Dek: Superficial networking leads to weak connections that recognize your inauthenticity. Establish meaningful connections with these helpful tips.
In almost any business environment you will hear from the people on top about the importance of networking. But what exactly is networking? Is networking establishing deep, meaningful social connections? Or can any social situation wherein you simply engage with another person in the most superficial of manners be considered “networking?”
In its simplest definition, the latter is technically correct. Even if that connection is an exceedingly tenuous one, the bare goal of networking is to establish a connection between yourself and another person. This is done quickly and easily: “Hello, blah blah blah me me me, vague chitchat,” and bam! Networking done, take the rest of the week off.
But networking superficially comes at a price, because you’ve established a poor connection. And these connections can easily “snap.” And having a connection snap can have a more negative impact than never having established a connection in the first place.
Because, people recognize fakeness and insincerity. They know when you have “networked” them in a superficial, self interested manner. They’re just too polite to say anything about it to your face.
So how do you network sincerely—and therefore effectively? By adhering to a few simple principles:
Actually listen to people
This is rule number one to establishing a connection. Listen and retain information.
Let’s say you’ve met Bob. Bob is a potential associate. You want to network with Bob. It starts simply. Ask him a question and then actually listen to his response. Maybe even ask a follow-up question, you little Cronkite. But most importantly, retain the information you’ve learned from listening. As much as you can. Yes, always.
Remember the details!
Remembering is easier than you think it is. We have good memories, but we’re just lazy. If you will remember long ago, all the way back to those simpler times we call eight years ago before cell phone address books, people had to remember lots of things, like hundreds of phone numbers at once. What big brains we had.
So what’s so hard about remembering some concrete details about old Bob like you used to be able to remember people’s phone numbers? Write the details down that night if you have to. Study them later. Listen, but don’t just listen: learn something about your new acquaintances. Learn their interests.
Get ‘em something nice, or better: something useful
I had a friend who once recommended buying people magazine subscriptions because it was a constant reminder to that person that you had given them a gift. I recommend something a little less transparently networky: if you’ve started to establish a connection with someone, buy them a small gift they will actually use, and use often.
Maybe you listened to Bob talk about pinot noirs and exciting wines coming out of Washington State (and you remembered it!). And maybe Christmas is rolling around and buying a Washington State Pinot for Bob sounds like a great idea. Not bad, and probably better than another holiday fruitcake. But after Bob guzzles that bottle he’ll forget about it. Why not look to buy something related to his hobby that he’ll use many times: a wine aerator, a decanter, even a nice corkscrew? Something he’ll look at and remember you.
But keep in mind…
Networking isn’t ‘quid pro quo’
File this under “being a good person.” While you’re networking sincerely, you do, of course, hope that you’ll get something positive from the relationship. But you can’t expect it and get huffy when it’s not reciprocated. Networking sincerely comes from a place of altruism. You listen, you retain information about your fellow human being, you help out. It’s all gravy if the person you’re networking with wants to help you back. If Bob doesn’t want to help you though, so be it. Bob’s loss there.
But you shouldn’t be completely passive. Networking sincerely also requires that you be willing to…
Ask for an opinion
People like feeling warm and fuzzy. And nothing turns on the warm fuzzies like feeling needed. And not in a way that feels like work. People like to feel challenged and useful. Asking for opinions signals to a person that you value their perspective. That they are an equal. And after Bob has shared his advice, consider following it. He’s smarter than he looks.
“So, Bob, what’s your favorite Washington Pinot?”
Jacob Harper co-founded clothing store/apparel brand Vintage Vice in 2006 at the age of 23. Jacob sold Vintage Vice in 2009 (the company still operates successfully today) and has been working as a writer and teacher ever since. He is currently a head writer of the weekly political sketch show Top Story! Weekly at the iO West in Hollywood.