No matter how often we pledge to dedicate more time to develop more meaningful relationships with colleagues and partners, we’re still as busy as ever.
So how can we build more relationships, when we already have so many things competing for our time? We’re constantly on the go just to keep up with work, family, friends, and perhaps children. Not to mention all the things that just keep coming up — taking the car to the mechanic, going to the dentist, or spending an afternoon at the DMV.
If you’re stressed out because you can’t fit in any time for networking, my advice is this: Don’t.
That’s right. Don’t even try to squeeze it in. Instead, focus on meeting people more often during the things you already have to do. That way, you can relax and let networking time come to you.
Before each of your daily activities, ask yourself, “Could this be an opportunity to meet someone new?” That’s what my friend Stever did when he used to work out at the Harvard Business School gym. He got more clients for his coaching practice there than from anywhere else.
Also, don’t forget those interruptions I mentioned earlier — taking the car to the mechanic, going to the dentist, or spending an afternoon at the DMV. No matter how miserable those experiences have been in the past, they can be great places to make new connections. In waiting rooms, people are sitting right next to you! You have a built-in conversation starter because you have something obvious in common with everyone there. OK, so what if you end up talking to a couple of soccer moms or people who might not be on your target contact list? No skin off your nose! They might know people who are on your list. Worst case scenario: You struck up a nice conversation that made sitting there a bit less painful, and you practiced your all-important audacity skills that you can use next time at a business conference.
The greatest thing about this little networking plan is that it requires no extra time at all. It does, however, require a bit of guts. The more guts you have, the more successful you’ll be. Try it; it will pay off!
It certainly did for my young friend Ben, who decided to make the most of the mother of all life’s interruptions — jury duty.
Ben worked for a large consulting firm, but he was ready for a change. After a lot of introspection, Ben decided he wanted to go into pharmaceutical sales. Trouble was, he didn’t know a soul in pharmaceutical sales. Then, he received a jury summons. Although his co-workers encouraged him to try weaseling his way out of serving, Ben decided to go as requested.
When he arrived at the lower Manhattan courthouse, he was directed to a large waiting room and given instructions to sit and wait until his name was called. He looked around and saw at least 100 people. He was immediately frustrated. He was the only one who had forgotten reading material! Rather than dwell on this minor oversight or beginning to recount his to-do list in his head, Ben had a different idea. “Out of all these people, someone’s got to be involved with pharmaceutical sales or at least know someone who is,” he said to himself.
Ten minutes later, Ben mustered up his courage and walked to the front of the room. He stepped up onto the stage. Then he cleared his throat and said, “Excuse me! Is anyone here involved in pharmaceutical sales or pharmacology?” He paused. “Could you please raise your hand?” (Today Ben jokes about how the potential jurors might have thought he was asking those questions in the capacity of a court-appointed official. Regardless…)
One man raised his hand, and Ben said, “Thank you. I will be right down to talk with you.” Ben approached the respondent, introduced himself, shared his interest in pharmaceutical sales, and asked if the man knew anyone in the field. The man was a pharmacist, knew many pharmaceutical sales representatives, and, even more fortunately, was going to a meeting that night that was hosted by a pharmaceutical company. Ben went to the meeting and had a few great conversations with representatives of two major pharmaceutical companies. They both asked Ben to contact them about beginning an application and interview process. One thing led to another, and several months later, Ben started working as a pharmaceutical sales representative.
I’m about as exuberant about reaching out to new people and building relationships as anyone you’ll meet, and I’m still amazed by Ben’s audacity. It’s friggin’ awesome! I love that story. Ben, you’re the man.
Now it’s your turn to try the no-time networking plan. Maybe you won’t be able to conjure up as much audacity as Ben did. But, please, take a chance. I know you can find a way to reach out and meet a few more people this week in the things you already have to do. Could the next boring chore be an opportunity to meet someone important to your life? Of course. And you’ll never know how significant that relationship will be until you go out there and build it.