Networking is supposed to describe the simple concept of developing and maintaining meaningful relationships with those who have similar interests. However, many people think networking is a business activity in which one must attend events to collect business cards. Others think networking is about scheduling time to attend events with the goal of meeting a certain amount of people in a short amount of time as if it were a race to collect contact information. Making contact isn’t the same as developing connections and networking isn’t about contact, it’s about relationships. Stop thinking of networking as a contrived, disingenuous business practice and consider what it really is – connecting with people.
Developing Genuine Connections vs. Meeting a Goal
Human beings are social creatures by nature. Humans choose to live in communities, work in groups, develop families and even join sub-groups such as churches, clubs, or support groups. Ultimately, we depend on one another in our existence. Thus, connecting with others is something that is naturally a part of who we are and how we live. The term networking has arguably developed a negative connotation because it can be viewed as a selfish or disingenuous activity to try to meet people who simply serve as a means to some self-centered end goal. That end goal is usually career advancement when networking is discussed in the realm of business or job searching. Meaningful relationships are mutually beneficial so naturally, relationships can lead to wonderful experiences and even opportunities. However, if you approach networking as merely a business activity, you’re missing the point and you’re missing opportunity to develop genuine connections.
Why Networking is Meaningful
I truly believe developing relationships is what makes life meaningful and exciting. People are fascinating because they all have different backgrounds, beliefs, values, passions, opinions, ideas, and experiences to share. We all influence one another and we can either ignore that fact or embrace it and truly help one another. The human mind is like a universe waiting to be explored and exploring is the fascinating part of connecting with people. It’s what makes me love the idea of meeting new people. I realize not everyone has the same perspective but I do believe more people should. So, rather than asking yourself if you’re good at “networking,” or why you haven’t “done it lately,” ask yourself what is personally invigorating about making new connections and developing new relationships because networking shouldn’t be viewed as the means to some goal, but rather, an opportunity to develop relationships. Reframe the way you think about networking and perhaps you won’t find it as intimidating or laborious as you thought. The potential relationship itself should be the goal, not what you could get from the relationship.
Here are some basic tips to making connections with people:
- Engage in communities of interest – Find communities of interest and engage to meet people with similar interests.
- Approach people to get to know them, not what they do
- Make real connections – don’t just collect business cards
- Join online communities and engage – If you’re shy, this is a way to get started but nothing compares to face-to-face interaction so don’t rely on the internet.
- Be Helpful – Being helpful offers value and relationships must be mutually beneficial
- Make cross network introductions – Facilitate connections by introducing people to one another who may not have met otherwise if it weren’t for what they have in common – knowing you!
- Ask questions – Don’t talk about yourself. Be genuine and show natural interest in people to find shared interests. Remember, exploring is the fun and fascinating part of meeting new people.
- Actively listen and respond – Actually listen when people are talking and follow-up with what they say. Explore and probe further to better understand them and you’ll be able to make deeper connections.
- Have Fun & Involve Others – You don’t need to work a room to be effective at meeting new people. Have fun and people will be drawn to you. Involve others and soon, you’ll be having fun with a group of people and you’ll create a memorable experience for others.
- Follow up with people – Relationships are not developed by the passing of a business card, they are developed through continued effort. Follow up with people you meet just to say it was nice to meet them or perhaps follow up periodically just to share an article you read or to say Happy Holidays.