Everyone needs to network. And I mean everyone.
What determines whether a drug dealer dies or becomes a kingpin? Yup — the size of his network.
Networking is one of the 10 things I recommend people do every week.
Research shows networking is vital to staying employed, salary growth, and job satisfaction. It also makes you more likely to land a job.
In his classic 1974 study Getting a Job, Granovetter…found that 56 percent of those he talked to found their job through a personal connection. [The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference]
It makes you more likely to be successful at your job.
MIT researchers…found that the more socially connected the IBM employees were, the better they performed. [The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work]
It makes you more likely to become an expert at your job.
As much as 70 percent of learning in the workplace takes place via informal interactions according to a 1998 study by the center for Workforce Development. [Achieving Success Through Social Capital: Tapping the Hidden Resources in Your Personal and Business Networks]
And it makes you more likely to be creative on the job.
…businesspeople with entropic networks full of weak ties were three times more innovative than people with small networks of close friends… [Imagine: How Creativity Works]
Having a big network even makes you luckier.
Alright, alright… Networking is essential. But how do we do it? I've read the books, talked to the experts, and I've got some answers.
And if you're one of those people who hates the word "networking" because it seems sleazy, rest assured I've got that covered too. Let's get started:
1) If connecting seems hard, start by re-connecting
You hate networking. Or you're bad at it. Or you're hopelessly lazy and have the attention span of a gnat. Then just go play on Facebook.
These findings suggest that dormant relationships — often overlooked or underutilized — can be a valuable source of knowledge and social capital. ["Dormant Ties: The Value of Reconnecting," Organization Science]
(For a dead simple way to reconnect with people, click here.)
Okay, but this is supposed to be networking, right? How do you meet new people? Well, that can be crazy simple too.
2) Move your desk
Most people constantly make excuses: "I'm shy. Talking to new people makes me break out with hives, boils, and open sores."
It's really not that hard and it needn't be awkward. In fact, it can be as simple as moving your desk.
Jeffrey Pfeffer tells a powerful story of a manager who attributes his success to his decision of where to sit… He noted that during the course of the day, people walked to the cafeteria and to the washrooms. He found where the two paths tended to intersect, near the center of the open plan office layout, and took that position as his work location. He attributes much of his subsequent success to that simple move, since it gave him much better access to what was going on in his department. [Achieving Success Through Social Capital: Tapping the Hidden Resources in Your Personal and Business Networks]
Not good at going up to new people? Then situate yourself so they'll come to you.
(For more insights on networking for introverts, click here.)
Okay, clever tricks. But what if we really want to scale this? And be strategic? Then it's time to bring out the big guns…
3) Find your "superconnectors"
A disproportionate number of friends and opportunities come your way through a handful of people. These are "superconnectors."
Who helped get you your current job? Your previous job? Through whom did you meet the majority of your friends? Seeing any patterns?
Brian Uzzi and Sharon Dunlap discussed this in the Harvard Business Review:
After you identify your key contacts, think about how you first met them. In the center column of the work sheet, write the name of the person who introduced you to your contact (if you met the person yourself, write "me"). This column will reveal the brokers in your network and help you see the networking practices you used to connect with them. [Harvard Business Review]
If you only send a few emails or make a few calls it should be to those people, because a small investment there can pay off big.
Who's an easy first superconnector? Contact your mentor.
So you're starting to build up a healthy network now. But all these meetings might get expensive. And that can lead to second thoughts…
4) Start an "interesting people fund"
Set aside money so there's no reluctance or guilt and you can jump on opportunities to meet new people.
Pre-committing $100 or $1,000 reduces the likelihood that when it comes time to actually do the thing you know you ought to do, you bail. [Barking up the Wrong Tree]
What about making time? Top networker Keith Ferrazzi sums up the answer with the title of his bestseller: Never Eat Alone.
(For more on setting up an "interesting people fund", click here.)
You've got a burgeoning network and have set aside time and money to meet with them. Great. But what do you actually say when you're there?
5) Three golden questions
You want meetings to be friendly and personal but you also want to lay down the foundation of a relationship that is mutually beneficial.
Judy Robinett, author of How to Be a Power Connector has a great short list of questions to make sure you make the most of even brief meetings.
Before you leave any meeting or encounter, you always should ask what I call Three Golden Questions.
First, "How can I help you?" This gives you an opportunity to add value immediately with a suggestion, a referral, or an opportunity, and it will establish you as a giver and potentially someone they want to know.
Second, "What ideas do you have for me?" Asking for ideas allows the people you are talking with to add value to you as you have (hopefully) added value to them.
Third, "Who else do you know that I should talk to?" The very connection you need may be in this individual's network, and the only way you can find out is with this question. [How to Be a Power Connector]
(For more on what to say and do in the moment, click here.)
But this is the kinda strategic behavior some people see as sleazy and shallow. What keeps networking sincere?
6) How to not be sleazy
When it comes to business relationships, stop thinking about the word "business" and focus on "relationships."
So what should we keep in mind when it comes to being a friend to new people we meet? I always think of "warmth, curiosity, and generosity."
And then there's curiosity. Actively showing interest in other people is powerful — and kind.
Merely listening to what they have to say and asking them to tell you more is all it takes.
When people speak, the best responses are both active and constructive. What's that mean?
It is engaged, enthusiastic, curious and has supportive nonverbal action. Ask questions. Be excited. Ask for details. Smile. Touch. Laugh. [Flourish]
(For more on how being sincere and positive can boost your career, click here.)
Hey, there were three things: warmth, curiosity and generosity. Where's generosity? That one is so important it gets its own section…
7) The five-minute favor
One of the most common problems people have in networking is how to follow up: Great, I met someone. Now what do I do?
The answer to that is: give. Think of the other person first.
It's the five-minute favor:
One of my personal favorites is probably Adam Rifkin's idea of the "Five Minute Favor" (if you can do something for someone that will take less than five minutes, just do it.) A lot of people look at the idea of helping others and say, "Gosh, that's going to be time consuming, or exhausting, or put me at risk of being exploited." I think that Adam's idea enables us to a sense of, "What if I just took a couple minutes every day to try to help someone in a way that is a small commitment to me, but could be of large benefit to them?"
You know that hippie-sounding bumper sticker "Practice random acts of kindness"? Corny as it may sound, you should actually do that.
(For more on the five minute favor, click here.)
You're giving. You're even making a game out of it, trying to figure out the best way to help others. Now it's time to flip that on its head.
8) Cement a relationship by asking for a favor
Asking people for favors can actually strengthen the bond between you.
There was somebody who really did not like Ben. And as much as Ben tried to be nice to the guy, nothing worked.
So instead of trying to help his detractor, Franklin took the opposite route — he asked his enemy for a favor. Ironically, that made them friends.
Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him expressing my desire of perusing that book and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days.
He sent it immediately — and I returned it in about a week with another note expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility. And he ever afterward manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death. [The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin]
What happened? When someone does something for you they need to justify it — maybe by changing their mind about you.
How can you do this without coming off like a selfish taker? Judy Robinett says to stick to the "rule of two": give two favors before asking for one.
And don't be afraid. Research shows we tend to underestimate just how helpful people are.
(For more on how to be a giver the smart way, click here.)
Now it's all starting to come together. What do the experts say we need to know when looking at the big picture?
9) Tips from the best
Fortune Magazine called Adam Rifkin the most networked guy in Silicon Valley. He has a few things anyone can do to be a better networker:
1. Do something every single day. Make it a habit. The more of it you do, the better you can get at it. Every day is an opportunity to get better, but do not try to do too much at once. Take the longview, and connect with at least one person professionally every day. Could be following up with someone you already know; could be asking for an introduction from a mutual connection.
2. Once in a while, think of two people who should know each other but don't, and introduce them. Follow through with them later to learn from whether that introduction was worthwhile, so you can get better at making introductions. Practice!
3. Imagine you got laid off today. Who are the 5-10 people you'd write to for advice? Make sure to invest in those relationships regularly, not just when you have an urgent need.
4. Look at the 5-10 people you've spent the most time with in the last 3 months. Are you happy with the way they're influencing you? If so, find another person who belongs in that group and invest in that relationship. (If not, change the way you're spending your time! How you spend your time determines so much in your life.) [Barking up the Wrong Tree]
(For more insights from networker extraordinaire Adam Rifkin, click here.)
So you've got tons of contacts now. But how can you possibly maintain them all? There just isn't enough time. Unless you do something very fun…
Good networkers build bridges, becoming a linchpin between disparate networks. But as Michael Simmons notes, great networkers form communities.
They make sure that their contacts get to know each other, exponentially increasing the connections and opportunities.
And forming communities actually makes managing networks easier — have regular get-togethers with a rotating group of your contacts.
It's a trend you see again and again among top networkers:
- Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, throws a monthly breakfast, introducing his connections to each other.
- Adam Rifkin hosts his "106 miles" gatherings where Silicon Valley power brokers and newcomers mix and mingle.
- Harvard's Gautam Mukunda regularly gathers the most interesting thought leaders in Boston for steak dinners.
I've attended the latter two and can't say enough positive things.
(To learn more about how you can turn your network into a community, click here.)
So where does all this take you in the end? Let's look at the key point that makes all of this so powerful.
Here are the ten networking tips that bring success:
- If connecting seems hard, start by re-connecting
- Move your desk
- Find your "superconnectors"
- Start an "interesting people fund"
- Three golden questions
- How to not be sleazy
- The five-minute favor
- Cement a relationship by asking for a favor
- Big picture tips from the best
…according to a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, "More diverse social networks were associated with greater resistance to upper respiratory illness," conclude researchers from Carnegie Mellon University. [Achieving Success Through Social Capital]
It's the first day of kindergarten again, folks. Go make some friends.
What's the best next step? Send these five simple emails.
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