As with all relationships, business associations need to be nurtured and fed regularly if they are to flourish. The alternative is that we only connect with people when we need them for something and our work colleagues will soon get wise to this!
That aside, if we view networking as simply something we do when have a specific outcome in mind, it can become a more daunting task. Much better to embrace networking as part of our working life than think of it as a means to an end.
It’s good practice to build networking activities into your weekly work schedule, when you’re not looking to gain anything – this way you can focus on what you can do for others, rather than on what you expect from them.
We’ve developed some tips for building authentic networking connections that always leave a good impression
It’s not all about you
Make sure the focus is on others, not yourself. When building new relationships it’s easy to slip back into our comfort zone and talk about things we know most about – in many cases, that means talking about ourselves! The best way to excel at networking is to turn the tables and make sure that we always keeps others at the core of the conversation. By all means, share your views when asked, but make a real effort to include others in discussion through asking questions and bringing people in to give their perspectives too.
Listen more than you talk
We are given two ears and one mouth for a reason, and the rule of thumb when networking is to listen for twice as long as you spend talking. Relationships are about give and take, so make sure you give others the time and space to express themselves before sharing what’s on your mind. Active listening skills, such as keeping eye contact with others, and interjecting with questions or verbal cues – such as ‘mmm’ or a nod of the head, show that you are paying attention.
Stay in the room
Value the time that you spend networking with others. Be present in the conversations, turn your phone to silent and don’t look around the room, or down at your watch, unless absolutely necessary. People will very quickly pick up on your body language and your non-verbal cues, as much as they will the words that come out of your mouth.
Be a name dropper
When talking to new people make an extra special effort to use their name, to show that you’re paying attention and are making a personal connection with them. This serves two purposes: people respond better to those who address them by name, they’re more likely to remember you and it’ll make them feel good; it also means you're more likely to remember their name again in the future. There’s nothing worse than meeting up with a new contact, only to struggle with their name. If you find this a problem, this article may help.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to get the most out of your networking experiences, why not read this blog from the guardian newspaper? It describes a three-pronged approach to networking - the ARE strategy. It stands for anchor (finding common ground), reveal (share interesting information about yourselves with others) and encourage (getting others to join in the conversation).
Remember, mutually beneficial business relationships are not built overnight. We need to put the same time and energy into nurturing our connections at work as we do those in our home-life. Put other people first and your networking efforts will soon pay dividends.