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Definition: Networking is connecting with others face-to-face. Networking skills use conversation to build the know, like and trust with others. It is not selling but building relationships for mutual benefit.
A few years ago, we were delivering savvy networking skills training to the young associates of a very successful boutique law firm. The senior partner asked if he could share his networking success story that built his firm.
Early in his career, he was reading on an airplane when the woman beside him struck up a conversation. They talked about books and when they introduced each other, it was obvious that his seatmate, a teacher, would never have need of his specialized services. Nonetheless, they had an enjoyable wide-ranging conversation kicked off by a shared love of books.
When they landed, she asked for his card and he didn’t think anything more about it. Three weeks later, he got a call from the head of an organization that she had given his card to. That single referral launched his practice and to this day represents 60% of his business.
He wanted his young associates to know savvy networking isn’t selling, it’s about building relationships and trusting that business will come as a result. If he had blown her off, when he found out she didn’t fit his client profile, his firm wouldn’t have been the success it is.
Many people associate networking with selling. But most people don’t like to sell or be sold to. That’s why networking gets a bad name. People would much rather hire, refer, work with and spend time with people that they know, like and trust. We call this the KLT factor.
How do you use the KLT factor? You get to know people by conversing with them. Savvy networking skills are the art of conversation. This builds connection. The mistake that many of us make upon meeting a new acquaintance is to tell them all about ourselves or our services. People don’t care that much about you until you express interest in them.
To get to know them, focus the conversation on their interests, on their business, and on their passions. Once some rapport or bond is established, they will begin to demonstrate a keener interest in you and want to get to know you better.
How do we create rapport? Well, who are the people you like? Think about your friends. Usually they are people that you share an interest with. When savvy networking, keep your antenna up for commonalities and interests you share. Ask open ended questions and keep some topics of conversation in your back pocket. Some of our favorite topics are movies, books, travel and food .
A young foreign engineer that we worked with, translated his love of soccer into finding new friends and ultimately a referral to a new job. When you find a shared interest, the relationship really takes off. (BONUS TIP – this also works in dating and finding a soul mate.)
Trust takes a little longer to establish but you can start building trust as soon as you meet someone. It comes through in your positive attitude, and genuine interest in the other person. Trust is signaled by following through on the little things that you commit to.
If you say you’re going to make an introduction or share a link to an interesting site, do it. When you follow through on the little things, people extrapolate and assume you will follow through on more important things.
With less face-to-face communication, technologies are making us unskilled at connecting through conversation. Practice your networking skills in safe environments. Instead of checking your texts in the Starbucks or Safeway line-up , try striking up a conversation.
The next time you come across someone you feel is good at the art of conversation, analyze what they are doing differently that draws you to them. Then work on adding these traits to your business and social interactions until they become second nature. That way, your savvy networking skills will draw people and opportunities to you. People will find you easy to talk to and will go away thinking you’re a great conversationalist.
Article by Terry Pithers - the Canadian business etiquette expert and corporate image consultant