During your career youve heard or read lots of advice on networking. And chances are youve picked up a subtle, underlying message: More is better. Why else would you have left the last conference you attended with a briefcase full of business cards Oh, you havent reached out to any of those folks yet (or they to you), but you networked and thats what matters. And your online networking efforts are even more fruitfulyouve got hundreds of LinkedIn connections just waiting to be cultivated.
This superficial view of networking just doesnt, well, work.
If you really want relationships that matter, stop aimlessly collecting business cards. There is a big difference between networking and actually building a network of deep, loyal relationships.
Unless youre a nightclub promoter, calling, texting, and Linking In with dozens of people every day isnt going to help your career. Neither is doing favors just to create reciprocityso that people will owe you. In this age of social media, weve come to confuse quantity for quality. But supernetworkers understand that all contacts are not equal in terms of their career impact.
Supernetworkers segmentexplicitly or intuitivelytheir network into these two pieces: the critical few and the many. And they adopt totally different tactics to stay in touch and manage them.
My own research shows that in your professional career, there are about 20-25 relationships that will become your critical few. These are also the relationships where you, in turn, can make an indelible impact.
In my new book, along with coauthor Jerold Panas, Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships, I pinpoint the 26 relationship laws I have discoveredlaws that determine the success or failure of your most critical professional relationships.
I explain how to connect at the top and build deep, trusted relationships with key influencers. To help put the laws to work, we have also written a 90-page Power Relationships Personal Planning Guide that contains dozens of summaries and application worksheets. (Its available only at www.andrewsobel.com, and its free for anyone who buys the book.)
Im not saying that once youve settled on your critical few that you never need to network again. You should never stop making new contacts. But youll reach out to your larger group through less personal means of communicationblogs, e-newsletters, social mediathan you will with your critical few. And in the meantime youll be refining your critical few relationships through more specialized contact like face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and so on.
Read on for more advice on how to become a supernetworker and build lasting relationships:
Know who your critical few are and cultivate them. I advise clients to make a careful list of who they think should be their critical few and to build a regular staying-in-touch program for each of them.
Your critical few should include clients or customers, prospects, colleagues, personal mentors, collaboratorsby which I mean other firms or individuals you may trade leads with and work with to serve a clientand so on. Plan to personally connect two or three times a year with each of the people on your list. Add value to them in different ways. I like to think about ideas and relevant content, network value (making a valuable introduction), personal help, and fun.
Build your network before you need it. Petri Byrd is the bailiff on Judge Judy Sheindlins family court TV show. Judge Judy isnt any old showits the most popular daytime TV program in theUnited States. One might assume Byrd got his coveted job because of his acting skills and training. But when I met him on a flight to Los Angeles a few years back, I learned the real reason is because he followed this essential law.
Turns out Petri had never acted in his life. He worked with Judge Judyas a bailiffin Brooklyn family court in the 1990s. When he moved toL.A., he heard she was starting a TV show and called her up. She hired him immediately. Petri had developed and maintained his relationship with Judge Judy years earlierhe built his network before he needed it.
You have to invest in other people before you ask them for anything. Otherwise, youll be seen as a freeloader. Cultivate your relationships over time, the same way you would tend a garden. Then, when you do need help, youll find the people around you eager to lend a helping hand.
Follow the person, not the position. Truly important peoplethose who are at the top of their careers in any fieldhave often brought their advisors and trusted suppliers along with them over many years. While it is not impossible to break into someones inner circle after they have achieved great success, its also not an easy task.
Build relationships with smart, motivated, interesting, and ambitious people, even if theyre not in an important job right now. Follow them throughout their careers. Before you know it, youll know some very important, powerful individuals who can buy your products and services.
Stretch yourself by building relationships with people quite different from you. Research shows that our natural tendency is to choose others to work with who are very similar to us. But the most creative teams, the teams that solve problems the fastest, are eclectic and combine people with very different backgrounds and personalities.
Relationships with people who are just like you are easier. You can quickly agree on most everything. We gravitate toward those relationships. But that can be a problem. Those people are less likely to push you and help you develop your fullest self. In contrast, a certain amount of stress and tension is productive. And, people who are different from you often connect you into whole new networks that will complement your own.
Make them curious. When someone is curious, they reach toward you. They want to learn more. They want to take the next step. When you evoke curiosity, you create a gravitational pull that is irresistible. Curiosity helps you get more of everything: more inquiries, more sales, more clients, more dates if you are single, more RSVPs for your party, and more friends.
Tell people what they need to know, not everything you know. Give brief answers to questions. Hint at things. Dont lecture a prospective customer for 10 minutes when they ask you to describe your firm. Develop contrarian or unusual perspectives. Be seen as someone who has refreshing points of view. Say the unexpected and surprise the other person.
Know the other persons agenda and help them accomplish it. Supernetworkers know that the key to connecting with others is an understanding of whats important to them. When you know what the other persons priorities, needs, or goals are, you can figure out how to help them. And thats where the rubber meets the road in building both professional and personal relationships. If you dont know their agenda, youre shooting in the dark or relying on some nebulous concept of charisma.
Whether at work or in your personal life, your first job is to understand the other persons priorities. Think about some of the key relationships youre trying to buildbe they with your boss, your colleagues, or key customers. Do you know what is important to themreally importantright now Only when you understand this will you clearly see how you can help them and add value to the relationship.
Every act of generosity creates a ripple. A collateral benefit of selfless generosity is that it draws others to you. It creates an attractive aura around youeven though thats not the reason you do it. It is what characterizes the most influential people in history, individuals like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Andrew Carnegie, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
There is no way of knowing how your own generosityto a cause or an individualcreates a ripple effect that influences many others. You end up touching many other lives, often without even knowing it. Supernetworkers, in short, are among the most generous people I know.
As you read this you might be thinking: Great. All my frenetic attempts at networking so far have been in vain! Not true. Just go through your contact list and ask yourself: Who will go out of their way to endorse me and introduce me to their network Who will drop what they are doing and help me when I am in need Who will tell others that theyve never known someone as trustworthy and talented as me
After asking yourself these questions, you may find that only five or ten people remain on your list. And thats a great start: A handful of deep, loyal relationships is always better than hundreds of superficial contacts. Quality trumps quantity.
About the Authors:
Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas are coauthors of Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships (Wiley, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-58568-9, $25.00) and the accompanying workbook, Power Relationships Personal Planning Guide (available at www.andrewsobel.com). Andrew is also the coauthor, with Jerold, of the bestselling Power Questions (Wiley) as well as seven other acclaimed books on building clients for life.