When it comes to networking, there are two ends of the spectrum. On one side is the guy at the party who seems to know everyone and thrives on helping you meet meaningful connections—we call them superconnectors.
On the other end is someone like me, someone whose stomach churns at the idea of making industy small talk with in a room of total strangers. And I’m not alone.
So many people despise networking, in fact, that researchers from the University of Toronto found that it makes us feel literally dirty. They concluded that professional networking feels gross to us when relationships are formed based on a career need, rather than for sincere friendship. This triggers our moral disgust, which is linked to physical feelings of uncleanliness.
But career success rarely comes from sitting quietly in your room every night. The solution, then, is to change our perspectives and approach. Instead, introverts and the general network-averse need to work on finding connections that genuinely interest us beyond professional gain.
So we’ve come up with a game plan for the next month for the network-averse to force themselves out of their shells. For advice, we turned to tips from some of the best networkers to make lasting connections:
Ask some coworkers you’re friendly with to invite different coworkers to lunch or coffee. Use this low-pressure situation as an opportunity to practice your conversation skills. Start with mastering the art of small talk and honing your listening skills, two keys to getting the conversation going. And make sure you use social media meaningfully to follow up with your new work connections and schedule second dates.
We all have connections we’ve lost touch with over the years–this week we’ll reach out to some of them.
“When you haven’t seen people in three or five years, you can’t predict what novel ideas and networks they’ll be able to share,” observed Wharton professor and Give and Take author Adam Grant. “And it turns out that the older you get, the more valuable dormant ties become. Along with having more of them, they’ve had more time to meet amazing people and accomplish amazing things.”
According to researchers Daniel Z. Levin, Jorge Walter, and J. Keith Murnighan, who coined the term “dormant ties,” the payoffs of dormant ties are three-fold:
- Dormant ties are sources of “unexpectedly novel insights”
- Reconnecting happens rapidly, making the time investment “minimal”
- A reconnection isn’t a new relationship: “People still have feelings of trust and a shared perspective, which are critical for receiving valuable knowledge from someone.”
Instead of asking your old friends for help, practice searching for ways to help them, either by sharing knowledge, making introductions that will benefit them, or generally becoming a renewed source of meaning and happiness.
Ease into group networking with a local Meetup or event of like-minded professionals. It’ll be that much easier to strike up conversations with strangers when you already know one of their interests or hobbies.
Use this as an opportunity to practice reading the room and entering into conversations with different groups (and arrangements) of people. Use these body-language tips to gauge the best approaches:
- People at events tend to congregate in groups of ones, twos, and threes. Approach the “ones” first. They are people just like yourself, shy to engage with others; they will be the most welcoming.
- Twos and threes are more difficult to approach. Look for two people standing in an open V formation–they are usually open to others joining their discussion. Avoid people standing directly across from each other; this indicates they are engaged in a closed conversation.
- If you want to enter a conversation between two people to talk to someone you know, approach the other person he is speaking to and ask permission from him to join.
- For groups of three or more, look to join groups arranged in a U formation rather than the closed-off O formation. They are more open to people joining the group.
- And don’t forget to practice your body mirroring to establish rapport.
Take everything you’ve learned over the last few weeks and put it to good use at an industry event. Your goal this week is to not only make meaningful connections for yourself, but to help others connect in a meaningful way.
I hope you’ll join us as we venture to become our better, more connected selves.
Tune in to find out how it went and share your experiences with your own networking challenge during our live chat on Friday, March 13 at 11 a.m. ET. Or send an email with what your thoughts on this challenge to firstname.lastname@example.org by end of day Thursday, March 12.