We often hear how ‘networking’ is important to build your career or business. The real so-called sauce is in networking or interacting with others and exchanging information in order to develop professional or social contacts. Although this concept is true to an extent, it’s no longer entirely relevant.
The problem with ‘networking’ is that it’s transactional in nature. You exchange information and make acquaintances in the hopes that they will somehow be ‘useful’ to you in the future. They might turn out to be a stepping-stone to a better position or career, or they might introduce you to your future spouse. Who knows? The expectation that the person is going to be helpful somehow is where the fun goes out of building the relationship and reduces the individual to mere cliff-notes. At SILA, one of our core values is to ‘Develop Relationships’, and we wholeheartedly believe it. The best way to surround yourself with the right people is to move away from the networking mindset. Here’s how:
Many individuals feel the need to be a certain version of themselves when they’re meeting new people in order to appear important or provide the perception of value. Most people are smart and can sense opportunism. The ideal way to interact is to be yourself. Flaws are what make us human and being honest about them actually makes you more relatable and likeable. Admit when you don’t know a certain topic they’re talking about instead of playing along. You’ll come across as humble while learning something new along the way.
Let’s face it – the only reason we think we need to network is so that we can get something in return. Go to any conference and you’ll find delegates hobnobbing over terrible coffee, with fake smiles and generally not wanting to be there. That’s because they all know that others want something from them and vice versa. Instead of having an agenda, have a no-strings conversation without any expectations. Most times we’ll learn something interesting about the other person and it’s easier for them to let their guard down. Same goes for you; look at an incoming ‘networking’ opportunity as a chance to impart some knowledge or have a pleasant chat, rather than being on edge about handing out your business card.
Speaking of business cards, stop being attached to it like it’s your limb. The worst thing to do when you’re out and about is to whip out your business card wherever you go. In a casual setting where you’re bound to meet acquaintances or friends of peers, park any talk of business. Let people relax and open up. They generally say that you are the company you keep – if you have an intellectual circle, let professional topics come up organically. Don’t bogart the conversation with everything you know; instead, contribute honestly and let others realize that you’re an interesting individual that they’d like to know.
Once you meet someone, ensure that you follow up on the conversation. Periodically reach out and engage in order to ensure that you are working towards building a deeper relationship. If someone you know needs some help, be nice enough to help them without any expectations in return. We generally remember those who helped us out in our tough times, whether it’s by introducing the right contacts or giving the right advice. Be the person that the other will remember because of how helpful you were, and not because you asked them to pay you back somehow.
My brother and I were able to build a business we had no background in, in a large part because of the people who helped us along the way. We have learned that investing in building deep relationships has benefitted our business, but more importantly has helped in creating a support system of people that we can rely on for advice and encouragement during tough times.