“Relationships are crucial to our success, no matter what we want to achieve in our lives.” The quote is from Keith Ferrazzi, an expert on networking, but most executives have already discovered this truth for themselves. A wide and well-oiled network of contacts can be an asset just as valuable as experience or training, with relationships translating into new business opportunities, job offers, business partners or simply fruitful connections with like-minded people.
But we often focus on other areas of our careers and neglect our contacts … until we need them. And this is the first and most basic mistake we make. The foundation of solid and lasting relationships is dedicating time and nurturing them. “Those who are best at it don’t network — they make friends,” says Ferrazzi. “They gain admirers and win trust precisely because their amicable overtures extend to everyone. A widening circle of influence is an unintended result, not a calculated aim.”
So what does it take to improve the quality and influence of our network? Here, some tips:
Show empathy and a willingness to serve. The best way to drop to the bottom of someone’s priority list is to focus your interactions on yourself and your own needs. IESE professor Conor Neill stresses the importance of showing concern for the other’s goals and needs: What vacuum do they want to fill? What values do they want to express? Then ask yourself: How can I help? The objective: “You’ve got to be someone that everyone who passes through your presence leaves better because of it,” Neill says.
However, it’s normal for new contacts to be suspicious of offers of help. How to navigate that situation? Be transparent, the experts say. Be clear about why you’re reaching out to someone.
Network your own way. Your personality is key when it comes to making a good impression. Before dedicating your time to a networking activity, make certain that the setting works for you. Are you sure that a crowded party is the best option if you tend to be shy? Should you try to bond over tennis when you haven’t played in 15 years?
Knowing your strengths and limitations is essential to determine the best scenarios to bring out your personality. Despite all its advantages, personal interaction can also become a frustrating experience. “Focus on maxing out the value of the gatherings you attend, even if they’re limited in number, and try to find ways to connect in greater depth with people, so that they’ll remember you when you leave the room,” advises Dorie Clark, a professor at Duke who participated in a webinar on networking organized by IESE.
Set priorities. Some estimates suggest that we interact with more than 60,000 people throughout our lives. The anthropologist Robin Dunbar reduces to about 150 those individuals who we will have true impact on. Although 150 is a more manageable figure than 60,000, it’s almost impossible to maintain a meaningful and lasting relationship with all these people.
When networking, you should identify those people who can make a real difference in your professional future. A willingness to serve is crucial when creating meaningful connections, but it’s equally important to be selective with your efforts and devote your time to the relationships that contribute most.
Be smart with social media. Social networks have opened countless new networking opportunities. Some, such as the possibility of directly contacting relevant people or those with difficult access in other contexts, have been overused, to the point that trying to establish direct contact for no more reason than “connecting” can end up, at best, in being ignored.
Just as in the offline world, offering something in return can help when it comes to establishing relevant connections in social networks. For some, creating quality content on your social networks will help establish a reputation and attract the people that interest you most. If you’ve got enough followers, you can even offer to interview high-profile people and share it online, establishing a relationship with them which otherwise might be difficult to do.
Participating in a program at IESE gives you unmatched networking opportunities — along with the skills to make the most of it. Whether it’s a general management program or a shorter program focused on a skill or industry, IESE gives you the connections and knowledge to thrive.
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