Your network of contacts can support every phase of your life. The world’s great networkers seem to go through life with a special ease. They have many sources of advice and support, no matter what challenges they face. But even if you were not born as a great networker, you can add richness to your life by treating your network as a vital resource.
The first step is to visualize your network not just as a list of names, but rather as a community of real people with whom you have some kind of link. The art of networking is not just about collecting business cards and Twitter followers, but rather about truly – if briefly – focusing upon and connecting with other individuals.
Recently I asked some of the best networkers I know about how they are so effective in building relationships. My husband, Andy Alexander, has been surprising me for decades with the breadth of his network. So I asked him how he does it.
First, Andy said, as a journalist he is in the information business and he recognizes that every person he meets is a potential source. More fundamentally, he said, he enjoys meeting a variety of people, and believes that you can create a more interesting life by constantly seeking to broaden your circle of acquaintances.
But how, I asked, do you manage to stay in touch with so many folks? He says he tries to maintain three habits:
- Show up. If somebody you know is planning an event or something else they think is important, Andy says, try to be there.
- Admire. If an acquaintance does something well, let them know you noticed and offer congratulations.
- Help. If you see that somebody needs help, don’t wait for them to call. Assume that they’d be there if you were in need, and find a way to reach out.
Carol Ryder is an old friend who seems to go through life surrounded by an active and lively network, so I asked her for some tips. She responded, “Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. Don't know how you cannot have social media tools in the mix---it's the medium for meeting, mixing, messaging.”
But Carol has been networking since before they invented the Web, so I don’t believe that it is only her current favorite e-tool that allows her to stay in touch with hundreds of people (including her 476 Facebook friends). When I looked at her page, I noticed that while interacting on Facebook Carol uses the same techniques she employs while circulating at a party:
- Show affection. Carol is not afraid to call you “honey,” and her greetings are warm, whether live or virtual.
- Take note. Carol is aware when you’re sick and when you’re celebrating, and she finds ways to let you know that she is watching.
- Use humor. People read Carol’s posts for the same reason they gravitate to her at an event – she is very funny.
- Talk about yourself. Carol is not afraid to show off a little, and because she can do it with a light touch her friends enjoy it.
I asked for advice from another friend who is an adroit networker, although she is not a born extrovert like Andy and Carol. Being more introverted, she didn’t want me to mention her name, but she was pleased to share some tips.
This savvy friend said, “I ‘force’ myself to regularly go to conferences, luncheons and other gatherings. I don't really like these events, but the connections made can be very helpful. As an example, I recently was able to find a new job very easily, largely because of a contact I made at a statewide conference 15 years ago. It isn't at the formal presentations where contacts are usually made - it's at the dinners or other social events where everyone begins to relax. Also, the conversations that are most helpful in connecting are not about work, but rather about kids, family and personal interests.”
If you hit the event circuit, try these tips:
- Ask questions. You will be more likely to connect with others if you get them talking about themselves and you listen to the answers.
- Create a goal. You might find it helpful to approach each event with a plan in mind. It can be something as simple as getting three people to talk about their pets.
- Follow up. When you do meet someone interesting, follow up by email or with a note, mentioning the meeting and referring to something from the conversation. Then follow up again – it takes more than one contact for a relationship to begin.
- Help others. Concentrate on assisting others to meet their goals, perhaps by offering to make an introduction or sending along information.
Want to explore more issues like this? Contact Bev about workshops or seminars for your group. Meanwhile, visit Bev’s website at www.ClearWaysConsulting.com. Check out brief book reviews, ezine archives and Bev’s Blog. If you have questions or suggestions, email to Bev directly.
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