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ClearWorth on Networking

Networking is much more than a casual conversation at a conference or the local business breakfast event. The collection of business cards might grow after such occasions but that doesn’t mean the network has increased, flourished or – most importantly – become more useful.

Networking happens inside and outside the organisation. Establishing contacts and connections with the outside world is a healthy pursuit but the relationships inside the organisation are just as important for survival and growth.

In ClearWorth we describe networking as “friendship with a purpose”. Some people in the network may indeed be, or become, real friends in the social sense of the word…and we shouldn’t confuse the term “friend” with that idly clicked button on the social network which increases the numbers on your profile. Hundreds of “friends” in that context is meaningless – and frequently means just more pointless posts in your inbox when you already have enough to do.

So, “friendship with a purpose”: Networking has a distinct purpose – your professional, personal and business growth. Every contact, connection and relationship has the potential to be useful in your business world – whether that’s as a manager or leader within an organisation or as the leader or owner of your own organisation.

Our term for the network is another version of WWW – your Work Wide Web. This is your personal structure of people that you are connected to in some way or another with the specific purpose of their being useful to you. But – and this is a vital point that many network builders miss – you also have to be useful to them. The currency of networks is the exchange of information, ideas, skills, connections and leads. This is a trading system. You have something to offer them and they have something to offer you. The exchange may well not be simultaneous but an expectation of exchange underpins the networking culture. This is quid pro quo – something for something or this for that.

So the question should not just be “What can the network do for me?” but also “What can I do for my network?”. Therein lies one of the most important, but again often forgotten, skills of networking. The ability to ask questions, listen and understand people so that you can identify areas of common ground, things that might be of interest to them, motives and drivers which make them tick – all the things that normal friendship conversations might include but in a more focussed way in a shorter amount of time.

But first you need to make the human connection. To build rapport and tune into their wavelength you need to understand and match how they work and operate in interactions and conversations. Without this first step you will be like a badly matched couple on the dance floor – both feeling awkward, bumping into each other and waiting for the music to end so that it will be over.

You cannot change their behaviour and the way they operate – but you can change yours. Being able to adapt and adjust the way you speak, the speed you operate at, the amount you talk versus listen, the way you construct your sentences, the topics you tend to include are all aspects of emotional, behavioural and political intelligence. Developing your intelligence means becoming more conscious of what you do and how you do it as well as why you think a certain way and how that affects your behaviour.

You are looking to increase your impact and influence with this person. But there’s a problem with those two words. They both suggest you will be pushing things at them in some way – trying to get your message across, trying to create an impression, trying to enter their thoughts and consciousness. In fact, the very opposite is true if you want lasting, sustainable impact and influence - and notice the similarity to friendship here - they have to like and trust you. To do this they have to feel you are interested in them in some way, not that they are just a spectator at your “listen to things about me” show.

curiosity

Are you really interested?

Curious listening is a term we use in ClearWorth to remind people that being genuinely curious and interested is the way to both build these relationships and learn a whole lot more about them, you and the world at large. People who operate in broadcast mode learn nothing. People who think listening means waiting for a chance to tell their story are the same. Staying tuned in, focussed on them and truly seeking to understand rather than be understood is the key.

The Four Most Important Questions for Networking Meetings

Ask yourself these four questions about the person you want to connect with: -

  1. How do they operate in group interactions and meetings? Do they lead the conversations and think aloud or take a more reserved approach, think before they speak and do more listening than speaking?
  2. How detailed are their conversations and contributions? When speaking, do they give a lot of detail, facts and data or do they tend towards headlines, trends and concepts?
  3. How do they decide? Do they only consider the logical data or do they think about how people will feel?  Does “right” for them mean logically correct or socially correct?
  4. How do they structure schedules, meetings and time? Do they have an organised approach with written plans and objectives or do they operate more flexibly and respond or react to things as they emerge?

The answer to each question guides you in how to operate when you are working with them and seeking to build your personal impact and influence.

  1. If they tend to initiate discussions and conversations then you will have lots of information to work with. Get ready to do a lot of talking and listening. If, on the other hand, they tend to wait for others to speak first and like to think before they speak you’ll need to slow down, ask careful questions and wait for the answers. Don’t be tempted to jump in and answer for them.
  2. If they give detailed answers and like to get things absolutely right you’ll need to be sure of your facts and provide the details they like. If, instead, they tend to provide short answers with impressions and implications rather than detailed descriptions you need to speak less and choose your words carefully – they have a low threshold of boredom...
  3. When they are talking about decisions made or choices to consider do they seem logical and rational? Think Star Trek and Mr Spock. No use telling him people will love it – no emotions just the logic. Or do they seem to be interested in the effects on people, social values and how people feel?  If you want them to buy you and your idea then your proposal will need to fit their decision making criteria.
  4. Do they have timetables or do they seem to let things evolve and emerge and go with the flow? The way they talk about their schedules, deadlines and plans will give you strong clues. Do they know what they’re doing tomorrow or haven’t yet thought about it?  If they’re very structured you’re going to suggest a time and date for the future and they’ll know if it’s possible. If they are more flexible in outlook don’t expect a firm date and be prepared to do the chasing to get the next meeting.

Remember it’s not about you it’s about them...seek first to understand then be understood.