How to Network

I was astonished to learn recently that several of my friends have closed their Facebook accounts because they didn’t like the trivial nature of the information supplied by their Facebook friends.  Of course, this is what I love—I’m the one who would rather hear what you are having for lunch than what you think of the health care bill, only because the second thing is such a minefield.  If Facebook is like the route you travel to work or school every day, then “what’s for dinner” is the small talk that makes each day a little more pleasant.  Just FYI, I like the photos of your pets and kids as well.

Networking takes many more forms than ever before.  But at the core of all networking is the act of connecting with another human on the basis of a shared moment.  Whether it’s online or on line in the local bakery, there are some basic networking skills and tools that will help you develop acquaintanceships that have friendship and networking potential.

  1. Show interest wherever you go, whoever you meet.  Curiosity is crucial to networking; if you aren’t interested in someone you can’t really hide that fact.  Be interested and you won’t even have to be interesting.
  2. Don’t assume anything.  We all think we want to look like we are insiders who have special insight, info, or connections.  Looking or acting like you have all that will help you?  Exactly how?  People use their influence for folks they want to help. . . and they decide who qualifies, not you.
  3. Write or speak with eye contact and a smile.  You don’t have to have a conversation with everyone, but think of yourself as one who promotes good will.  How to make figurative eye contact online?  Speak directly to the point and acknowledge the other(s).  And be nice.
  4. Before you friend someone online, or hand over your business card if you are in person, write a note (on it, if it is a real card), or somehow personalize the offering.
  5. When asked about your self, be modest, be moderate, be brief, and return the conversation to the other person or turn it to a third or fourth person who is present.  Don’t worry, you’ll be noticed and you’ll be remembered.
  6. Choose subjects that are easy, fun, neutral, interesting.  Of course, if your hobby or motives are political, you may want to educate.  And if that is the case, what you really want is the opportunity to change someone’s mind—so you’ll want to ask for permission to try to do so, and respect a firm no.  Wanting to be known as mean, stupid, pushy, arrogant, strident, closed-minded, or incredibly naïve would be an unusual networking goal.
  7. Practice, practice, practice.  Networking is another word for making new acquaintanceships (or renewing old connections) that may turn into friendships.  You cannot do it without taking risks.  You will make mistakes and from time to time you will look clumsy or awkward.  But you’ll get better at it, if you practice.
  8. Do not take things too personally.  Not everyone wants to friend you; not everyone shares your interests and some folks are more awkward and less skilled at this than you are.  The immediacy of a moment in time makes it all look more dramatic than it really is.
  9. Organize and record your contacts and your network connections.  Online, social networking sites do this for you—sort of.  Organize your information according to what you want and need, not what Facebook or LinkedIn thinks is best.
  10. Spend time and effort getting better at making friends.  Remember your mistakes and don’t make them again; seek opportunities to improve.

But don’t be so quick to close those accounts.  Experiment with what you have; try out a newer version of you, ask others how they solve what you think is the problem of excessive information that isn’t crucial to your day.  We’re all so different; that’s what makes a network strong.  Time management does figure into effective networking, and you do have to sort and pick, and choose, and sometimes even ignore.

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