Networking: “Don’t Talk to Strangers” is a Fallacy

5 Keys to a Successful "You-Turn"
5 Keys to a Successful Turnaround

Networking Puzzle FitI love networking. I’m not talking about “Nortel Networking”, although I did spend some time there while they existed. Rather, I’m talking about meeting new people and building relationships. I’m talking about talking to strangers.

But why is networking so hard? Why do so many of us fail at being effective at networking? And how can you improve? How can you help others improve?

Let’s drill down through those questions and see what we can do about it. But first, why is networking so important?

The Importance of Networking

Talk to Strangers

Many of us teach our kids to not talk to strangers. I do the opposite. If you never talk to strangers, how will you make new friends? How will you generate leads for your business? How will you sell your idea to the other department at work?

(Ok, so I make sure my kids know not to go anywhere or accept anything from strangers unless they ask Mom or Dad first, but they should absolutely talk to strangers at every opportunity.)

Talk to Strangers

I saw a great clip recently about how Grant Cardone taught his daughter to talk to strangers, but I couldn’t find it again! However, I did find a short article where he summarized it:

My 7-year-old daughter was on a plane with me back when she was younger, and she wanted a cookie. I told her I didn’t have one and wasn’t going to give her one. She needed to find one from someone else. I had her go up and down the aisle asking people for a cookie. Strangers had what she needed.

So teach your kids to talk to strangers. And then teach yourself to do the same.

Networking Events Are Your Friend

This past week I attended a networking event associated with a major government grant that was awarded to Forest Edge Community Club and the outdoor pool we operate. I went in with the goal of meeting new people and learning. Perhaps I even had something to offer others, or vice versa. I made a point of working the room (or at least part of it!) and remembering names.

As a result I learned some very important tips for next year’s application, and I met some great people who will help us further improve the pool! I even met a new neighbour who had just moved in a couple of streets over. Now my kids will get to meet some new neighbours, too. Small world, eh?

A couple of years ago or so, I attended my first London ON FIRE meetup, and have attended several since. Through these fun socials, I have met some great people, built really cool relationships, and in turn connected on several opportunities. I have had my thinking turned upside down, encouraged, and redirected. I realized that I’m not alone in my pursuit of leading a deliberate and purposeful life!

Network every day

Every Day is a Networking Event

Say what? Yup. Every day that you venture out into the world either physically or digitally, you are entering a networking event. The cashier at the grocery store? The parents beside you at the soccer game? How about the new employee a few rows over from you at work?

A few years ago I was chatting with my son’s soccer teammate’s mom. Turns out she had a need coming up in a few months for a graphic designer. She ended up hiring my wife for the remote job, which apparently went well enough that they called her in afterwards to interview for a full-time position! Although it ended up not being a great fit because of the location and hours, the opportunity would have never presented itself without us all three of us being open to meeting new people.

Why is Networking so Hard? Why are We Ineffective?

I’m no psychologist or sociologist or philosopher. I’m just an engineer who tries to observe the world around him and analyse the situation in the name of continuous improvement. (Go Six Sigma, Go!)

That being said, I think the reason why most of us stink at networking is due to fear and misunderstanding.

We are afraid of what other people think. We are afraid to make a fool of ourselves. What if I say the wrong thing? What if nobody likes me? Am I wasting my time? What if I come across as too pushy?

But that is all the wrong approach.Go it aloneWe need to think of networking not as trying to sell something to somebody, but as trying to get to know someone and build a relationship. Maybe you end up doing business together later. Or maybe one of you knows someone who can help the other. Or perhaps nothing comes of it. And that’s OK.

I remember at one networking event, we were doing some round-table introductions. We got to this one guy who basically started to pontificate about his multi-level marketing business. After droning on and on, he finally sat down and passed the baton. Do you think he made any sales or any friends? Quite the contrary. All sorts of people just discounted him and tried to avoid him for the rest of the evening.

How Can We do Better at Networking?

Add Value

If you go into an event with the express intent of trying to sell, everybody sees that and flees. But if you think of what you can do selflessly to help others, and if you do it in a warm and authentic manner, people will be drawn to you. At that point you have truly started down the path to meaningful relationships that may or may not ever result in increased business, but can most certainly result in personal improvements, friendships, and encouragement if you let it.Add Value Help OthersPut another way, you need to add value. That’s a bit of a buzz word these days, but it’s true. Adding value doesn’t mean selling something or pushing something down their throats. It means finding a way to help the other person improve through advice, further connections, encouragement, and so on. And that can all be given away right there when you meet them, or built up over the course of subsequent meetups. Which leads to my next point…

Follow Up

So you’ve done the number thing or the email thing. Now don’t forget to follow up! Do what you said you were going to do. Or send a thank-you or “it was nice to meet you” instant message.

You must continue to work on that relationship long after the event. Perhaps the event is reoccurring like kids’ soccer or baseball or monthly business meetings. Or perhaps you have to make a point of setting something up. I have plenty of examples of where I made a great connection with someone and then let it die away. But I also have some folks I met at conferences or academic/industry partnerships that I still keep in touch with regularly.

You can’t do it all. So make a choice about which relationships you would like to maintain, and then nurture them.

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How do you approach networking? Any cool success stories or epic fails that you’d like to share?

5 Keys to a Successful "You-Turn"
5 Keys to a Successful Turnaround

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