaking of corporate, can I just say what a difference it makes, even in the context of a mind-numbing temp gig, to have a supervisor who acts like a human being? And an environment that's someone's at least given some aesthetic consideration to? Oh, free lunch doesn't hurt, either.