Four steps to smarter networking

Even if an industry leader refuses to be your mentor, simply asking again can have positive results

To break from the crowd and build more effective connections, use these simple strategies.

Career success is hardly a matter of sitting quietly at your desk every day. A 2012 study of over 6,000 executives in the US and Europe by French researchers concluded that those who had more developed professional networks were more likely to have higher salaries and an easier path to a promotion. It may seem like effective networking involves time, hard work, and having to deal with the anxiety and fear commonly associated with it, but you should get results if you follow these simple strategies:

DON’T WORRY SO MUCH ABOUT YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION

It’s often said that a strong handshake and an assertive greeting are crucial if you want to make a positive initial impression. But this strategy may not be as important as we think it is.
Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy says that our first interaction with someone is also when we judge how warm and trustworthy they are. “People need to trust you in order to be themselves. So trying to be the more dominant one in the interaction is probably going to make it harder for you to get accurate information about the other person,” she says. Instead, you should “let people discover [who you are] over time, rather than go for an immediate positive response,” says Greg McKeown, founder of THIS, a leadership training company.

DON’T ASK THE USUAL QUESTIONS

Asking others about what they do for a living may be the most frequent conversation starter. And given that it’s a business environment, there’s nothing wrong with asking it. But don’t make it the first thing on your list. Try being bold instead and asking something unexpected. It might take them by surprise, but their answers will tell a story, says Hal Humphreys, founder of FIND Investigations. Moreover, “those who are at the highest levels of business and politics are... hungry for real conversations and real relationships. It just has to be authentic, genuine and sincere,” says McKeown.

USE TECHNOLOGY SPARINGLY

LinkedIn is certainly useful for building contact networks and maintaining them over time – and it can be a particular help when distance gets in the way of professional relationships. But no online tool will ever be as efficient or rewarding as face-to-face interactions. 
Cornell University researchers Mary McEuen and Christine Duffy say that body language, facial expressions and gestures are particularly important in business-related interactions. These are cues that help to capture attention, build a positive emotional climate, and influence decision-making.

DON’T BE A SALESPERSON

You may ultimately want to boost your sales or promote your own work, but the language of selling does not pair well with effective networking. Instead, your aim should be to build beneficial relationships by trading advice and expertise.
Most industry leaders and experts are willing to give others a helping hand or play the role of mentors: “The people you least expect to help you are the ones you should approach,” says Stanford University organisational behaviour researcher Daniel Newark. He led a study that concluded that we tend to grossly underestimate how likely others are to grant us a favour. Further, he claims that, even if they reject us once, asking again can do the trick: “Even helpful people refuse to help sometimes, [but] we’ll be better off if we’re not quick to write people off after a single rejection.”

Professional social discovery

Free
Using a discovery system pioneered by dating apps like Tinder, Weave allows users to swipe “yes” or “no”, and arrange for an in-person meeting with nearby professionals. The app lets users log in through their LinkedIn profiles, and surf a stream of nearby people with similar interests who are looking to expand their network.

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