Strong networking has the potential to greatly enhance one’s career or business prospects. Being connected to individuals who are knowledgeable, forward-thinking and open to giving and receiving value can boost visibility, profitability, influence and impact.
“Your network equals your net-worth,” is popular quote in many professional networks. The premise is that the sum total of each person’s knowledge and connections adds value to the rest of the network and if one cannot meet a need a member of the network has, they know someone who can and are happy to give referrals.
Having belonged to various professional networks over the years, I strongly believe networking is one of the best ways to initiate and build lasting and fruitful professional or business relationships. There’s something to be said about being connected to a healthy network of progressive individuals who share similar values.
Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of mutual respect and reciprocated needs. Difficult as it may be to admit, there are times when your net-worth can decrease as a result of your network. It is during times like these that a network health-check and evaluation of reciprocations is needed to determine whether or not your connections are beneficial to your mission, vision or life purpose.
Whether you belong to an existing network or are considering setting up a new network of like-minded and forward-thinking professionals, here are 5 ways to ensure you get the best out of the experience.
1. Be Intentional
In the context of this piece, being intentional is being absolutely clear about what you want to achieve as a result of belonging to the network and what value you will add with your presence and contributions. The clarity of your intentions will guide your actions and communications during your interactions with other members. It will also determine whom and what you attract within the network and the quality and longevity of the relationships you build.
2. Be Strategic
Do more than swap business cards. Connect and build solid relationships. Offer support and follow through on your offer(s). If your intentions are clear from the beginning, you will be able to pinpoint the connections you want to make and create mutually beneficial relationships. It’s important to be relational but as nice as it is to be relational and to network for connections, remember that professional networking is ultimately transactional. Make a clear distinction between what you want and what the objectives of the network you belong to are. If they are not in alignment, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the network. It simply means you need to exit and find your tribe.
3. Be Proactive
Be an initiator. Say hello first. Approach others without being pushy. Sometimes people are quiet because they are shy or don’t know what to say. Don’t ignore them because they didn’t come to you first. Initiate conversations with non-threatening body language and dialogue. If you don’t know how to or networking fills you with dread, read or listen to books on relationship-building like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie or watch Julian Treasure’s TED Talk,How To Speak So That People Want To Listen. Alternatively, take personality tests like DISC or NERIS Analytics’ 16 Personalities test to learn how you are wired and how to relate with people wired differently than you. You may be a ‘reserved’ personality in a network full of ‘dominant’ characters and feel disconnected when all you need is a better understanding of how to interact and communicate with different personality types.
If you need a product, service or connection that someone in your network can assist with, ask for it. But remember that relationship is everything. It is easier to make requests where good rapport already exists. Otherwise people will feel used and shut you out.
4. Be a Listener
An African proverb says, “We were given one mouth and two ears so we can listen more than we speak.” This proverb rings true in building relationships where others feel heard, understood and valued. Ask questions and listen to what people say. To avoid misunderstandings, clarify what you don’t understand or what is unclear. If they don’t ask for it, ask others if they are open to receiving help from you. If they say no, don’t be offended. They are probably being as strategic as you are. Where requested, share information freely. Remember that if this is not reciprocated you may need to evaluate whether the network you are in is the right one for you.
5. Be a Giver
In relationship-building or networking, there’s nothing as annoying as someone who always wants something but never offers anything. To build rapport or be a magnet for opportunities, be a giver. Offer value. Bring more to the table than what you want and want others can do for you. The law of sowing and reaping is highly operational in networking. The more you give, the more people are willing to give to you. Find out what people want and find a way to help them obtain it. In so doing, you sow seeds of opportunity that have the potential to yield immediately or further down the line.
What qualities do you think are important to possess in professional networking? Please feel free to share them in the comment box below.
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