Contributed Column

The Manager’s Corner

by Emily Morrow

The fine art of networking

When I work with clients to enhance their business development skills, we invariably discuss networking. It’s a critical capability for success at business development. I say, “Tell me what networking means to you.” Their answers are interesting.

One replied, “I know I should network, but it feels like manipulating other people and that makes me uncomfortable.” Another said, “It’s about getting to know other people, but after I’ve done that, I don’t know what to do next.” And yet another responded, “It feels unprofessional to me.” Predictably, these clients were anxious about their ability to network with good results. Fortunately, as with mastering new technical skills, with focus and practice anyone can learn the fine art of networking.

When I think about networking three things come to mind: relationship building; giving; and Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point. Gladwell discusses the midnight ride of Paul Revere and why it mobilized American resistance for the Revolutionary War. Paul Revere was the quintessential “connector” (he knew everyone), “maven” (he knew a lot about everything), and “salesman” (he knew how to promote anything). He was a consummate networker. It wasn’t about him; it was about using his networking skills to accomplish something important. I expect he never asked for thanks.

To be honest, I love to network. I’m a natural at it. Put me anywhere in the world and, like a cat landing solidly on all four feet, I’ll instinctively begin networking. It’s the relationship-building and the giving that I find irresistible.

Everyone you meet has a unique perspective, and I’m endlessly interested in learning about that. In the process, I gather information and I remember it. This is where the giving piece comes in because, invariably, later on I find that information can be helpful to another. Then really remarkable things can start happening. I might suggest ways to connect the dots so the other has new options. I don’t tell others what to do, but instead act as a catalyst by connecting people with opportunities. It’s their choice to act on those or not.

If you’d like to enhance your networking skills, consider the following

Articulate why networking is important for you, what you intend to accomplish, and what success will look like if you achieve your goals.

Identify whom you’d like to meet and how to do that. Will you contact individuals directly, show up at a function where you might encounter them by chance, ask someone else to introduce you, or something else? The choice will depend on what makes you comfortable. I find extraverts are often more likely to “cold call,” whereas introverts prefer introductions. No one-size-fits-all.

When you meet someone you’d like to get to know better, show a genuine interest and practice active listening. As the other tells you about him/herself, suspend your thinking, listen to the other fully, allow a brief pause when the other finishes, and then respond. The most charming person is the best listener. If you listen actively, you will be memorable in a good way.

Consider the significance of what the other is telling you. What is particularly salient? What has the broadest implications? What will be relevant to you and others? Remember that information and jettison the rest. Your memory is limited.

Keep secrets and respect personal information. Networking is not about gossiping. Be gracious and positive. Don’t malign others. Stay on the “high road.”

Then go about your life like the proverbial bumblebee, alighting on many flowers. Be a connector, a maven, and/or a salesperson. Cross-pollinate when you can so the garden becomes a beautiful, rich, and robust place where everyone thrives.

Enjoy the experience and savor success. By focusing on giving to others, what goes around will come around. You will build an optimal network that benefits everyone.

I cannot guarantee your networking efforts will immediately translate into more business for your company or new clients for your professional practice. However, over time, the benefits to you and others will be obvious.

Emily Morrow (www.emilymorrow.com) of Shelburne provides tailored consulting services to business owners, professional practice firms, executives, and HR personnel.

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