Networking is a systematic process where one uses various interpersonal skills to expand their social network and level of influence. Often times we botch these social opportunities through poor etiquette.
There is no one-size-fits-all on proper social etiquette; we often learn through trial and error. But I believe there is a simpler way. My brother once told me that learning is not limited to trial and error. He said, “You can learn through the observation of others.” I want to share with you common communication problems and how you can be a better networker.
Bad first impressions spread like wildfire
Unfortunately, bad first impressions leave a sour taste in the minds of most people. As a consequence, some people would hesitate to reconsider their original negative view of another person.
Furthermore, a bad impression of someone may spread to others in the network. It is spread faster if the view comes from someone of influence.
For example, would you tend to believe more if a person is bad simply because Oprah Winfrey (or someone you have a high regard of) said so? As much as we would like to believe that we can think independently, humans typically behave in a herd mindset. If an influencer says so, then it must be true. Part of the danger of herd mentality is the blind obedience to a leader as described in Everett Dean Martin’s book The Behavior of Crowds.
Extend grace to others whenever possible
I admit that it is difficult to question the opinions of those we hold in high regard. We trust our leaders, these people of influence. This is part of our human hard wiring. The best thing that you can do to combat this tendency is through evaluation of the facts.
In other words, think for yourself and do not only take someone's word.
Evaluate someone based on your direct experience and observation of their conduct (in word or deed) rather than by a third party. In addition, acknowledge our partiality as human beings. We are prone to make mistakes in the judgment of others. Do not join in the bashing of others without due cause. We need to allow people the same level of grace that we would want extended to us. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
Business Card Parade
One of the things that I cannot understand is the need to collect business cards at networking events. This is not a Pokémon contest, we don't have to catch them all.
How many times have you provided someone your business card only to be ignored or worse yet, included in a meaningless email newsletter? Last time I checked, custom business cards are expensive. The costs are not just limited to the printing cost, but the cost of design. Some of the pricer cards cost $.50-$1 to print. Why spend so much time and money designing something that is most likely to be thrown away? Why?
This is not a card, it is a contract.
Simply handing out business cards with out further action is ineffective, unless you like wasting money handing out promotional material. Rob Brown, owner of For Book Club Lovers Only, tells people that his business cards are his informal communication contracts. If you choose to collect his card, then you will agree to a followup meeting.
If someone has your business card, why not agree to a followup meeting? I agree with Rob in this regard. If someone asks for your business card with no intention of following up, do not offer your card. There is nothing rude about networking with purpose. If they insist on finding a way to contact you, then tell them that you are available online via LinkedIn, Alignable, or whichever social media channel.
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Never ask someone for a referral until completing three conversations with them. Do not be in a rush to ask for a referral. Use every conversation to get to know their business as well as their work values. Conversely, you want your contacts to be knowledgable about you and your business. Just saying, “yeah, he’s a good plumber,” is not a good comment to someone who needs a plumber.
A good contact needs to have a basic knowledge of your business. “I know that Jimmy is licensed in Texas and has extensive experience in new home construction,” is a better referral. This knowledge does not come after one or two meetings.
You need to make sure that you and your new contact have a good understanding of one another. Once that happens, then it is appropriate to ask for a referral.
Let others talk
My goodness, do we love to talk! We want to be seen and heard by others. It is true you want to expand your social reach, but you also do not want to appear self-interested.
Make sure when you speak with others, you allow a 60/40 spilt of the conversation. (i.e., you let someone speak 60 percent of the time and you speak the other 40 percent.) Why let someone speak for the majority of the conversation? You do this for multiple reasons:
- You want to qualify if this person is worthy of future conversations. You cannot make this discernment if you are dominating.
- When you let people talk more, you might learn something new. For example, someone tells you about his/her recent trip to Hawaii. Instead of saying “yes, how interesting,” you can ask more meaningful questions like “I did not know Hawaii has such a high poverty rate. Can you tell me more about it?”
- Understand the purpose of why they are networking. This goes back to character analysis I mentioned in the first point. Someone who says, “I am looking for sale leads,” is someone you do not want to associate with professionally. How can they help you or others if they are preoccupied with themselves? When someone talks with you, do not just hear them, listen for key words or subjects they are talking about. Why waste your time with someone who is not interested in you?
It is tempting to go to a networking event and approach the first recognizable face that you see. Another tendency is to run for the first wall or go to a corner and sit down quietly waiting to be approached by someone.
Avoid these traps. You decided to go out and network with others.
Actively socialize with as many new people as possible. Give yourself a five to ten-minute mental timer to mingle with others. Obviously you do not need to move immediately from one group to another if you are involved in a pleasant group conversation. Just make sure that you work through the room and meet as many people as possible.
New Allies Await
Also make a point to converse with people who seem aloof. Not everyone has great social skills. These people may be shy or socially awkward. Connecting with shy people will help you to improve your communication skills. Who knows? Perhaps these shy people may be your greatest allies in the future. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Have you been a bad networker? What did you do to improve your networking skills? I would love to read it. Please write it in the comment section below.