Don’t just hide behind that large glass of Merlot. Get yourself out there with these strategies.
By Dorie Clark | June 25, 2015
For many professionals, networking seems like a painful chore — something they have to brace themselves to do.
The problem is, if you approach networking as an obligation, you’ll either avoid it altogether or sabotage your efforts because others will sense your negativity.
Through my own experiences networking as an introvert and from teaching at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, I’ve learned three strategies that help me reframe networking as an opportunity rather than an obligation. And as a result, I’ve met people I actually wanted to connect with.
I’ll bet these strategies can help you, too.
Narrow your aim
Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking you need to contact everyone in your network all the time; instead, focus your efforts.
For example, if you’re beginning to network for the first time, choose only three people to concentrate on for now. Start with peopleyou already know, but would like like to connect with on a deeper level.
You could focus initially on two people who are in your current industry (or the one you seek to break into) and a third who is in a different, possibly unrelated field who’s doing something you find interesting. You never know when a fresh perspective or social network could be valuable, and a genuine friendship outside your industry can indirectly lead to fruitful outcomes.
Choose the right venue for you
The term “networking” often conjures up images of going to conferences and trading business cards with strangers. But such activities are intimidating and unpleasant for a lot of people. If you fall into that category, there’s a simple solution: Don’t do them.
Instead, think about activities you do enjoy, whether it’s dinner parties, drinks after work, golfing or jogging.
Some of the best networking arises when you get to know people on your own terms. Invite individuals (or small groups) you’d like to get to know better to join you in activities you already enjoy. That way, you’re likely to be more relaxed and can dispense with the stilted formalities of traditional “networking events.”
Once you’ve chosen your three people, reach out with a simple email suggesting to meet up for whatever activity you’ve chosen, whether it’s coffee, lunch or a networking event you think the person would find interesting.
Too intense for you? Get on the person’s radar in a more low-key way by sharing a news article that you think they’d find interesting. For example, you congratulate a sports fan on his team’s victory or send a notice about a great new culinary app to your foodie friend.
Find common ground
If you know whom you’ll be meeting in advance, go ahead and research them.
“Go on Facebook, go on LinkedIn, and see what information this person has freely given about himself or herself,” advises Robert Cialdini, professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University and author of the business bestseller Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. “It’s not secret if they’re talking about it online, and if you find that commonality or two, you can go there and zero in.”
Seeking out commonalities will help you create a level of shared trust. The connection doesn’t have to be that unique or meaningful — perhaps you’re both tennis players or grew up in the South. But it can dramatically enhance your chances of being liked immediately.
If your meeting is unplanned (such as connecting with someone at a conference), don’t hesitate to offer information about yourself, so long as it’s appropriate to the workplace. “There’s research that shows that self-disclosure is reciprocal,” says Cialdini. That means that if you share details about yourself, he says, “people will tell you about themselves, and when you hit on a commonality, all of a sudden there’s rapport.”
Another secret weapon of commonality that’s often overlooked is small talk.
It might seem trivial to chitchat about the weather or someone’s kids. But Cialdini says it’s not. Spending sociable time interacting with others on a nonprofessional level sets up a context of commonality that will help future interactions go more smoothly. In other words, those extra few minutes chatting at the beginning or end of a conversation could actually be the secret to building a lasting relationship.
Don’t let it end at a handshake
It’s easy to say goodbye at the end of the conversation and lose touch for another six months.
But instead of letting this happen, think about ways you can deepen your relationship with the person in the coming months. Mark your calendar to follow up at least every month with an email, and make a point to seek the person out at events like conferences that you’ll both be attending.
Some people eschew networking because it seems sleazy or intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be that way. When you begin to think about networking as a way of surrounding yourself with people you genuinely like, it can become an enjoyable process. Seriously.