The Right Way to Network
If you find yourself networking like crazy online but nothing good ever seems to come of it, you’re not alone. The problem is that social networks reinforce the wrong kind of behavior for making real connections with people.
Think about what happens when you meet someone for the first time, say at a party. If you drone on and on about yourself, I guarantee the conversation won’t last very long. If, on the other hand, you are genuinely interested in the other person and vice versa, there’s a good chance you’ll make a lasting connection.
Now think about how social networks work. It’s all about you. Everything you post is either something you did, something you wrote or something you find interesting. No wonder there’s no real connecting going on. You may as well stand on a busy street and shout, “Me, me, me … it’s all about me!”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure you have plenty of friends, connections and followers. But that doesn’t mean anything relevant or important will ever come of them. Besides being incredibly lopsided, the way we communicate on social networks is also pretty superficial, to say the least.
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Take LinkedIn, for example. We’re always trying to link with people who we think can further our careers or our business. Meanwhile, others are trying to link with us for the same reason. A connection rarely occurs because it’s always one-sided. It reminds me of these lyrics from the J. Geils Band song “Love Stinks:”
You love her
But she loves him
And he loves somebody else
You just can’t win
Tell me LinkedIn isn’t just like that.
Fortunately, I learned to network, make genuine connections and build relationships with people long ago. You know, when we actually talked face-to-face. That’s right -- we used to have real conversations with real people in person. No kidding.
More importantly, I can attribute nearly every good thing that ever happened to me in a long and storied career to those relationships. All the opportunities, the jobs, the business – I can see it all sprawled out like an enormous tree where every branch represents a key relationship.
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Looking purely at the mechanics of how we communicate in the real world, it’s easy to see why it doesn’t work so well in the virtual one. Nevertheless, the only way to get anywhere in business and in life is to learn how to network effectively, connect with others and build real relationships. Here are some tips to help you do that:
It’s not about you; it’s about them. The only way to find out what you have in common is to have a genuine interest in them. You already know all about you. What you don’t know is anything about them. Just remember it’s not an interrogation. And don’t deflect when they ask about you. That’s when it’s cool to talk about yourself.
Be open and genuine. It’s one thing to have similar interests, but people only click when there’s more to it than that. It’s the genuine flaws in our personalities and our physical presence that makes us unique, the cracks in our armor that others find intriguing. That’s the whole problem with all the personal brands and online personas. They’re artificial, fake and boring.
Don’t be a bull in a china shop. While it’s good to be yourself, if you’re a naturally raucous or overbearing person, I wouldn’t go all in right off the bat, if you know what I mean. Give people a little time to adjust to your idiosyncrasies. I abhor political correctness, but you should still be aware of social cues and other’s boundaries. If you’re not sure of what’s appropriate, ask. It’s good to be reasonably direct.
It’s natural to connect with others. When we lived in caves a million years ago we learned that there’s strength and safety in numbers. That’s why we evolved as social creatures. That’s why we live in villages and cities. That’s why we work in organizations and companies. And that’s why it feels good to connect with others and build relationships. It’s natural.
Have a sense of humor. One of the most off-putting characteristics is when people take things or themselves too seriously. Try to lighten up. You don’t have to be formal as long as you’re not overly presumptuous. Getting to know people should be fun. Just relax and enjoy it.
Most importantly, remember that, if there’s no real connection between two people, nothing good will come of it. So quit wasting your time on lopsided and superficial virtual connections and start building real ones with real people in the real world. That’s the only way to network.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.