By Beth Zimmerman
Whether you are at the early stage of your career, or a well-seasoned professional, you have probably heard about the importance of networking and maybe even done your share of it. Did you enjoy it, did you dread it, or did you feel somewhere in between?
My experience is that many people – maybe even most – don’t relish the idea of “networking.” There are lots of reasons why this makes perfect sense. Perhaps they feel uncertain about how to engage in conversation with new people or, even if they enjoy social environments, find it challenging to fit networking activities into their demanding schedules. Most commonly, I find that people are concerned about coming across as a pushy salesperson.
These are understandable barriers to networking that even those who greatly value and enjoy meeting new people can face. They can be overcome, however, without making any big changes in your life, and even without going to any formal “networking” events. Below are some tips that can help make networking a bit easier and more enjoyable because you never know who you will meet and what role that person may play in your life or – when you look a little deeper – what new connections you may discover with someone you already know.
Reframe your Mindset
As with anything, the way you think about networking plays a big role in how you approach it and how it subsequently plays out for you. The term “networking” doesn’t conjure in most people’s minds what it is really all about. Here are some alternative ways of thinking about and approaching this activity:
- Connecting. Networking is really an opportunity to connect with other people and make new friends. Think about the people you enjoy having in your life, and now consider the possibility of adding more good people into your world – to your business world, your personal world, or maybe even both.
- Helping. A good business prospect is an organization that has a need that you or your organization can help them to address. A good partner is an individual or organization that you or your organization can work with for your mutual benefit. It is all about helping.
- Enriching. Not only can networking allow you to help others, it can absolutely enrich your own life. While this is a very expansive frame, you can never predict how a new connection may come into play in your life – either in the near term or many years in the future. Here at Evans, we have a staff member who met her husband at a networking event! Really, you never know.
Make it Easy on Yourself to Connect with Others
Beyond thinking about networking in a new way, there are many things you can do – in a way that’s comfortable for you – to increase connecting opportunities.
- Get to know friends in a new way. In many cases, we actually know very little about our friends’ work experiences. Inquiring about the joys and challenges of our friends’ work situations can allow us to find mutual areas of experience, and possibly offer help to one another in enhancing this critical area of our lives.
- Meet friends of friends. By sharing our own work experiences with friends and inviting a conversation about work, you may both discover that you know people that the other might like to meet. Friends are usually more than willing to introduce you to their friends or connections with whom you might have something in common, and people are typically very open to meeting someone that a friend wants them to meet. This is the whole concept behind LinkedIn – to leverage not only your network, but the networks of those to whom you are connected. You could even set up your own event where your friends each bring a friend, so everyone gets to meet new people.
- Share common interests, even for a few minutes. Another natural way to make connections is to get to know people who share a common interest or affiliation. This can be through a club or organization – a biking group, book club, or professional association – or it can be very low key and brief. Just invite someone you’d like to know better to join you in something you enjoy doing and fits easily in your life. For me, this is often a walk around the lovely pond outside of Evans’ offices. Just a 20 minute walk has offered me a chance for rich conversation with numerous colleagues, not to mention the extra bonuses of exercise and sunshine.
Make It Easy for Others to Connect with You
In addition to the things you can do to make it easier on yourself, there are numerous things you can do to make it easier for others to connect with you.
- Smile. Smiling is the most basic and easiest way of conveying a positive message to others and welcoming them into conversation with you. People who smile are infinitely more approachable than those who do not.
- Be open to conversation. If someone tries to engage in conversation with you, be open to a brief exchange with them. Challenge yourself by seeing if you can find a connection with this person. It could be as simple as talking about a favorite product in the supermarket checkout line. From there, maybe you’ll find out something more that can lead to a work connection!
- Let your personal network know about your work, areas of expertise, and interests. Sharing information with people you already know makes it easy for them to identify connections you previously didn’t even know you had. One of the easiest ways to exchange information is through social networking. While there are many social media platforms available, you don’t have to be on all of them, and you don’t have to spend a lot of time on them. However, strategically using these platforms is a wonderful way not only for you to identify new connections with others, but to help others identify connections with you. The insights gained through social networking can provide a great foundation for expanded conversations and shared activities over time.
At Evans, we aim to foster an environment and culture that supports connections among our team members as well as connections with others outside of our organization. We believe this strengthens us as an organization and as individuals. What approaches have you found create connection opportunities in your life and organization and how have you been enriched?