”I have come to believe that connecting is one of the most important business- and life- skill sets you’ll ever learn. Why? Because, flat out, people do business with people they know and they like”.
Reading Keith Ferrazzi’s words in his book “Never Eat Alone”, I thought about how long it took me to understand what he was talking about. Looking back on the eleven years I have been living in Prague, I can think of the many interesting and influential people that I have had the luck and privilege of meeting. I also have to admit that without these wonderful people, I would never have enjoyed even half the personal and professional successes that I have been fortunate to achieve.
Why? Because it is much easier to make a sale, build a partnership or find a job with people that we already know than it is with people we have just met.
People with a large circle of contacts, mentors and friends know that you must reach out to others long before you need any help from them. That is why it is preferable to establish a relationship and build a network before you need it. If you start reaching out to others only when you need a new job or a recommendation for a project, chances are that you won’t get very far.
In 1974 sociologist Mark Granovetter discovered that although personal contacts are the key to opening doors, the most powerful contacts are not our family and close friends. On the contrary, the most important people in our social and professional network are our acquaintances, for the simple reason that our closest friends and connections go to the same parties and generally move into the same circles we do. That is why they seldom know information that we don’t already know. People with whom we share a less significant tie with, on the other hand, usually move in a different world than we do. They associate with different people and have different interests and hobbies.
Malcom Gladwell expands on this idea in his book “The Tipping Point” where he writes: “…acquaintances, in short, represent a source of social power, and the more acquaintances you have, the more powerful you are.” The key is not only to know a lot of people, but to know many people from various backgrounds who move in different social and professional circles.
While most of us would agree that having a network of people, be they friends or professional connections, is vital to achieving our goals, the majority of us would also acknowledge that we have no idea about how to go about creating this network.
Step one: Meeting people
- Get out and join a social group. You won’t meet anyone by staying in the office and working on your computer. Become an active member of a business association such as a chamber of commerce or other interest group. Get involved and volunteer your time and expertise. We feel most comfortable when we are doing something we enjoy with others who share our enthusiasm. Any hobby, be it politics, sports, music or public speaking, is an opportunity to get involved. And when you think you’re ready, become one of the leaders of the group. The experience will give you great exposure as well as the chance to keep on improving your social skills.
- Do your homework and get organized. Before going to any social gathering or professional event, do some research so that you’ll know what to expect once you’re there. Find out who is supposed to be at the event and make a point of introducing yourself. Once you have made their acquaintance, be sure to follow up with a quick email or telephone call the next day.
- Make it a goal to introduce yourself to at least one new person every week. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the metro, at the airport, in the office, or at the pub after work. The purpose of this exercise is to motivate you to talk to someone you’ve never met before. The worst thing that can happen is you’ll get a cold shoulder. At best, you may meet someone interesting and make a new friend. Regardless of what happens, it’s a fantastic learning situation.
Making a connection with people is a never-ending process of giving and receiving. You ask for help and are asked for help. One surefire way of boosting your profile and expanding your network of contacts is to find ways to make other people more successful. To reap the rewards of networking, you often have to give more than you get in return.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton is renowned for having mastered this. Keith Ferrazzi describes him as someone who “has a unique ability to create an almost instantaneous intimacy with whomever he’s talking to. Clinton just doesn’t recall your personal information; he uses the information as a means to affirm a bond with you”
Not everyone can interact with people the way Bill Clinton does. However, we can all learn to make the connection with others easily and comfortably.
Step two: Connecting with others
- Reach out and initiate the connection in a friendly manner. It will make others instantly like you, since most of us are shy and uncomfortable when we have to make the first move.
- Share your passion. Our passions and hobbies are what make us interesting to other people. Unless you’re Steve Jobs and business is your passion, most of us are usually more animated when we speak about our personal interests than when we talk about our jobs.
- Listening and showing interest in the people you meet is obviously one of the surest ways to make the connection. We all appreciate people who make an effort to listen to our ideas and opinions.
- Follow up. Once you have met someone new, be sure to keep the connection alive by following up with a short email or a phone call after the meeting. How many business cards do you usually give away over the course of an evening and how many people have actually taken the time to get in touch with you afterwards?
- Be prepared to share your own network. If you want people to send business and referrals your way, you’ll need to offer the same in return. The more business you feed to other people, the more they will feed back to you.
- From building new contacts to making new friends, learning to connect with others is an invaluable skill that will consistently present you with new opportunities. And the rewards you’ll gain by sound networking will outnumber the occasional dead-ends or disappointments you’ll sometimes run into.
Before you know it, you will have sharpened your communication skills, be exchanging ideas and information with diverse groups of people and be uncovering new and exciting opportunities, often in the most unexpected situations.
Ultimately, to connect means to contribute: to your friends and family; to the company you work for; to your clients and suppliers; and to your community. If you see your connection with others as a vehicle for enhancing the quality of your life and theirs, you will enjoy meeting new people and be inspired by the new experiences that will be created.
Originally published in Prague Leaders Magazine.