How can I be a better networker in 2013?

Last week’s blog kicked off the new year by asking you to look at and start building a networking profile outlining your strengths and skills.  Yet I’m sure, as you did that exercise, reasons not to network popped up.  As I tell my clients, you need to identify and work through the walls you build that hold you back from building a network. 

 Over the next week, find 15 minutes to answer the questions below.  The answers will give you insight into the specific networking challenges you face and the information you need to make a resolution to change in 2013–be it by building a new networking habit or by removing an obstacle.

Questions:  Think of a time when your networking efforts were not successful. What do you wish you:

  • had done differently?
  • had done more of?
  • had not done at all?

Successful networking starts and ends with you.  It requires that you take responsibility for knowing your strengths, core values, intentions, and goals. It also means taking responsibility to change or stop some of the old ways of thinking about how and why you network.

When you are aware of your attitudes, you gain clarity on who you are and how you network best. You can begin to immediately rethink your approach to connecting with others.  You can separate the networking efforts that work from those that don’t work.  You can develop your own best practices and priorities based on the Power of Everyday Networking’s 7 Principles (outlined in the December 17 Daily Networking Know-How) and use networking as a tool to determine the kind of work-life you want and the career direction you want to travel.

How can you make your networking successful in 2013?

The New Year is a good time to become aware of the efforts and emotions that surround our networking activities.  To feel more comfortable and confident building relationships in 2013, set aside 15 minutes this week to answer the questions below.  This assessment will help you identify what to keep as a part of your networking approach.  The next week of daily tips will give some ideas for New Year’s resolutions that will help you become a successful networker.

1. Think of a professional (or personal) situation in which you networked successfully.  Now, in bullet points, jot down what comes top of mind–don’t judge, just jot:

  • Where were you?
  • What worked?
  • Why?
  • What was fun?
  • When you walked away, what did you remember?
  • What other factors of that networking situation made you feel comfortable connecting with others?

You have just come up with a short list of what makes you a successful networker.

2. Want to identify more successful networking qualities, attributes, strengths? Think of 3-5 people you admire and believe are great (authentic) networkers–they may be people you know well, or just acquaintances.

  • What do they do naturally?
  • What are their goals in building a network?
  • Where and how do they put their time and energy?
  • What are they known for?
  • Are they in your network–or do you wish they were?

I’m sure that as you were completing this exercise, you were also thinking: “What could I have done better in the networking situation I identified?” or maybe, “I could never be like the networkers I profiled.”  Well, next week’s blog posting will give you an opportunity to identify how you might want to change a network attitude or approach over the coming year.  But first, check out the daily tips for resolution ideas!

Bah Humbug! I don’t like parties or the holidays!!!!

OK, the holidays are stressful, draining, and lots of work.  And going out, sending messages of holiday cheer, or even calling a good friend just seems more than you can find the time to do or want to handle as 2012 comes to a close. If you have any “free” time, you may want to be alone and catch up on all the things you have been meaning to do for yourself or your business.  Well, you can do that and still network—here are a few ways:

  • Update your email or other contact information. You may be surprised that many people you haven’t heard from in ages will respond with “hi, let’s get together; so glad you connected!
  • Update your LinkedIn profile, or join Facebook.
  • Go online and find the best blogs for you to follow/contribute in 2013
  • Review your 2012 calendar and emails and rediscover how you spent your time and who reached out to you.
  • Bake some brownies; read that book you bought months ago; take a walk; schedule those medical checkup appointments; listen to your favorite music.

I will be taking my own advice and, from December 24-January 2 I’ll pause these daily Networking Know-How tips and my Networking Advice blog in order to follow through myself on some of the networking ideas I’ve shared.  My best holiday wishes and I look forward to reaching out to you in 2013.

Changing relationships

Keeping in touch is hard work and requires effort.  People are busy, time is short, and it may take several tries to “make it happen.” But when it happens, the rewards are priceless.  Not too long ago, I had lunch with a former client I had worked with during a major job transition.  She successfully landed the position she wanted and we had promised ourselves a celebratory lunch once she got settled.  Well, after working non-stop for several months, dealing with many big work challenges, setting and resetting several dates, it would have been easy to say “oh well,” and just stay in touch via technology. But we preserved and finally connected, and a client became a friend.  Over soup and sandwiches, we covered the professional topics of work and making a transition.  We also laughed and strengthened our relationship as it shifted from coach/client to two people making connections around hobbies, children, summer and long-term vacation and life plans.

Then came the best part: We discovered a new common interest—yoga!  We talked books, magazines, favorite types of yoga practices, poses and local studios.  I even shared my recent accomplishment of doing my first backbend!

Make your list and check it twice

The holidays are a great time to reconnect with personal and professional friends and acquaintances, without being overwhelmed by all the parties and events if you approach it strategically. It’s time to make your lists!

  • Who are the people you want to be sure to see before January 4? Maybe there are 5 people you want to make a special effort to see during the holiday season Think about who they are and how best you can make that happen
  • Who do you know you will “run into” at an event? If you know that so-and-so always attends the neighborhood party, charity ball, or clients’ holiday party, take a moment now to “dust off your mental rolodex” and remember her daughter’s name or where his son is in school. You will both enjoy the encounter more and the conversation will be more natural
  • Who do you want to see during the first quarter of the new year? Sometimes you can find more time for an authentic interaction after the hubbub of the holidays is over. Pull out that new box of note cards you bought yourself and drop them a line—wish them a happy holiday and add “Looking forward to seeing you in 2013. I’ll give you a call by end of January so we can get on each other’s calendars.”

Watch out for email threads

Q: How often do you have a back-and-forth email exchange with someone?

A: Probably almost every day! So consider my follow-up question:

Q: Do you ever end up forwarding the entire exchange of emails to a third party, hoping to get an answer to a question or to make an introduction, and never considering what was written along the way?

A: Well, don’t do it!  Here’s why:

I recently received an email introduction from an acquaintance who was suggesting I could help her friend. Not recognizing the name, I skimmed down the email to see if there was more information in the signature line. This led to me seeing that the message sent to me was at the head of a long string of emails that included some very  “candid” comments and not very positive descriptions of several other people—comments that should not have been shared (and should probably not have ever been emailed in the first place!).

We can draw a couple of real world lessons from this all-too-common event.

  1. Think once, twice, three times about what you write in an email! Anyone, even your close friends, can be careless or in a hurry and forward the information to the wrong person or (oh no!) hit “reply all” when they didn’t mean to.
  2. Mom was right: Never mail anything that you don’t want to see printed in the newspaper tomorrow, or as too many high profile and public figures have found out, on every social media site within minutes.
  3. If you want your network to grow and be strong, don’t say unkind things about other people. Period.

Email is certainly a boon to business and to networking, but always remember that it is a two-edged sword!

How do you present yourself?

Networks are built when you make professional connections in personal ways.  Yes, that means attending events, doing favors, being on social media sites, and reaching out by phone, letter, email or text —all activities that can “present” you to others. Your network is also built every day through the way you present your attitude and appearance.

 Attitude:  What do you think when you get up in the morning?  “Look’s like a great day ahead” or “Oh, there is way too much to do”? When you look in the mirror, how do you greet yourself—with a smile or a frown? Negative thinking undermines our sense of self and seldom leads to positive actions, so it is important to remember that your attitude is speaking even in these simple morning actions. How you start the day will be a key indicator to the way you carry yourself, interact with others and whether a networking connection gets made.

 Appearance:  Head to toe, people notice. What is your personal style? I’m not talking about where you get your hair done (head) or buy your shoes (toes) or even how fashion conscious you are—although neat and professional looking is never “out of style.”  I’m asking you to consider your speech, mannerisms, body language, even your manners.  Do they say “I’m open to meeting you, respectful of your personal space or culture, happy to be here”?

Take a moment and consider the last time you walked into a room. Did you smile, stand up straight and greet others, or did you slouch in, hoping not to be noticed?  Your attitude and appearance are statements on how you value yourself and others.  They are the non-verbal ways you speak to people every day and have as far reaching an impact as any words you might say.

All you need is a little help from your ………Network

Need help figuring out the number-one priority on your growing to-do list? Ever find yourself sitting at your desk when everyone else has gone home?  Do you stare at your iPad/computer wondering, “How can I start, move forward or complete the work in front of me?“

Planning, prioritizing, keeping a calendar—even having your technology beep or sing a song may all be tools that can help keep you ”on time,” but most successful people have learned the best resource at their disposal to manage their workload and workday is their network.

When you need help, your professional network can ”save the day” and let you put your time where it most needs to go and move on to the work you like to do. How?  Take the time to think about who in your network can help you out by serving as

  1. an additional resource–be it as a subject matter expert or by offering a different perspective as you figure out a strategy for that client project;
  2. a sounding board in solving the difficult development issue; or
  3. your trusted advisor on balancing work and life priorities.

Developing a network that includes a wide array of peers, mentors, and people with all levels of expertise and experiences from across and outside your organization, increases your productivity, saves hours, and costs little.  I call this kind of networking “dipping into your knowledge bank.” If you take the time to build relationships and help others throughout your career, you will have a wealth of knowledge, skill sets and helping hands an email or phone call away on those “I could use a little help from my network” days.

Is it time for a mental sift? (yes, SIFT)

A job search takes time. And you may reach a point where you have so many data points and to do’s (such as getting an interview; preparing for an interview; wondering should you call that company again or wait to hear from them like they told you to do) floating around in your mind that you are not sure which way to turn. If these statements ring true, it’s time to sort out the job search clutter in your mind and gain some clarity on your situation. Before you reach out to connect to others, reach inside and connect with yourself by reviewing the following mind clarity questions:

  1. Are you owning your search? People will help—they will offer feedback, advice, information, possibly a referral—but accept the fact that “it’s up you” to make it happen.
  2. How do you define yourself—By title or by achievements? Job titles are labels. Instead, define yourself by your professional and personal history. Let people know you and how you “add value” to an organizational need.
  3. What story do you tell? Write out or outline your career history, being sure to include your best professional experiences and outside general interests. In addition to all your major achievements, be sure and include what you are most proud of. Your story is YOU! Be comfortable with your work-life story. If you have trouble writing, take a walk and start talking to yourself about the questions I have suggested. The point is to build confidence that you have many things to talk about and to contribute to the world.
  4. What picture of you is out there? Your resume, biography, elevator drill, even your LinkedIn profile are all messages you are giving about what you see as your skills, interests, abilities, achievements.
  5. Can you answer all the hard questions? “Why do people like to work with or for you?” “What are the challenges people find in working with or for you?” (yes, there are challenges!) These questions will be asked; it’s how you respond that will make the difference, so reframe any negative thinking. Self-awareness is key to a successful job search.
  6. What do you really want out of a job? Be clear on your professional and personal goals. For example: What responsibilities and role do you want to play in helping a company achieve its goals? What is the best work environment for your set of skills? What geographic, financial, family, and professional development considerations do you have?

After you have reached in and answered these questions, reach out to a few core members of your network. Your network understands what you are going through—many, if not most have been there! Your network can help you sift through all the mental angst and insecurities that drain your strength, take your attention off the requirements of a job search, and keep you from conducting your search. Your network can get you moving in a proactive and positive way. Reach out to them; they want to help.

I’m not a good listener. What can I do?

The answer:  Talk less, listen more!  OK, you are thinking: Hard to argue with that point; but sometimes it’s difficult to do.  Relationships are built through communications. Exchanging ideas move a connection forward and we find ourselves in conversations daily—so what’s the problem?  Few of us are skilled in the art of ”good listening. ”  We have developed the habits of “managing” the conversation—which usually means talking too much and interrupting too often—even texting while we (or others) are speaking!  We need to balance our desire to engage and add to a conversation with the other person’s need to know he or she has been heard and his/her message understood.

If you want to improve your listening skills, begin by understanding that everyone in a conversation believes he/she has something to share and wants to know you care enough about them to let them say it. You don’t have to agree, but you do have to listen.  Here are 10 ways to show interest and demonstrate ”good listening”:

  1. Make the time to let the person tell his/her story.
  2. Learn and use the other person’s name.
  3. Avoid interrupting.
  4. Use the listening time to think about questions that would identify what you have in common, clarify an important point or gather more data rather than thinking about what you will say when it’s your turn to talk.
  5. Ask one question at a time.
  6. Allow for a response and then ask a follow up question.
  7. Show interest nonverbally by being relaxed, nodding, engaging in eye contact, respecting personal space.
  8. Use silence as a time to reflect.
  9. Don’t try to be clever; rather think “How can I contribute to the conversation?”
  10. Keep the technology out of sight and turned off.

By focusing your full attention on the person and showing genuine interest in what he/she has to say you will be seen (and become) a ”good listener.”  And the added benefit: when you listen, you might be surprised what you learn.  You may even recognize how little you really know.