One of the first definitions that comes up when searching for the word “Networking” on-line is: ‘the linking of computers to allow them to operate interactively’. It is not surprising then, that the act of networking is usually not something that many people look forward to. We seem to be approaching it on a methodical, transactional, and automated way. It is obvious that even for the most extroverted person, to have to go into a room of strangers or people that are merely acquaintances is a bit intimidating.
Like it or not, the truth of the matter is that in today’s world, networking is a must. According to the Harvard Business Review:
Research shows that professional networks lead to more job and business opportunities, broader and deeper knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement, and greater status and authority. Building and nurturing professional relationships also improves the quality of work and increases job satisfaction.
I guess that based on the above, the smart thing to do is to commit to developing our networking “style”, one that makes us feel comfortable and that doesn’t compromise our inner beliefs. Not too long ago, I was working hard in re-establishing my “why”, and in deep conversation with one of my best friends, she highlighted that I was a great connector of people. What she said then, was a revelation.
“You network with heart”.
While I finish my book, someone suggested that I should write a blog about it, so here it is.
I can’t start without highlighting that the way I tackle networking is with the “marathon” approach, building REAL relationships over TIME. It assumes that there will be recurring events where you will have the chance to see and interact with the targeted group of people every so often. I also come from the world of SALES, which to me is the most difficult angle of networking, when you are trying to establish a relationship with a potential customer. I am not a fan at all of the “sprinter” approach, in which you have ONE chance to make the connection and make a pitch. There are times when one must do just that, but to me, that’s not networking, that is pure and simple “cold calling”, and it’s an art in itself.
5 Top Things to work on if you want to “Network with Heart”.
1. Define, understand, and commit to your personal WHY.
It sounds corny, but to interact with others genuinely and effectively, you first need to be able to do so with yourself. The power of one’s story is often undervalued. Consultants emphasize the need to have a solid elevator pitch, and I agree, but most of them focus too much on the company, the product, the “opportunity”, etc. To me, it is crucial to have a concise elevator pitch, one that revolves around YOU. It must be relatable, honest, and humanizing. Powerful elevator pitches are a blend of personal storytelling, career interests, and goals. People feel vulnerable sharing dreams, to me, doing it sends the message out to the universe, puts the ‘word’ out, and places you on someone’s radar.
2. Establish Common Ground.
People have always praised me for my ‘memory’ and all about having a good “system” in place. I do have a good memory, but in today’s age, it would truly be impossible to show thoughtfulness relying purely on memory.
When you are getting to know someone, be curious about the things you might have in common. Forget about job titles and cultural differences and try to establish commonalities. Once you do that, it is so much easier to nurture and develop the relationship. Be diligent about documenting information about the person. When I get to initially meet someone, I create a record of the person in my contact list, I take the time to write down any info they shared that will help me in the future to ask about it and follow up in upcoming conversation. For instance, where they are from, what is their favorite sport or preferred food type, anything that they mentioned that would help me establish on the next time we talk, that I was paying attention to. I can’t tell you how powerful it is when you take someone to lunch at an Indian restaurant because you “remembered” that they love that type of food. People have always praised me for my ‘memory’ and all about having a good “system” in place. I do have a good memory, but in today’s age, it would truly be impossible to show thoughtfulness relying purely on memory. Eventually, you will not need the notes, because if you do this genuinely, many of these people would become part of your life and your circle of friends.
3. Create your own rules
If you are reading this article, is because you want to establish authentic connections, which means, throw away the defined set of “networking rules” that I’m sure you have gathered, and go with what feels good for you. By creating your own rules, you are also embracing being different and unique, and that is a key component to standing out to others. Here are a few examples of how I created my own rules:
- I am a big fan of hand-written notes for following up and to show that I am really committed to developing the relationship. By doing this, you are going the extra mile and I can assure you it will be received with surprise (very few people do it these days). One of my co-workers from 20 years ago, just recently told me how they had kept a little “memento” I had gifted her (and my other close co-workers) when I left Nortel. Everyone likes to feel special, and little details like that do make the difference on where you will be placed in people’s minds and hearts.
- I avoid offering my business card (or contact info) when I first engage someone at a networking event, to me, it’s expected and by doing it, you are not going to understand if the person has a real interest in continuing the conversation. If anything you said resonated (and it will because you have a solid elevator pitch), they will make sure you get their card, and now you have automatically qualified a valid connection opportunity. Networking is a lot like dating, you do not make your move right away (not if you want a serious relationship anyway!)
- Repeatedly I see people at networking events anxious to get as many business cards or shake countless hands (before Covid anyway!) to get the feeling of having had a successful conference. Meanwhile, I might just get a couple because I usually engage in longer conversations. To me is all about quality and not quantity. Learning to time an opportunity to meet someone, being observant, and not obsessing over it is key. I still remember a convention when I really wanted to talk to one of the speakers, but when it was over, I had to run to the airport and she was busy talking to people after the session. So instead of pushing the situation, I headed out. As I was waiting for the cab, which took a while to get there, I see her running towards where I was standing and asking the bell boy to get her a cab because she was super late for her flight. Instinctively I said: ‘I was just in your session, this is my cab and am headed to the airport, want to share the ride? That was about 5 years ago, we remain in constant touch and we make sure to see each other when we go to that same event year after year. To me magic happens, when you least expect it!
I am an avid reader of self-development books and I like to follow spiritual teachers. Interestingly enough, pretty much all religions coincide in one thing. Our happiness and true fulfillment are directly linked to being of service to others. When you meet someone new, do not make it about YOU, YOUR Needs, and YOUR wants. Make an intentional commitment to see if you can be of service to them. I can assure you that it will surprise them and you because helping others feels rather good. Make an introduction, circulate a CV, write a LinkedIn endorsement, be a guest in a podcast, etc. Doing something just because you want to help is an extremely powerful proof of the high-quality human being behind the action and it triggers a flow of good deeds “to-and-from” yourself. The act of Paying-it-Forward is truly the core principle of Networking with Heart.
5. Nurture and Protect your reputation and your “Circle of Trust”
Once you have consistently Networked with Heart for years, you will have grown a large network in which there will be several levels of relationship depth. The most important thing is that you have acted with consistency and integrity all along because your reputation is your most valuable asset. Especially in the digital era, our social media personas can be more powerful than how we portray ourselves during a face-to-face meeting for instance.
Character and integrity are built over the years, and people won’t truly engage with you if they don’t feel you are authentic, have double standards, or simply have questionable trustworthiness.
I define Circle of Trust as those connections that are at the highest level of trust. Don’t burn or put that trust at risk under any circumstance. I am excited when I can make an introduction between two trusted connections, I know magic will happen. But I don’t risk, abuse, or take advantage of that trusted relationship to advance other’s agendas. I still cannot shake from my memory the one time I heard of an “incredible” investment opportunity from a friend. He asked me for an introduction to a very high-level executive I know. Under the spirit of ‘paying it forward,’ I arranged it (by the way, it would have taken months to get that same meeting on his own). The moment the presentation started I realized the big mistake I had made. The opportunity was interesting, but I trusted that my friend would have thoroughly prepared for the presentation, and he had not. I had always been so diligent at being prepared, concise, and respectful of my contact’s time and I was there seeing my friend doing completely the opposite. I made assumptions and now the quality of this introduction could impact my own relationship with my contact. The blame was on me, and after that, I learned my lesson. Make the introduction when you feel completely sure that there will be value creation on both ends, and also prep both sides on what to expect.
I hope that you find some of these tips useful in your networking journey, please keep in mind that consistency is key. Be present with your network. Reaching out just to “catch-up” is so powerful, it enables you to keep up to date with each other while building solid ground in your relationship. No one likes to be called out of the blue (after months or years), to do some small talk prior to being asked a favor. The amount of people that use networking just as a tool to find their next job is truly overwhelming, and unfortunately, people don’t go the extra mile just for anybody. Don’t be disappointed if people don’t show up for you, rather reflect if you have shown up for people along the way, and if you haven’t, is never too late to start.
I hope this helps you decide what kind of networker you want to be.