Build your network or Build Meaningful Connections!
With the majority of my mentoring conversations the topic of how to build your network will come up. Most people know that they should network and most (usually the introverts) also feel a sense of dislike and perhaps even fear at the thought of having to network. I provide an alternative and educate people that instead of networking, BMC = Build Meaningful Connections instead! BMC starts in the opposite order where you first make connections, then you make them meaningful, then you guild on them.
You need to start by making connections. For introverts, this can be the most frightening part. The thought of having to go out and meet people, some potentially random strangers is pretty scary. Talking to the person beside you on the bus. The person in front of you in a line. The person that got into the elevator with you. You might consider initiating that conversation impossible. But if it were possible, what would you do? You might:
- just say hi and make a comment on the weather (“Hi. Nice weather outside isn’t it?”)
- notice something they are wearing or carrying. (“Hi. I noticed the bag you’re holding. Could I ask where you got it from?”)
- comment on a circumstance you are both experiencing (“Wow, this line is taking forever isn’t it?”)
- or something else
They may not respond, but typically with sense of social courtesy they do. And at that point your goal is done; you made a connection! And you know what? nothing bad happened! Then you do it again. And again. Maybe changing up your approach. Perhaps engaging in another question or comment back to them. The point is to practice so that you start to lose the anxiety of initiating that conversation. That way when you have to initiate a conversation with someone you deem important, then you’ve already had a bunch of practice to build your network.
Once you get into the habit of making connections, you want to start turning them into meaningful connection. Perhaps relating the conversation to something personal. Offering up something personal on your side as a good way of have someone relate to you as you tend to only share person information with friends.
- “The weather is nice indeed.” “I hope it holds up because I’m going to the botanical garden later today”
- “Oh, I got this bag on a trip to Portugal” “Portugal? Oh, I have a friend that’s going there later this year”
- “They are taking their time” “I guess it could be worse as I was here last year and decided to go to the place next door”
Here is where you start developing your conversational skills. If you respond with a statement, it makes it harder for them to answer. And if you respond with a question, all they need to do is answer the question.
Being interested and curious about them also helps make the conversation meaningful. Being inquisitive. Saying “that’s interesting, tell me more” and just wanting to learn more will allow the person to talk about everyone’s favourite subject: themselves! Too many people try to engage in a conversation to be interesting. Where as spending time being interested can go much further in having a great conversation.
Just like with making connections, making that connection meaningful takes practice. And take time to reflect on what works for you. I previously hated networking as I associated it with small-talk and idle chit-chat. Though when I reflected what worked for me, I found that when I spent a lot of time listening and learning from them and then found ways to help and value to the other person (essentially mentoring them) then those would be fantastic conversations. You’ve made meaningful connections before with your current set of friends, so find a way that works for you. Providing help and value to others is one sure way to make the connection meaningful and build your network.
Now that you have connections and some are meaningful, building on them will help them stay meaningful. To deepen the relationship, reconnecting with that person ever 4-9 months or so will help maintain it as a meaningful connection. You can reconnect every 4 months if you had a strong connection with that person). Make it closer to 10 months if it wasn’t that strong. Plus 4 and 9 are just generalizations so you can connect sooner or later depending on your own preference.
When you reconnect, give them an update of the advice they gave you. Whether you read that article or book they told you to read. Or attend that event. Or message the person that they suggested. If you reconnected with that person every 5 months for the next 5 or even 50 years, imagine how meaningful that connection would be
Connect before you need a job
Building your network takes time and effort especially if you want the connections to be meaningful. So make sure you connect before you need a job. Add value to them. And if at any point you do need to ask them for help, then they’ll be more likely to return the favor. If you can add value without the expectation of any favors being returned, then those will probably be the most meaningful connections of all. So now that you know the fundamentals, go out and BMC!
Check out the follow-on posts on:
- Connections: Networking – How to start: Practice, put in the effort and learn
- Meaningful: Making connections meaningful
- Build: Build on your connections
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