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How to Build A Meaningful Network

Posted by | May 18, 2015 | Career, Networking

Via LinkedIn : We’ve all heard about the importance of networking, but often people have a misconception about what good networking actually means.

As someone whose role has a lot to do with building a network of leaders, the mistake I often see people make when networking is approaching someone only because they think that person can do something for them or for their company.

The reality is – networking, like anything worth doing, is ultimately about creating value. It can’t be transactional. It has to be relational.

Hence, to be great at networking, you need to approach it with the opposite mindset — adding value to the person with whom you want to engage and engaging this person to help you add value to others in your network. From this perspective, networking goes from mindless small talk and transactions to a meaningful interaction and relationship building.

There are many things we possess that may be of potential value to the person. It can be experiences and perspectives that open a new way of thinking or an answer to a problem that they face. It can be another person in our network who might be of help to a problem they face. It can be something in our organization that hits a passion point for them.

But before we can understand how we can add value, we need to get to the heart of who they are and what they are about.

Here are a few pointers:

1. Resist the urge to talk about yourself and focus on them. The introvert in all of us and those adverse to small talk can breathe a sigh of relief here. A simple opener I often use is “Tell me your story.” If that seems too heavy, I might start off with a conversation about major sports news and then lead into their stories. I’ve found that talking about sports is not only an opening to building rapport, but people’s take on sports often reveal a great deal about their worldview. Sports is one of those rare neutral grounds that is at the same time, a passion point for many. It’s for this reason that friends and I started up The SportsQuip, a weekly e-brief on sports.

2. Listen actively. Listen for who they are, not their jobs or titles. The best people I know grab me in the first 15 minutes of conversation by bringing up their families. Pick up on the things that fire them up and ask more about those.

3. Ask intelligent questions. Good questions come from active listening and connecting the dots throughout the conversation. Through the questions, you can convey credibility and quite a bit about what you care about. Think about Barbara Walters and Oprah and how they engage with their guests.

4. Be judicious about whom you include in your network. My personal rule is no jerks. The integrity of your network is only as good as the quality and character of the people who are in it. Someone may be a CEO or a celebrity, but if he or she doesn’t have good values, it’s hard to genuinely engage or have a meaningful interaction. And we are all judged by the company that we keep.

5. Don’t be limited by you. We tend to gravitate towards those who seem most like us. That’s why at most events, people segregate by gender, race, culture, and even nationalities. Make a conscious effort to break the lines and seek out those who on the surface seem completely different from you. You may find you have a lot more in common than you thought.

6. Network with those behind you. People think about networking up and networking with peers. Think about networking with those whom you can help. We are all where we are because someone has helped us along the way. And good networks operate more like spheres rather than hierarchies in which value can come from any direction.

7. Conclude with an action item. For those whom we want who fit the values criteria and deepen the connection, end the conversation with a something that you can deliver in the short term. It can be an article that highlights a challenge they are facing, or an introduction to someone in your network who can be of mutual value to each other. Or it may be something you are working on that can help them with a problem.

So, you may ask, when is it about you? It’s not.

If you can add value, people will want to join your network, and they will find you invaluable. As you add more good people, they will act in kind and when you seek help on something, they know that you are someone worth helping.

Now, that is good networking.

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