Relationships matter. A lot. The ripple effects of maintaining and creating new relationships span across all segments of your life, both personally and professionally. The simple fact is that the people you spend your time with have a massive impact on who you are. As author and podcaster Tim Ferriss puts it, “You are the average of the five people you most associate with.” And when a lead researcher of Harvard University’s Grant Study — an ongoing-since-1938 academic study on the impact of relationships on happiness — was asked what he’d learned from the study, he responded: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”
The people you spend your time with have a massive impact on your opportunities and experiences. As venture capitalist and entrepreneur Rich Stromback explains, “Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They are attached to people.”
The point I’m making is that relationship building is crucial in every area of your life. Unfortunately, however, people often neglect its value in the professional environment. And that’s exactly why it’s worth the effort to up your own networking game.
Everyone has heard about the perks of networking. It makes you better at your job. It helps you do more interesting and fulfilling things. And it increases your satisfaction with your life. More and more, the statistics support the idea that networking will get you everywhere. So for you data folks out there who need more proof: the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 70% of jobs are found through networking, while a recent LinkedIn survey found that up to 85% of jobs are filled via networking. Successful enterprises use their networks to arrange warm introductions and connect with potential clients in more meaningful ways. In fact, here at Distillery, much of our business comes from referrals from current or prior clients.
Despite all the clear benefits, however, many people are still intimated by and hesitant about networking. The good news is that — in actuality — networking isn’t that complicated. So try not to overthink it. In my own life, I’ve adopted a set of core values that help me make sure networking remains effective and enjoyable:
- Be authentic. No matter the situation, the best way to enrich your relationships is to be yourself, authentically and warmly. Just because you’re “networking” doesn’t mean you should turn into someone you’re not.
- Make it a habit. Treat networking like brushing your teeth. Adopt practices that help you engrain networking in your daily life, including budgeting time for it in your schedule. To create a real habit that “sticks,” your initial focus should be on training your brain to succeed at making minor adjustments. For example, maybe you begin by sending one email each day, or by reconnecting with one friend in your LinkedIn network each day. In addition, you can incorporate small daily rituals that help you get in the right mindset. For example, before you start your “networking time,” maybe you make yourself a cup of tea or have that piece of chocolate. Whatever activity you choose, it can serve as your daily cue that it’s networking game time — get in the zone.
- Find the “uberconnectors.” The old 80/20 rule, grounded in the Pareto principle, states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In networking terms, that means about 20% of your network is likely to hold 80% of the opportunities. In other words, you want to identify the people within your own network who have extensive networks, and nurture those relationships.
- If meeting new people feels like too much, start by re-connecting. There are days when I’m absolutely drained. On those days, the last thing I want to do is motivate myself to meet someone new. My back-up plan? Reach out to an old friend or someone I haven’t talked to in a while. Re-connecting is a valuable way to strengthen the relationships you’ve already established.
- Ask great questions. Whether you’re reaching out over email or telephone or introducing yourself in person, begin by asking, “How can I help you?” This gives you an opportunity to immediately provide value by offering a suggestion, a referral, or an opportunity. It establishes you as a giver — and, potentially, as someone they want to know. Next, ask them, “What ideas do you have for me?” Asking for ideas allows the people you are talking with to provide value to you just as you have (hopefully!) provided value to them. Finally, you can ask them, “Who else do you know that I should talk to?” The odds are that if you are talking to them, there are other people in their network you’d also like to meet.
- Make friends, not business contacts. Friends truly listen to each other’s ideas and provide thoughtful, constructive feedback. Business contacts, on the other hand, may be inclined — instead of actively listening — to mentally rehearse their own pitches while waiting anxiously for the chance to speak. Sincerely make the effort to be a friend, and you’ll have a better chance of making an actual friendship.
- Give. Givers tend to be leaders. And givers have the ability to create a psychologically safe climate where everyone feels they can contribute. Safe environments encourage positive environments, and positive environments are necessary for people to learn and be more innovative and productive. (A Harvard Business Review analysis of hundreds of studies showed an average of 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and three times higher creativity from happy professionals.) What you give doesn’t have to be massive: it could be as simple as offering an introduction via email, or sending them link to a book they might like or an event you know they’d be interested in. In addition, don’t be afraid to ask for a favor. Asking for something establishes an environment in which both parties are giving.
If you’d like to hear yet more tips on improving your networking aptitude, check out this TED Talk on the “Art of Active Networking” by Mark Sackett.
And tomorrow, after you brush your teeth, try out your new networking habit.
Want to join Distillery’s ever-expanding professional network? Let us know!
About the Author
As Distillery’s Director of Business Development, Matt Cowan is passionate about working with clients to address their business needs and achieve their strategic goals. With a diverse background working with companies of all sizes across many industries, he prides himself on his ability to see things from the client’s perspective. In his free time, you can find Matt strolling through Santa Monica with his beagle mix, Brenda.