Is Your Networking Not Working? Here are 5 Ways To Build A Solid Network

Having a network is important, and to build a successful one, you need to dust off skills you may not have used since you were in school and had to navigate lunchroom politics and cliquish parties. It’s a fact – sometimes it isn’t what you know, but who you know that makes networking a crucial skill, not only to get ahead in business, but also to move forward in life. If you don’t have a solid network in place, don’t worry though, it’s never too early or too late to build one!networkingWhen most of us think of networking, we picture uninspiring small talk at conferences, awkward business card exchanges, “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” agreements, endless introductions, and, more recently, piles of LinkedIn connections. If you’re spending a lot of time attending lunches and after-hours gatherings for this or that and still struggling to build a network, it could be that you’re going about it the wrong way. It’s time to abandon the “mile-wide, inch-deep” world of traditional networking and embrace what I call “Connecting 2.0.” The idea is not just to advance your career and make money, but also to make life itself richer, more exciting, and more creative for both parties.Here are some tips to keep in mind as you set out to build your network:Connections should be mutually beneficial. What is your goal in building a network? If your goal is to get something for yourself, you’ll work hard and create virtually no goodwill. Think about what you can create with your new connection, not just what that person can do for you. When we infuse sharing and giving into the process, suddenly connecting with others feels good. And it works! Be prepared: offering to help and work with others catches many people off guard. They probably expect you to ask for an interview or a chance to pitch your product, but not a genuine way you can help them.Talk to your connection, not at them. The old style of networking involved a lot of “selling” your skills and showcasing your knowledge. To truly build connections that work, resist that urge. Instead, when you’re talking to someone new, ask her about herself and really listen to her answers. It’s bad form to wait for your opportunity to talk without actually taking the time to listen.Have three or four “go-to” questions in the bag to keep a conversation moving. It’s never a good idea to just wing it when you meet someone new, especially if you want to make a connection. A few “go-to” questions can be a big help in case a conversation grinds to a halt. (Awkward!) It doesn’t matter what the questions are, but you might consider thought provokers like, “If time and money were no object, what would you be doing right now?” Or perhaps something more along the lines of “What is the hardest part of your job?” Chances are, the other person will be happy to move away from tired “Where are you from and what do you do?” conversational territory – and you’ll stand a much better chance of discovering his or her values, goals, and interests. [bctt tweet=“Remember, passion is a powerful energy source for making connections.”]Pick up the phone and meet face to face. Email and texting is easy, but it’s not the best way to meaningfully connect. Not only can verbal communication cut down on misunderstandings, but it can also save time. (Yes, really – just think about all of the hours you’ve spent reading and responding to never-ending back-and-forth email chains.) Best of all, it can turn a contact into a relationship. Calls and meetings show the other person that she’s worth your valuable time, and that you want to get to know her. This is more fulfilling for both of you and sets you apart in a positive way.networking2Expand your horizons. Most of us don’t think about the opportunities to network within our own organizations or community circles. Unless you work at a very small company and never leave home except to go to work, chances are that you have colleagues or neighbors that you don’t know very well, if at all. Shaking things up by working with a different team or stopping by a different coffee shop keeps you sharp and puts you in the path of potentially exciting new people. When you work with people you don’t know on projects you’re unfamiliar with, join a new community organization, or talk to parents from another class, you will learn, grow, and often discover vital new talents and interests.Here’s the best part – transitioning from networking to connecting doesn’t require significantly larger amounts of time or energy. Rather, the key difference is in your attitude and intentions. Switching from a “me” to a “we” perspective can make a huge difference in the quality and quantity of your relationships, and what you’re able to accomplish because of them. Here’s to building a solid network in 2016 that will get you ahead in business and move you forward in life!Want more advice on meaningful networking from Dr. Nancy O’Reilly? Watch her Virtual Happy Hour with Take The Lead from December.