Many people (including me) offer advice on what it takes to be better at networking. One thing often is left out of that equation, however: Networking involves interacting with others, so it's worth asking what the average person believes it takes to become great. If we want to make the kind of impression that works to build a powerful personal network, we must be cognizant of others' expectations and adjust our behavior accordingly.
I recently gathered nearly 3,400 survey responses from business people around the world. I listed roughly 20 different characteristics and asked respondents to pick the behaviors they’d most like to see in a great networker. From this sample, I've identified the seven top characteristics and ranked them in order, according to survey answers.
1. Be a good listener.
At the top of the list is being a good listener. Our success in networking depends on how well we can listen and learn. The faster you and your networking partner learn what you need to know about each other, the faster you’ll establish a valuable relationship.
A good networker has two ears and one mouth -- and should use them proportionately. When you're engaged in conversation, listen to the other person's needs and concerns so you can find opportunities to help him or her. In many ways, networking is about connecting the dots. Listening will enable you to help people make the connections they seek.
2. Develop a positive attitude.
Your attitude, or how you take things in general, is the first thing people see from you. A consistently negative attitude makes people dislike you and drives away referrals. By contrast, a positive attitude makes people want to cooperate and associate with you. This is why positive business professionals are like magnets. Others want to be around them and will send their friends and family to them, too.
Related: How to Stay Positive at Work
3. Collaborate to serve others.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Helping people puts that care into action so others can see it at work. One survey respondent said “people want to network with individuals who have a collaborative attitude.” You can help others in a variety of ways, from e-mailing a relevant article to putting them in touch with someone who has the knowledge or access to assist them with a specific challenge.
Several respondents commented they didn't want to network with people who are "in it for themselves." A willingness to collaborate is essential to building trust and establishing strong relationships.
4. Be sincere and authentic.
You can offer the help, the thanks and the listening ear, but if you aren't sincerely interested in another person, she or he will know it! People who've developed successful networking skills convey sincerity at every turn. One respondent said "it's all about the authenticity" that someone shows you. We've all seen people who are seemingly good at networking but lack sincerity. Faking it isn’t sustainable.
5. Follow up.
If you offer opportunities to someone who consistently fails to follow up, you'll soon stop wasting your time with this person. It doesn't matter if your call to action is a simple piece of information, a special contact or a qualified business referral. One respondent said that when it comes to networking, “the fortune lies in the follow up” and many people just “don’t follow up anymore.”
6. Prove your trustworthiness.
One respondent said it best: “It doesn’t matter how successful the person is, if I don’t trust them, I don’t work with them.” When you give a personal reference, you're putting your reputation on the line. You must be able to trust your referral partner and be trusted in return. Neither you nor anyone else will refer a contact to someone who can’t be trusted to handle it well.
7. Be approachable.
One respondent said people “will forget what you said and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel." Effective networking starts with approachability -- and while this characteristic appears last on the list, everything flows from this manner of thought and action.
Each of the characteristics in this article ties into the notion of “farming,” not “hunting.” It's about building mutually beneficial business relationships. Only then will you succeed in creating a powerful, personal network.
As a young man, I studied under Warren Bennis. At the time, he was the world's foremost expert on leadership. He taught me that understanding the characteristics of a great leader is important, but it's even more important to understand how to apply those characteristics. "Know what you are good at and work to enhance those skills," he told me. "Know what you’re not good at and surround yourself with people who can help you improve those skills."
The same holds true with networking. Working to better your skills and learning how to use them effectively is what really counts.