Whether a room full of strangers makes you break out in a sweat, or is the definition of your happy place, connection with others is a need, not something just nice to have if you can find the time. Meaningful relationships are associated with many personal and professional advantages.
Extensive research has established social relationships as critical to mental and physical health, and even mortality. Adults with stronger social connections are actually healthier and live longer than their more isolated peers. And, professionally, “. . . flourishing in your career depends as much on your relationships, both in and out of work, as it does on your job itself,” according to Professor of Global Leadership at Babson College, Rob Cross, Ph.D.
Nurture your network
Somewhere between the sticky nametags, mediocre hors d’oevres and awkward introductions, the real purpose of networking (forming and growing personal relationships) can sometimes get lost. But building and growing your network is really all about the power of human connection.
That point moved front and center for Chief Brand Officer for Auntie Anne’s and WFF Board Member, Alisa Gmelich, when the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly changed how and when she interacted with others in her professional network. As a WFF member, you can view the Exchange Network event, The Power of Connection
, on demand to hear Gmelich’s advice firsthand.
Draw a bigger circle
While the concept of networking is sometimes associated with ideas like “glad handing” and “working the room,” its foundation is far more meaningful. At its core, networking is simply connecting with other people. It is a critical professional competency that you can fine-tune and that will help you thrive when you attach real goals to it.
Research into career-related networking specifically has shown a strong relationship between connection with others and increased career satisfaction, higher compensation and an increased rate of salary growth over time. Increasing your connections with others can raise your profile in your organization, help you increase your knowledge more quickly, provide access to critical mentors, stimulate new ideas and even just make your career journey less lonely. That can be especially important for women and underrepresented people who are more likely to encounter experiences of being an “only.”
There are almost as many ways to build connections with others as there are people to connect with. If you enjoy navigating large professional events, that’s great. But there are also plenty of other avenues to pursue. Consider these strategies for networking that might not feel so much like networking.
- Show interest in other people. It’s easy to feel in a rush to showcase your own talents in professional settings. But when you start by asking questions of others, you may find it easier to get the conversation going. Focusing on others can also provide an opportunity to warm up and feel less on the spot if you struggle with small talk.
- Diversify. It may feel more comfortable to talk with those in similar roles, from similar backgrounds or at similar career stages, but there is often even more to be gained by getting new perspectives. The seminal work of Mark Granovetter, Ph.D., established this idea years ago in his oft-cited paper, The Strength of Weak Ties. He found that it is actually the relationships you have with people more removed from you (weaker ties) that bring new information and new opportunities into your network.
- Make the ask. You don’t have to wait until you bump into someone at a networking event to make a strategic connection. If there is someone you want to meet and you have a mutual connection, ask for an introduction. Most people will be flattered to be sought out for specific expertise. Sending LinkedIn invitations is another easy way to introduce yourself via the text box feature associated with connection requests where you might also mention a mutual contact or specific interest.
- Offer help. When you treat networking as a two-way proposition and focus on how you can bring value to others, it can transform the activity from unpleasant schmoozing to generous and meaningful sharing. If you see that a colleague has taken on a new responsibility in an area where you have deep expertise or additional resources, reach out proactively with a simple offer of support.
- Follow up. So many potentially meaningful connections whither from sheer lack of attention. If you have a great conversation with someone at a conference, be the one to follow-up first. You will separate yourself from the pack and potentially start a very fruitful relationship for both of you. A quick email or text is often all that’s needed to keep the connection going and building. You might send a link to an article related to a topic you discussed or the name of a vendor related to an issue you explored together. Even a quick note to say how much you enjoyed meeting someone and inviting them to coffee in-person or online can get the ball rolling.
When you nurture your connections in ways that resonate with your personality, you will find that building your network feels more natural and rewarding. Check out the Power of Connection
for more ideas on making connection-building part of your routine.