Networking. The word that excites some and strikes terror into the hearts of others. Since this month’s issue is focusing on hospitality, I thought I would share some thoughts about leaders increasing their hospitable skills in the strategic area of networking.
If you think about it, networking occurs in a lot of different places. Even though you might not typically think of it this way, networking occurs when you are invited to a dinner party where you don’t know everyone. It occurs in your organization when you are asked to work interdepartmentally with new people. Of course, the variety of networking that most comes to mind is associated with business relationships, but to get better at networking, you have to practice in the opportunities around you.
In the classical sense, networking is the process of developing new relationships with your interpersonal skills to produce an eventual outcome. This is easier for some than others. For instance, our consulting firm has identified that 30 percent of the population influences others through their extroverted behavior. However, 32 percent of the population — the largest percentage for any of the five styles we identified — is more rule-based and introverted, so it may not be natural for them to go into a room full of strangers and feel comfortable. While there might not be actual rules of engagement for increasing your hospitable behavior and networking, here are some principles to make your networking efforts more fruitful. Even though you probably won’t change your core wiring, and all new behavior feels a little awkward at first, keep working at it.
- Be interested rather than trying to be interesting. Friendliness breeds likability and trust. People do business with people they like and trust. The twin of friendly is smiley. People who smile are way more attractive than people who don’t. Smiling not only sets the tone, it’s the reflection you give people about who you are. When you smile and project yourself in friendly terms, it sends the signal that you are open to the idea of direct engagement. You appear light and positive, and this clears away any doubt about engaging with you.
- Your ability to look someone in the eye as you speak to him or her is a tell-tale sign of your own self-respect. This might be one of the more difficult ones. Our research indicates most human beings can look each other in the eye for more than a minute, but the average time we do it is under seven seconds. While you make eye contact, work on controlling the intensity of it. In other words, don’t intensely stare at them; soften it up. It’s just eye contact. Looking someone in the eye is a display of confidence. It’s a display of truth and a display of respect for the other person.
- Your consistent positive attitude will breed positive responses and positive results. The attitude you have will influence and support your actions. Your positive attitude plays an important role in the way you communicate and the way others perceive you. Without that positive attitude, your demeanor looks cynical and slanted, and you look standoffish or unaccepting. Your positive attitude is the fuel to run the engine of life without toxic emissions. If your attitude is that networking is a chore and something that someone is making you participate in, your behavior will reflect that. So will your results.
- Prepare yourself in advance. If you fall into the 32 percent of process-oriented introverts, then preparation is your key to success. There’s no such thing as being overprepared. Who do you want to meet? What kinds of questions can you ask about them? Preparation requires work. Winners do their homework. If you are looking to connect, preparation is the best way for increased results.
- Focus less on motive. Let’s face it — when we are trying to connect with people, we have some sort of motive or need. That’s OK. We all have needs we are trying to fill, and most people understand that if you are networking, you would like some sort of long-term benefit from it. First of all, seek friendship and acceptance. Drop your long-term agenda and focus on making a real connection, not extracting something from them, or worse yet, trying to get some networking box checked on your to-do list.
Networking is effective because it is about making connections and building strong, enduring relationships that are mutually beneficial. When you network effectively, you build a different kind of asset capital —relationship capital, which can carry a lot of value for you in the future.