Let me ask you… does the idea of networking feel uncomfortable, shallow or fake to you?
Business networking can get a bad rap because the intention behind it – either the networking itself, or the abundance of networking advice floating around – tends to lack the human connection that makes networking both successful and meaningful (or perhaps, as we’ll discuss further along, successful because it is meaningful).
What’s often left out of discussions around networking in business are the authentic relationships that form a strong network. Instead, the focus is often on advantage – what you can get out of certain connections.
But, it’s business, right? You’re building a client base, forming partnerships, getting your brand out there… you can’t do that effectively if you’re just out there making friends.
Yes! And not only is that possible, focusing on the human side of networking – essentially, making friends – will actually create a much more advantageous network.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- Why do we network in business?
- Why does authentic connection matter?
- The advantages of networking in business with heart-led intention
- 7 successful networking tips for genuine connection
Why Do We Network in Business?
What is the most important factor in business networking? It’s the relationships. Any business professional, from students to C-suite execs can tell you that relationships are critical in just about every line of business.
Why do these relationships matter? Here’s where you’ll get different answers from different people, but the heart of it is that relationships matter in business because of how you can support each other. Some people will see that as one-sided (what can I get), whereas others see it from a communal perspective (what can we do for each other).
Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, you can benefit from asking yourself how strong, beneficial relationships are actually cultivated. That’s where you’ll find the answer to better networking approaches that lead to authentic connections.
Why Does Authentic Connection Matter?
The importance of networking in business really does hinge on the quality of the relationships you build. If all you’re doing is collecting contact information and scoring up facetime, you’re not creating value for yourself or anyone else.
A strong business network operates a bit like a hive (only a bit). The people within it genuinely want each other to succeed. They support each other, share information and resources, introduce each other to important contacts, think of each other when opportunities arise, and even seek to protect each other.
Let’s say, for example, an opportunity comes across the desk of a business acquaintance. It isn’t right for them, but it would be perfect for you. They would only really know how perfect it is for you if you have a strong relationship built on trust and openness. They might also only think to share it with you if an authentic relationship exists. Without it, it’s not necessarily that they would be actively keeping it from you; you just wouldn’t cross their mind, even if you were connected on LinkedIn, had met at a tradeshow, and had mutual connections. Without that authentic connection, you won’t be holding space in each other’s minds.
Furthermore, authentic connections aren’t just about moment-to-moment opportunities. They’re also about the health and vibrancy of the business community overall. You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘a rising tide lifts all ships’. When one organization experiences success or good fortune, and IF they have authentic connections with other organizations – connections that have them genuinely and actively wanting others to thrive as well – that success gets spread around.
Without authentic connections, we end up with ‘every person for themselves’ environments, or small pockets of tight bonds and cliques that serve each other, but keep everyone else out. That leads to weaknesses in the overall health of the economy and community.
In fact, that ‘every person for themselves’ approach has permeated our way of doing business for generations. And look where it’s gotten us. The past 2 decades alone have seen 3 significant economic recessions, trust in leadership is at historic lows, and just the past 2 years have seen crisis after crisis after crisis, all of which have impacted business in one way or another.
It’s clear that we need to change the way we do business, and I believe that in order to do that, it’s critical that we change the way we see each other – on a human level – in business. Changing our approach to networking is part of that.
The Advantages of Networking in Business with Heart-led Intention
So… we need to focus our networking efforts on cultivating authentic connections. We need to do that for the health of our businesses, our teams, our own careers, the business community in general, and… for our own well-being!
Nobody feels good about themselves when they are leading from a place of inauthenticity. Compartmentalizing yourself into a work persona and home persona can leave you feeling unfulfilled and burnt out.
However, when you lead from your heart – from a place of radical self-acceptance and alignment with your inner leader – you create meaning for yourself in all that you do. This sense of purpose and meaning cascades out like a domino effect, generating positive influence over the people around you.
When you approach networking with a heart-led leadership style, there’s nothing fake, shallow or insincere. The people around you sense – whether consciously or not – that you are a person of integrity, and genuine connection becomes possible.
At the end of the day, you are worthy of a strong, supportive network built on authentic connections, and so is everyone around you. Not only will you and your business be better for it, the world around you gets a little better as well.
How do we put all this into practice? What does it look like to network from the heart? Here are x professional networking tips and tricks to guide you.
7 Successful Networking Tips for Genuine Connection
- Prepare your pitch (but don’t always give it)
One of the best networking tips is to have a solid pitch prepared in advance. It’s an oldie, but a goodie, IF you know when to give it and when to hold back. First off, why do you need a pitch for networking and how does that make things authentic? For networking purposes, you want to cultivate what’s known as an elevator pitch. Imagine you find yourself in an elevator with someone you’ve been dying to meet with. You have mere seconds to pitch your product, company, self… how do you do it? Think about what you do differently, what problem you solve, what benefit you create for people, what’s unique about what you do or how you do it. For example, if I just say I’m a coach, that leaves things open to the person’s interpretation. There are plenty of coaches out there. What makes me unique? Instead, I might say something like, “You know how many of us wear these masks of who we think we should be, especially at work? That’s behind a lot of the burnout and disengagement we’re seeing. I help people reconnect with their authentic selves and learn to practice radical self-acceptance, so that they can bring their true selves forward, no matter the situation, and experience the joy of building a life rooted in wholeness. “What does this have to do with authenticity? Your pitch (or rather, your purpose) still matters in an authentic connection, but you don’t want it to dominate the conversation, or you risk losing people. When you have a well cultivated, short and sweet pitch, it’s impactful without taking over. When do you give it? When you’re asked! When you approach a new contact, aim to do so with curiosity. Be the one asking questions and truly listening. Hold back your pitch until they ask you.
- Stay curious.
Curiosity is how we truly get to know people and how we initiate connection. When you ask people about themselves and what matters to them, and genuinely listen, they feel heard and valued. The key is, it must come from the heart. If it isn’t genuine, people feel that and it puts up barriers to connection. Beyond asking questions, think about the purpose behind getting to know people – the value and richness it brings to your life to know another person and to widen your own understanding of the world around you. When you fully embrace the richness of connection, your curiosity is genuine and heartfelt. And people feel that too.
- Follow up with purpose.
We all know it’s a good practice to follow up after meeting someone new, but when you’re interested in creating an authentic connection, that follow up must be more than a formality. If you meet a lot of people, it’s ok to have a standard email template for follow up so long as you personalize it for each new connection. Mention something non-business related about the circumstances in which you met, for example, “It was great meeting you at the mixer yesterday. I hope you didn’t get caught in the rain storm on your way out! “It’s also a good practice to ‘share and ask’. Share something meaningful and business-related, and ask for their input as well. That could sound like, “I found this article written by yesterday’s speaker that dives into the concept more. It really got me thinking about positive changes we could be making in our org! What are your thoughts? “Being able to do this well will depend heavily on how well you leaned into curiosity during your initial meeting, so be sure not to skip that tip ;)
- Look beyond the networking event.
When we think about networking, we tend to think about those classic business networking events. The tradeshows, the seminars, the conferences, and so on. You absolutely can make genuine connections at these events, and I do recommend taking advantage of these opportunities. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking these are your only opportunities. Look beyond these events for the everyday opportunities to connect with people. Take the extra few minutes to chat with your FedEx delivery person. If you have an upcoming meeting that doesn’t need to be at a conference table, suggest an outdoor walking meeting to keep things casual and get the conversation flowing. Get involved with a group like Toastmasters, or find where your skills intersect with a nonprofit organization and volunteer your time. Join groups on LinkedIn that interest you and that have active participation. Talk to people at the gym or join a recreational sports league. Take a class. Teach a class! Open your mind to possibilities beyond the typical networking event.
- Make your social circle a little more INefficient.
In her 2017 TED Talk, organizational psychologist Tanya Menon shared tips and insights for expanding professional networks. One of her most accessible tips is to intentionally work inefficiency into your existing social sphere. What does that mean? It means changing up your routines so that you run into different people. Go to different cafes to pick up your coffee. Change up your route to work. Take walks at different times of the day. Sit with different people in the lunchroom. Our routines are efficient because we can do them on auto-pilot. But, not only do they often prevent us from widening our social circle, they can also unintentionally close our minds to a lot of different perspectives and ways of thinking, even within ourselves.
- “I appreciate you.”
If you watched the hit show, Ted Lasso, you probably noticed Ted’s unique and heartwarming way of saying thank you: “I appreciate you.” It’s so impactful. It’s not just appreciating what the person can do for you, but appreciating them as a human being. It’s also memorable and connection-creating. Adopt the “I appreciate you” route and/or think of other ways you can word common phrases to make their meaning more genuine. For example, instead of “How are you”, try “What’s coming up in your world these days?” Instead of “Thanks for following up” you might try “It’s always great to connect with you.” Instead of “It was nice meeting you” try “I’m glad we know each other now. “Especially when it comes to those common, tired, lost-of-all-meaning phrases we use, both in our personal and professional lives, finding a fresh and more genuine way of saying things can help spark a true connection.
- Schedule relationship-building time.
We all need to be doing more of this in our professional networks and, let’s face it, probably in our personal relationships as well. We get so busy and distracted that it’s normal for us to take relationships for granted. As part of your time-ownership practice, intentionally schedule time slots for relationship building. This can mean booking actual meet ups or phone calls, but on a more basic and accessible level, it can also mean going through your contacts to think about who you’d really like to connect with and maybe shoot them an email to see how they’re doing. It can also mean taking time to think about what’s been going on in your work or in the world lately, and see who comes to mind in your network that you could reach out to. Keep going back to curiosity. Who can you ask? Who do you want to know better? Who can teach you something or give a different perspective? Who can you offer support to? The fact is, if we don’t schedule this, we don’t do it, and that’s where a lot of potentially meaningful connections can go stale.
- Be active and intentional in online networks.
Networks like LinkedIn and Facebook still have a lot to offer in terms of making genuine connections. The key is that you have to be consistent and intentional in how you use them. If you’re like many people, there’s a good chance you haven’t freshened up your LinkedIn profile in a while. Remember, your profile is more than a CV. It’s an opportunity to really showcase who you are, what matters to you, your strengths, your interests, your expertise, and the value that you bring. Is that shining through in your profile right now? If not, time for a tune up! Next is to look at how you’re interacting. It matters to people when someone comments on their posts, especially if it’s to ask a question. Just as you would in a real life interaction, aim to show up with curiosity first and foremost. Yes, share your own posts, insights, ideas, and so on. But, make curiosity your default to spark connections.
- Be a giver (and learn how to identify takers).
This tip is about protecting yourself as a heart-led networker. Givers create success and connection. In fact, givers are so good at creating success that their way of being can impact entire organizations. The downside, however, is that givers are at high risk of burning out in the presence of takers. I highly recommend watching this TED Talk from organizational psychologist Adam Grant to get a better understanding of givers, takers and why awareness of each type matters. It’s probably obvious why being a giver would help you create more solid connections. After all, it’s nice – and memorable – when people do things for you. As a heart-led networker, being a giver, with no expectation of receiving anything in return, can lead to some pretty amazing connections that bring so much richness to your life. Just be aware of takers. They are your kryptonite. Practice recognizing them, understand that they often don’t reveal themselves right away, and commit to avoiding those relationships and letting go of any that are currently in your life. Takers are not a healthy part of a strong network.
- Speak your truth.
Honesty and openness are the foundations of genuine connections. Speaking your truth might mean disagreeing with someone, but that doesn’t mean alienating a potential connection. In fact, respectful disagreements can sometimes lead to the best conversations! Just ask the man who had the courage to tell THE Richard Branson what he was doing wrong :)Don’t shy away from your truth. Practice speaking your truth respectfully, and embracing your truth as a worthy part of your inner experience. Understand that opening up about your perspective can be a great start to inviting others to open up about theirs. It’s about showing up with integrity, not hiding parts of yourself to please others, but opening yourself up for others to connect with you in authentic ways that lead to stronger relationships.
Professional networking is only shallow if that’s your approach. Remember, the one thing you always control, in any situation, is how you show up. Show up with the intention to create genuine connections – to make friends! Forget that old transactional idea of making ‘the right’ connections and shift your mind to making real connections. That’s how we start doing things differently, so that we can create different things.
If you would like help developing your networking skills, or those of your leadership team, I invite you to connect with me.