No matter what occupation you are in, it is imperative that you be good at networking. It is almost as if it is a given on everyone’s JD. Most of us are very bad at conversing with a stranger. Networking is certainly not exchanging business cards, flashing an awkward smile, and simply moving to the next person with a wide grin and hand one more business card to the next person. By the way, having an updated LinkedIn profile where you click on ‘Connect’ with random as well as relevant people also does not count as ‘networking’. Networking is all about creating relationships. Creating a rapport or a relationship with someone is something we have learned over the years although we have never quite mastered it. If we take the business part out of networking and think of it is a normal conversation with another person, it becomes all the more easy. There is no pressure, too.
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Let us see how we can make it work:
What questions? If you are really nervous, comment on the weather. No one gets tired of commenting about the weather. I repeat, no one. That’s a simple ice breaker there. If it is a party where both of you are friends of the host, you could ask, “How do you happen to know XXX?” If it is a formal event, you could ask, “What brings you here? Were you always a fan of YYY’s work?” When your conversation is almost over, think of ways in which you could help the other person in any way you could. If they talk about starting an ecommerce website and you happen to know someone who develops website, ask if you could help connect both of you.
After you ask the questions, now it is time for you to listen to their replies and not worry about popping the next question. Smile when you listen to them. Try to mimic their body language, but do not overdo it. If they lean in when they speak to you, so should you. Do not interrupt when they are answering. Do not cringe when you hear something unexpected. Nod your head to show agreement while maintaining eye contact. When they are done, ask a question based on what they just mentioned to you. It shows that you were listening to them and are interested in what they are saying.
Get people to talk about themselves
Would you ever be able to stop talking about that time when you won a client from the clutches of your competitors with your shrewd skills? No. The same applies to everyone. People are not essentially being boastful. They love themselves. Make them talk about themselves, they will love you even more. But be wary of asking personal questions. Asking them about their recent divorce is not personal, it borders on invasive and stupid. Do not ask probing questions, but questions where they will share their feelings. Once you get them to talk about themselves, they will associate excitement with meeting you.
Think in terms of what you can give
Be generous. Be that someone who is ever ready to help people, but do so without expectations from them. If the world starts to operate with reciprocity in mind, it will cease to exist. The best networkers in town are the ones who help each other out. They do it as if it’s the norm without any expectations. There will come a day when you want something and they will be falling over each other to help you out.
Mind your manners
Although this is common sense, in the battlefield of networking, we tend to forget the niceties that we practise every day, because we are super scared of saying the wrong thing to the person we are trying to create a rapport with. Be thoughtful of the words that come out of your mouth. Be mindful of the other person’s time. Follow the same set of rules and customs that you follow when you talk to a person in a normal setting.
Networking is a must learn skill. Using the above steps, you would be a better networker than what you were yesterday. That is what matters, right? Being a better person than the previous day. Happy networking!