I mostly learned networking the hard way, by trial and error. Here are six techniques that I wish somebody had shared with me earlier in my career:
• Persistence pays. I was brought up to feel that modesty is a good thing and it’s rude to be pushy. As a lobbyist I could keep pushing to make connections, but when I was trying to sell myself I suddenly felt shy. And as a young lawyer I gave up too quickly when I was trying to attract clients or otherwise build useful relationships. Then in my corporate life I was in the position to hire lawyers and other advocates. While in a hiring mode, I realized that I wasn’t bothered by the people who didn’t take my “no” as the final answer. I grew to know and eventually hired a number of consultants who kept after me until they found the best approach. And I learned from them that you can refuse to quit trying to connect without becoming obnoxious.
• Mentees can be more helpful than mentors. I had two or three great mentors in my life, but not as many as I wished for. But I loved being a mentor, and enjoyed encouraging younger people who were on the way up. As the years passed, many of those mentoring relationships shifted. So today I feel like a disproportionate flow of the good stuff is coming to me. My mentees have helped me to find clients, shape my coaching practice and stay in touch with the cutting edge. Now I know that one of the best ways of building a rich network is to mentor younger folks as often as possible.
• Clothes and grooming matter. Even at a business casual event, the better dressed people stand out a bit. The old line is often true: to get ahead, dress like your boss’s boss. The goal is not to be formal, but rather to be polished. At an event, well dressed people seem subtly more confident and powerful. But it is not enough to get all fixed up for special events. If you want to come across as your best self, set a standard of dress and grooming that is at the high end of your social or career circle, and stick to your standard, even on the days you don’t expect to meet anybody important.
• Old enemies can become old friends. You don’t need to feel reluctant to approach folks who years ago were career rivals. As time goes by, petty differences are often forgotten. You may be warmly greeted by a person you fought with back in the day. Not long ago I felt a rush of affection when spotting somebody that I had worked with in an earlier career. It wasn’t until later that I remembered that the person had not really been a friend to me. And I didn’t care. It was still nice to reconnect with somebody from the past.
• People like to do small favors. In my Washington law firm and corporate jobs, I tried as often as possible to visit with and offer a little help to young people coming to town to look for jobs. Often I couldn’t do much, but I tended to remember the kids whom I was able to assist in some small way. I learned that we tend to stay interested in a person for whom we have done a small favor. What this means in a networking situation is that you can start to build a relationship by asking somebody for a little bit of easily managed help. For example, ask for advice about something easy, and then be warm in your thanks.
• Face time counts. Sometimes it doesn’t feel worthwhile to attend meetings and events where you don’t know anybody. But go anyway, and you’ll eventually be glad you did. In networking, over the long term, you get points for showing up. People get used to seeing you, and before you know it you’re connected.
Want to hear about topics like this? Bev and her colleagues are available to create workshops and retreats to make your organizations more effective and your work life more productive and enjoyable. Meanwhile, read Bev’s Blog and check out her website at www.ClearWaysConsulting.com.
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