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Networking with Style: Tools and Tricks

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What you think about networking depends on your personality. Maybe you can shmooze all day but don't feel like you're accomplishing anything. Or maybe you'd rather just sit in front of your computer and not have to talk to anyone. Regardless of your personal style, networking can be valuable. Ed Muzio shows you how to network keeping your own personal style in mind.
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My new favorite networking tool is LinkedIn.  Have you seen it?  I blew off the first two people who tried to get me to look at it, thinking it a novelty website.  (One of those people was my significant other… oops!)  But I kept hearing about it, so I finally gave it a look.  And after playing with it off and on for a few days, I went from thinking it a novelty to realizing that I needed a strategy to maximize its value for my business.  Check out my LinkedIn Profile, from which you can also start your own! 

Not surprisingly, this got me thinking about how networking relates to individual behavior.  Our behavior, of course, is how we engage with our surroundings.  Some of Group Harmonics’ most popular products involve measuring and understanding our own behavioral tendencies, and the tendencies of others.  Our clients use this knowledge to build everything from sales strategies to stellar teams.  But how does behavior relate to networking?

The answer, of course, varies with style.  Although our veteran readers know all about the limitations of four quadrant models, it can be useful in situations like this to think in terms of the four basic styles or types.  After all, your own tendencies directly impact how you approach networking (and everything else!).  So if you think that networking
          (1) wastes valuable work time,
          (2) is fun and exciting but hard to follow up with,
          (3) is too shmoozy and impersonal, or
          (4) is something you’d rather never ever do,
then click on your problem from the list, or just read on for ways to make it work for you!
[Author's note: We are receiving no compensation from Linkedin.com - We just like it!]

Problem 1:  Networking takes too long and wastes your time. 
“I’d rather be doing real work.  I’m too busy to be messing around just talking to people.” "I only want to talk to people if we have a reason to be talking and a goal for the conversation."  These are the answers you give to why you don't network more.

The catch is:  You know that in order to have that key conversation with the right person at the right moment, you have to know who the person is… and she has to return your call! 

The good news is:  You’re not at risk for spending too much time branching out inefficiently. 

So what?
Establishing relationships is important, but doing so at random feels like churn because you never know whether you’re forming a useful relationship, or wasting your time.  Small talk is a pain, and you never feel like you’re making any progress.  So, instead of unstructured banter, turn it into a game, and give yourself the sense of urgency you crave.

What to do:

  • Set a challenging goal:  “I’d like to meet six new people, and have lunch with one of them.” 

  • Add urgency:  “In the next three weeks.”

  • Get creative:  “One of them should be someone who can keep up with me.”

  • And pragmatic:  “Four of them should be in Industry X (or Department Y, or Geo Location Z, or…).”

  • Tie it to results:  “Because, someday I’m going to need to _____.”

  • Add rewards:  “If I succeed, I will reward myself by _____.”

  • Use LinkedIn:  See how fast you can grow your network.  See if you can grow yours faster than (or larger than) others you know.  Make side bets (as the law allows) with others.

  • Use your imagination: It’s a video game with real-world payoff… win it!
    [back to top]

Problem 2:  You love to talk to people.  That's a problem??
Networking is easy and fun.  You’ve got a huge network of contacts, and it feels like a mutual admiration society.  No problem here!!  …Except that, hmm, you seem to lose track of details, like phone numbers, and you may sometimes make commitments in the moment which aren’t really feasible in reality. 

The catch is:  You know that good networking means your network is available to you when you need it.  This means that you need to keep better track of contact information (so you can reach them), and do a better job of meeting your commitments or not making them (so you don’t appear flaky).

The good news is:  You’re part of the minority for whom traditional networking is a behavioral match!  You just need a few systems to help keep the pieces together.

So what?
“The devil is in the details.”  In this case, it’s in the details that can catch up with you.  If you don’t balance initiating new relationships with maintaining the ones you have, you may find yourself having the contact and the relationship... but no way to get in touch.

What to do:

  • Get a system:  Use a software program or an address book to keep contact information.  “Customer Relationship Management” or CRM software packages vary in price and functionality, but all can track names, dates, and to-dos.

  • Make a list:  Speaking of which… use your to-do list to make sure you deliver on commitments you verbalize.

  • Force yourself:  After each interaction (or event), block time in your calendar to do the boring data-entry part into your data management system.

  • Use the calendar:  Give yourself time-based ticklers to touch base with people at certain intervals. (CRM software can help you do this.)

  • Have fun:  Do something memorable.  As a discussion with a new contact comes to a close, hand over a second business card, folded in half.  “I am notorious for losing business cards, but I REALLY want to talk to you again.  This is my special no-call response card.  Just set it on your desk near your phone.  In two weeks, when I am sitting around wishing I hadn't lost your number, unfold and dial!"

  • Use LinkedIn:  “Link” to as many contacts as you can, that way you can always download their contact information.  All you need to remember is one password.

  • Use your imagination:  It’s like gears rotating together, the first meeting is never the last one.  When and how will you circle back around?
    [back to top]

Problem 3: You'd rather know a few people well than many superficially.
You’re not against getting to know someone new, but you object to the shmoozy feel of “business networking” meetings which barely scratch the surface and always feel like a “what can you do for me” situation.  You may also find yourself feeling put upon to do too many things in such meetings.

The catch is:  You know that relationships are important, and some of your closest friends began as business contacts.  Plus, you enjoy the chance to support projects that benefit everyone involved.

The good news is:  Your natural behavioral tendencies support long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.  You just need a method of initiating that is a bit more personal and feels less plastic to you.

So what?
In an ideal world, you’d like to slowly build trust with a few people at a time, over many interactions.  That’s not a bad instinct - you just need to make sure that you don’t “turn yourself off” before you get started.

What to do:

  • Be a real person:  Ignore traditional networking advice to stay business-oriented.  Share something personal about yourself.

  • Be honest:  Tell people you need to know something about them personally in order to establish a connection.  Then…

  • Be an interviewer:  Ask safe personal questions about the other person (where they’re from, what their favorite job ever was & why, if they have a favorite color, etc.)  Look for ways to experience the new contact as a unique human being – this will keep your interest up and make you want to connect.

  • Write to stay in touch:  This is a natural tendency of yours which the business world may have discouraged, but a simple “how are you” message will help keep the communication lines open.   When you do…

  • Be sure to ask a question:  Not everyone knows how to reply to a “just saying hello” e-mail.  But if you add a question – “how’d your last trip go, did you get to the ocean?” – it will inspire a reply and keep the 2-way flow going.

  • Use LinkedIn:  Check your messages and peruse your list of contacts from time to time to see who’s fallen out of touch, who has a new job, etc.  These are good opportunities to cultivate the relationships you already have, which feels more natural than going out looking for new ones.

  • Use your imagination:  You’re building a network of lifelong friends and colleagues.  Who’s next on the list?
    [back to top]

Problem 4:  You’re analytical, consistent, solitary, and data-driven.
People are emotional, unpredictable, talkative, and distracting.  You’d rather work twenty hours alone at your desk than one hour in a situation where you’re forced to meet new contacts, introduce yourself repeatedly, and hand out business cards.

The catch is:  Sometimes, it’s what you know, but sometimes, it’s who you know.  You don’t want to play politics, but you wouldn’t mind having a few people to call if you find yourself in a difficult situation.

The good news is:  You’re naturally organized and structured, so the problems of keeping track of people and their affiliations won’t plague you.  You’ve just got to initiate.

So what?
Unfortunately in today’s economy nobody really works alone.  If you enjoy solitary, analytical assignments, and you’ve found a position that allows that type of work, that’s great.  But it couldn’t hurt to strengthen your position with a few more contacts in key places.  After all, we all need good contingency plans.

What to do:  

  • Write a strategy:  Write down what you would gain by having a few new contacts.  What industries/geographies/departments would be best for you to target?  Why?

  • Approach carefully:  You don’t need to attend a “speed-meeting” format to start networking… in fact, doing so may make you uncomfortable.  Instead, start by asking those you know if they know anyone in the areas you’ve identified.

  • Trust a little:  When you ask your colleagues for contacts, ask not only for people in the areas you’re looking for, but also for “anyone else you think I should know.”  You may get some good ideas.

  • Write a schedule:  Be realistic; assign yourself a reasonable amount of networking activity, then complete it.

  • Use LinkedIn:  Read up on it before you join.  Then, build your network of trusted coworkers first, and see where it leads.  Track demographics of your network on the site, and see what strengths and weaknesses the trends tell you. 

  • Use your imagination:  Your network of contacts is your safety net in case of trouble.  Where are the strong spots? Where are the holes?

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