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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

How to break the cycle of a bad (networking) habit

13 tips to improve your social engagement skills and build better alliances.

How to break the cycle of a bad (networking) habit
Members of Fast Company Executive Board share their expert insights. [Image: Courtesy of the individual members.]

How do you define the art of networking? Is it a stepping stone to close your next business deal, or are you intentional about nurturing new relations that will build a pathway and benefit all?

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A panel of experts from Fast Company Executive Board agree that being an active listener—focused less on brand promotion and more focused on following through on promises made—is key to leaving a great impression on potential clients and colleagues in the long term.

Below, the 13 council members share how by changing bad habits formed in social settings, they’ve also created more meaningful connections.

1. BE VULNERABLE AND SHARE.

I stopped worrying about what others thought and simply engaged in conversation. I was also willing to be vulnerable and share more about myself. By doing this, it invited others to share more deeply with me, allowing us to cultivate a more meaningful connection where we are invested in each other’s success. – Heather Jerrehian, Hitch Works, Inc.

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2. FOLLOW THROUGH.

If you say you are going to do something for someone—do it. The sooner, the better. Never promise anything to anyone that you are not prepared to do immediately. Be known as the one in your networking circles that really follows up. – Alex Husted, HELPSY

3. SAY NO SOMETIMES.

I stopped saying yes to everything, including speaking gigs, podcasts, conferences, trade shows, and other networking events. Now I only choose events where I know I can bring value to my audience, or where I know I will meet people who can help me grow my business. – Viveka Von Rosen, Vengreso

4. FORM A SMALLER NETWORK.

Connecting with too many people is not always the best idea. So, this year has been focused on taking the time to build stronger relationships with fewer people who are more aligned. – Mo Ghoneim, Arts Help

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5. DROP YOUR AGENDA.

I used to network with an agenda, waiting for the chance to pitch or I’d be thinking about what I was going to say instead of listening. Eventually, I became much better at being more genuine and human, seeking to connect and understand how I might be helpful to a person without having to get something for myself out of every conversation. This creates meaningful connections that are mutually beneficial. – Kevin Namaky, Gurulocity Brand Management Institute

6. MAKE MEETUPS A PRIORITY.

I didn’t always consider networking events to be a priority because I thought it was just a word, not a complete strategy. However, I’ve learned that networking is a capability. Thus, you have to create the plan of defining who, why, and where, and then work towards your plan. We all need to connect with the right people, and actually, the six degrees of separation are now just four but defining who, when, and why is critical to making it happen. – Fernando Anzures, EXMA Global

7. DON’T TAKE SILENCE THE WRONG WAY.

I’ve stopped taking silence to mean “No.” When you reach out to someone and are met with silence, you might expect that to mean disinterest. However, life happens and your connection may just be busy. So, don’t be afraid to follow up and ask to connect again, even doing it twice or more. As long as you space out your emails and are respectful, your efforts will get noticed. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

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8. DOWNLOAD A CALENDAR APP.

Connect with your peers by using an easy calendaring method! It used to take so much effort to coordinate networking conversations. Now, I use a calendaring app and designate Tuesdays and Thursdays—from 5 to 6 p.m.—as my networking speed dating time with 15-minute video chats available to self-schedule. Reducing the friction and increasing the volume of relationships has led to new clients, new team hires, and the joy of nurturing new connections. – Michael Margolis, Storied

9. BE AN ACTIVE LISTENER.

When networking with new people in group settings, I’ve often been distracted by other conversations, movements around me, and even by my own internal thoughts. By listening more actively and engaging fully with the discussion I’m involved in, I’ve recently found myself making more meaningful business connections. – Suchit Tuli, Quantime

10. DON’T BELIEVE THE (SOCIAL MEDIA) HYPE.

Aim for quality over quantity. Too many people on social media are trying to win at the numbers game. They relate having more followers or connections to having more success. It’s all window dressing. My focus is on making meaningful connections that can grow into something that benefits all parties personally, from a business perspective or both. – Richard RB Botto, Stage 32

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11. MAKE YOUR OUTREACH EFFORTS MEANINGFUL.

It’s important to monitor the networking and outreach efforts. I do this by ensuring that I’ll have the appropriate bandwidth to meaningfully engage with any interaction. – Britton Bloch, Navy Federal

12. GET GOOD WITH NAMES.

When I was young and went to a lot of networking events, I would often forget people’s names. This was embarrassing to me and didn’t look good to others. Over time, I worked on remembering names quickly and it made networking scenarios a lot more comfortable for me. Referring to people by name in the conversation really makes networking much easier and encourages deeper connections. – Martin Rowinski, Boardsi

13. STOP PITCHING.

Stop feeling like you need to constantly pitch your company. By shutting up, listening, and commenting on the words of your peers you will find that the conversation will naturally come back to you. Stop being pushy, and just be yourself—with your listening ears at the ready. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

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