Networking: Most of Us are Doing It Wrong

1720-business-man-offering-hand-shake-pvEveryone knows that success in a professional career can often hinge on networking. There is no price tag that can be put on having connections in business, not just for potential job opportunities, but for feedback, support, or potential business partners or connections you may professionally want later on. Just think of it like a tightrope walker. The wider your network and the tighter the connections are in that network, the bigger and more secure your safety net.

But so many people are networking incorrectly just because it’s “the way you play the game”. It is grinding out social interaction after social interaction. Talking over one another at a crowded event to give your pitch as you swap business cards, shake hands, and move on to the next. This is not only a terrible way to remember people or be remembered by others, but it is also grueling for most people, even the innately gregarious. The shy and introverted can feel like they are being put through a meat grinder in this circumstance, and the talkative extroverts wind up depleted with a very tenuous connection to all the people they just met.

So how do you stop the cycle of fruitless and tiring networking while still actively networking? The answer is simple but the process is more complicated: be a real human being.

Ask and listen over telling. This is a key to making a lasting impression in people. It’s human nature to want to talk about yourself, and it’s a common thought that networking is about selling yourself and your brand to prove your value, but if you go against that intuitive self-pitch, you will find yourself much farther ahead. Asking questions enables you to understand that person better, to know how your skills or profession relates to theirs. It tells you who is happy in their career and who isn’t. It warms people to you and makes you memorable in a sea of endless networking faces. If you can find a commonality or two, so much the better. If you can learn about a pet project, a spouse, or a hobby, you can use that as an icebreaker for a future phone call or email asking for a favor, adding personality and humanity to what may otherwise be a cold or awkward situation.

Throw out your elevator pitch. No one wants to hear a canned speech, because not only does it ring of insincerity and practice, it doesn’t allow your strengths and story to be catered to the individual. No one wants a monologue, and no one wants to be interrupted or have the conversation redirected just so you can launch into your self sales pitch. You want to make an emotional connection between you and them, or your business and customer, or your investor and your business. Earnestness, pauses, questions, and relate-ability are key in all of those situations.

Don’t be negative. Regardless of you looking to switch career paths or wanting a new company to get out from under your boss, networking hinges on people thinking well of you. While commiserating over hardships can be a bond in shared circumstances, with strangers it comes of as negativity and whining, which are not traits you want to be around or invest in. Everyone knows that professional work is hard, running a business is hard, striking out on your own is hard, being in a dead-end job is hard. No brand-new acquaintance cares enough about you yet to be at all invested in your story. We all want to bring positivity and gumption into our lives, not more complainers.

It really comes down to the same rules that apply to dating or making friends, being genuine, putting others first, and engaging with people will make you a networking contact that will last in their minds for a long time.