What do you need to know about networking? Be yourself and do it for the right reasons.
I went to see the third movie in the Bridget Jones saga on the weekend with very few expectations, and the knowledge that I would have the pleasure of watching Colin Firth’s charmingly British face for the best part of two hours. While I got everything I’d paid for in that regard, I was also witness to the cinematic expression of some standout networking. At a business conference, Jones’ two love interests: the accomplished barrister Mark Darcy and tech guru played by Patrick Dempsey cross paths and introduce themselves. Though they work in disparate fields, they’re fascinated by one another and eager to find flickers of insight. In short, in behaving authentically and approaching the situation with an eagerness to learn from the person you’re talking to, you’re likely to have a successful conversation.
Curiosity wins every time
Studies have found that people who feel they’re behaving authentically are less distressed and have higher self-esteem. So instead of trying to appear interested in what someone does, just be genuinely interested. The best way to ensure you are acting authentically is to encourage your own curiosity. If you’re curious about others, not only will they feel that you’re being genuine, you will probably feel more comfortable as well. But this isn’t always easy, especially at work. In fact, according to one study, work is the place where people feel least comfortable and authentic.
Likewise, the Harvard Business Review recently published a study that explored how feelings of authenticity impact social success in workplace situations. In it, they asked participants to take the roles of job interviewers and interviewees. Some interviewees were asked to behave genuinely, while others were asked to focus on catering themselves to the interviewer. The study found that those who aimed to be genuine instead of catering to their audience appeared more confident, less awkward, and were more successful overall.
It’s about changing your perspective on what networking is, says CEO of seafood restaurant chain Red Lobster, Salli Setta. She suggests that we can also think about networking as a way to master things that we’re not already knowledgeable about. It’s about trying to “advance your thinking in areas where you may not be as advanced as other people,” she told Business Insider Australia. If you focus on what you can learn from people, you will grow your network the way you want, and you’ll be growing your own understanding and knowledge as well.
The words to say
But when push comes to shove, what should you actually say in to get into a conversation? In her Ultimate Guide to Meeting People at Events, Selena Soo suggests the line ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. How does that work?’ This stops you from lingering awkwardly on the margins of a conversation without contributing, and helps demonstrate that you’re keen to listen and value what others have to say. She also recommends using a compelling story to describe what you do, rather than framing the question in terms of ‘who’ you are. She advises using phrases like “I help X-people achieve Y-goals’. This gives people a clear description of what you’re work involves and what you’re an expert in.
To sum up, here are three take away points to apply to your future networking conversations:
- Get interested in the people you’re talking to, be genuine and if possible, be authentic instead of second guessing what the person you’re talking to will respond to.
- Don’t talk to people to expand your network, do it to expand your knowledge and expertise.
- Always be willing to speak up and ask a simple question, but remember to be ready to explain what you do too.