April 2018 Features On The Cover

The 3 Elements of Building Relationships Through Networking


Written By: Debbie Mason

There are three simple elements to develop superior relationships through networking: curiosity, authenticity (described here as a genuine interest in helping other people you encounter) and follow-through on the offers of help that you make to newfound friends!

Early in my career, I was asked to speak at a professional association’s state conference on the topic of networking. Although honored, I was perplexed by the request because I was only a few years out of college and thought it unusual to ask someone as young as me to speak to a couple hundred people who were way more experienced than me. The answer from the speaker invitation committee member was that I was seen as someone in the profession who had already developed “remarkable networking skills.”

The answer really perplexed me. I did not go through my work or social life with a conscious plan to network. Frankly, at that age, I am not sure I really even understood the concept of what networking meant!

Upon reflection, I noted that I was filled with curiosity and always wanted to learn about other people, their profession, their lives, and what they knew and could pass along to me. I asked questions, staying present in conversations to build a rapport. Because I did that, I remembered them the next time I saw them and could pick up again and, over time, build a real relationship.

As I met people, I wanted to get to know them. And, as I listened to them and learned who they were and what was important to them, I would later try to connect them with other people who could be a great match for a work project, a hobby or personal interest or an issue in their lives. I didn’t carry around a list, but it became this organic sense of matchmaking as I met another person who could be beneficial to someone else I already knew.

This was in the days before the internet, so I would jot a quick note and mail it to connect people or place a call to both, share contact information and let them take it from there. Sometimes, I would arrange a coffee or meeting for the three of us. For me, those efforts were about creating genuine relationships, and I was not looking for anything in return.

That is the authenticity factor the second element of superior networking and relationship building. Find joy in helping others. I do this as often as I can. The time involved is minimal, and those who are helped are so appreciative. Helping other people succeed breaks down barriers. Breaking down barriers helps to create trust. Creating trust deepens any relationship. Yet, it all starts with being authentic toward helping others. To this day, I still send handwritten notes and people comment about how delightful it is to receive those. In addition, thankfully, email and texting have made it wonder fully easy to connect people instantaneously, complete with full contact information!

Follow-through is the third element. As with any situation in life, those who actually follow through on commitments stand out like a diamond. We lose all credibility when we don’t follow through with people after we have committed to introduce them to someone else, send them something, call them, email them, etc. If time doesn’t permit to execute the task immediately, make sure to jot down the commitment and get it done that same day before becoming distracted with something else.

Without knowing it, even as a young professional, I was building a reputation as someone who genuinely cared about others. Over time, I came to know many people. In every community in which I lived, I became a connector within my profession and within my community.

As it turns out, that is exactly networking at its best. The outcome of effective networking is developing significant relationships with lots of people across many spectrums.

So, back to the presentation I had to make as a young professional. I knew so little about networking, so what was I going to share? For some reason, I thought that sharing those three elements as a presentation to my peers and elders would seem lame. Instead, I researched best practices in networking (prior to the internet, this took some time) to prepare for my presentation.

The approaches I read about just seemed artificial to me (a self-described outgoing person who never met anyone who remained a stranger for long), and I figured those strategies would be triple-hard for people who were not outgoing. But, I plowed ahead thinking my home-style approach was not good enough.

I did the presentation, and it was awful and stiff. It did not resonate, so finally, at the end, I just put down my notes and said, Let me tell you how I do it and maybe this could work for you. That turned out to be the winning approach.

Authentically connecting to help people is a win-win for everyone involved. Happy networking, and may it lead you to develop many substantial relationships in work, community and play.

Ten Steps to Developing Superior Networking Skills and Developing Meaningful Relationships

1.BE CURIOUS. Ask questions. Be interested in other people and learn from them. Only talk about yourself when asked or as a brief segue to reinforce common areas of interest.

2.BE AUTHENTIC. Show up as a genuine human being who is present. Clear all the other stuff out of your mind and really connect with people. Your distracted conversation feels insulting to the other person. Focus.

3.BE HUMBLE AND HONEST. Don’t exaggerate, dissemble or brag.

4.BE A SOCIAL CONNECTOR. When you meet someone who might like, help or enjoy someone else you know, ask if you can introduce them.

5.FOLLOW THROUGH ON COMMITMENTS. You make as you are networking. Whatever you tell someone you will do to help them, just do it. No excuses.

6.ASK PEOPLE IF THEY PREFER EMAIL OR TEXT. Don’t assume. People usually do have a preference. Remember their preference. Better yet, put it in the notes area of their contact information.

7.BE GENEROUS OF SPIRIT. SHARE GOOD INFORMATION. Forward useful links to articles and videos. Share knowledge. Make good connections.

8.WALK INTO A ROOM WITH CONFIDENCE, AN OUTSTRETCHED HAND AND A SMILE. Smile and shake hands with strangers as you introduce yourself. Everyone is nervous meeting other people. Be the courageous person to just do it. Others will be grateful and respond positively.

9.DON’T ADD PEOPLE TO YOUR ROBOT SALES CALL LIST OF LEADS. Meet them. Connect with them. Be helpful to them. The sale and referrals to others will follow eventually, after you develop credibility and a relationship. Focus on developing the relationship, not the sale.

10.PUT BUSINESS CARDS EVERYWHERE.Put them in every purse, wallet, briefcase, vehicle, pocket, etc. There is never an excuse not to have a business card except that you did not plan. Plan to succeed and connect. Share your card and ask for theirs.

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Debbie Mason is a consultant who provides executive and organizational development, strategic planning and governance consulting for organizations. Her firm uses a number of assessments, coaching and training tools to achieve individual executive and collective team growth.

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