A circle of positive relationships is important for every aspect of your life. Being connected is good for your mental and physical health, and it makes life more enjoyable. In your professional life, a strong network can be vital. Connected people stay in touch with trends and opportunities during the good times. And when a career crisis comes, your network can help you spot the next move and go forward.
But what do you do to strengthen your network if you don’t have the time or energy for one more project? Try these networking tips for over-burdened professionals:
- Listen & notice. You probably have casual contact with people throughout your work week. But in many interactions you’re not fully engaged. Instead of listening, maybe you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next, or perhaps you’re worrying about another project. Like most of us, you’re often so distracted that you’re not taking full advantage of your opportunities to connect. Get more from your routine conversations by becoming more mindful of what others are saying. In each conversation, focus all your attention on the other person. If your mind wanders, bring it back to the moment. You might try arriving at meetings one minute early, and devoting that minute to listening to the person sitting next to you.
- Use every occasion. When you are in networking mode, it makes sense to vary your patterns and get out more often. But don’t think of “networking” occasions as special events that you attend just once in a while. Great networkers engage with others wherever they go. Every time you are out and about, whether it’s at a PTA conference or the gym, there’s a chance to meet somebody who could become a friend. The goal is to connect with people as often as possible, in a genuine way. And when you meet somebody new, do follow up, even if it is just with a two sentence email saying what a pleasure it was.
- Try a little social media. My clients sometimes say they don’t want to try social media because it takes too much time. But I urge most of them to at least sign up for LinkedIn. At a basic level, LinkedIn operates as both a simple on-line resume and an easy-to-manage interactive address book. By joining, you make yourself available to folks who may want to reach you. And you acquire a tool for staying in touch with contacts, even if they move around. When the time is right, you may choose to go further and mine your LinkedIn network for new connections and useful discussions.
- Give and ask for help. The essence of networking is exchanging help and support with other people. In a brief, positive interaction, you might simply share a smile or a kind word with the other person. A key principle is to remain alert to small, easy ways you can add value in any situation. Look for opportunities to offer a little assistance, or make someone’s day by saying “thank you.” At the same time, routinely ask for help. For more about the smart way to build your network by requesting help, please read my recent post on Forbes.com.