5 Ways to Become a Networking Champion (without Sounding Desperate)

Ever see those people who effortlessly network with industry leaders and potential clients and wonder how they do it?

Or maybe you just wish you had better friendships at work.

Developing more meaningful professional connections increases our relevance to the companies, organizations and industries we serve.  (And lack of connection looks a lot like Milton in Office Space being relegated to the basement clinging to his red stapler.)

The more connected we are, the more access we have to influence and information—which might just make us more valuable than our current job skills.

This post shares proven strategies for inspiring genuine engagement with the people that you meet professionally.

Be genuinely interested (or at least get good at faking it). 

Ever have a conversation where someone was looking over your shoulder to see if there was someone more important in the room? Contrast that experience with a person who seems like they really want to meet you.  Author, Sean Stephenson writes, "Connection comes into being the moment that one individual feels that another genuinely cares about him or her. As soon as this genuine caring energy is mutually experienced, the connection is reciprocated."

One of the fastest ways to create connection is to communicate caring.  Eye contact, warmth in our responses, deep listening and an open posture all prioritize the person with whom we are engaging. This is done non-verbally because walking up to someone and just saying I care about you out of the blue makes us sound like an awkward Hallmark Card.

Become aware of what you leak. 

Busyness, distraction, stress, judgment and boredom leak off of us. People can read it.

With the notable exceptions of spies and professional poker players, most of us reflect our mental and emotional states to the people we come in contact with—whether we want to or not.

It isn't enough just to put away our phone or to smile at people.  We have to have the discipline to shift our thoughts from criticism/worry to compassion/hope. Of course that can be a lifetime endeavor. A more immediate "fix" is to show up completely for the conversation we are having in order to leak attention.  Being fully present is a way to leak good stuff.

The other thing we need to leak? That we are of equal worth to the person we are speaking with.  You may have heard the term "impostor syndrome" which is where we fight feelings of inadequacy even in the face of evidence of our achievements. That insecurity can leak causing the other person to "downgrade" us in their assessment.  While fake confidence may come off as arrogance, having a positive sense of our professional value makes good business sense. It conveys that we are someone worth speaking to even if we don't share the same title or influence of the person in front of us.

Learn to ask better questions. 

We all know how annoying it is to be with someone who only talks about themselves.  We also know how hard it is to stand in front of someone at a complete loss for words.  Want to become a better conversationalist? Amp your game when it comes to asking questions.

Our brains are more interested in questions than they are with statements, and the best conversationalists know how to leverage them.  A great resource with a list of 235 questions for engaging people is the book, Power Questions by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas, but here are a few I use personally that I've found to be really effective:

  • What do you most love about what you do? 
  • What are you working on that really excites you at the moment? 
  • What is the heartbeat (or mission) of your company (or organization)? 
  • What ideas are inspiring you these days? 
  • What do you enjoy when you aren't at your day job? 

Draw them out by learning to prompt. 

Susan Murphy of Murphy Motivation coaches people in the art of  improving their business connections. She trains people to ask a single question, then to follow it up with statements that draw more out of the person sharing.  Phrases like: 
  • Tell me more. 
  • Go on. 
  • And then what happened? 
  • Could you share more about that? 
  • Why do you think that was significant?
Prompts for another person to give more information is an active listening skill and can be learned through practice. Clarifying phrases not only communicate interest, but they can also cause the person to share valuable intel. Murphy says that it takes a conscious effort to pay attention to other people. Which is valuable. It can make your career.

Express gratitude for someone else. 

Stephen Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust communicates the things we do that build trust and the things we do that tear it down.  Covey warns of the damage watercooler bad-mouthing does to our "trust bank accounts."  Why? Because everyone knows that someone who is critical of another person can easily be critical of you. It creates distrust.

On the other hand, this principle also works in reverse.  When we express gratitude for others, it not only sparks positive energy in the current conversation, it also conveys something about who we are as a person.  Verbalizing gratitude for a co-worker, industry leader—or even something more immediate like showing appreciation for the service of a waiter—engenders trust.

Engaging these connection strategies, might feel awkward at first—much like a new yoga pose—but the more we practice, the more it becomes muscle memory.  Besides...

Every career opportunity that comes our way will be through a human connection.  (tweet this)

So pick just one of these methods and put it in practice. It will help you make more meaningful connections which can benefit your career and increase your value.

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