The main skill I gained experience at in the past 5 months is networking. I’m putting here on paper the key takeaways I have about networking, with the hope of having this develop into a discussion: I would love to hear lessons from other people and really even the most general networking advice. It’s a skill and a craft which has tremendous value for your business. I’m starting from the very obvious ones to the more complex so feel free to scroll down.
- The wheels are turning. It requires a very small effort to get people to smile at you when you are in a position of power. But, it is beneficial to smile back if possible. For various reasons (some of them covered in my most read post “Be nice”) but if not for anything else then just for the chance of leaving a good impression. Don’t patronize, don’t dismiss and don’t be offensive.
- Positivity is contagious. I keep getting surprised by just how much positivity creates positive momentum. At times when I’m feeling down, it is significantly harder for me to establish new connections and to build cooperation. On other days, when I am more joyful, the average outcome of my conversations is just better. It is more simple than one would imagine. Sometimes saying how nice the weather is or how you enjoyed a TV show you saw recently can improve the outcome of the conversation you are about to have dramatically. Try it.
- Listen more talk less. I sometimes get on calls where I feel the other party doesn’t care if I’m there at all. If you are on a call in which you were talking more than 70% of the time you are in a bad place. Reply with shorter answers, avoid long complex explanations (unless it’s a professional meeting where all participants are deeply familiar with the subject matter). On a zoom call, no one, absolutely no one, can stay focused and attentive through a monolog of over 5 minutes. This is what blog posts are. Generally speaking, in a first meeting, the less you talk and the more you listen, the better. Your counterpart will feel interesting and will be more open to your ideas/requests.
- Be open. This one took me by surprise and I struggled with it for a while. It might even be counterintuitive. Nonetheless, my personal experience shows people respond better when presented with honesty. This could be both with respect to your mood/ personal circumstances/ lack of knowledge AND with respect to your wishes from the encounter. I apply this principle by sharing candidly my struggles (“my phone was stolen a few days ago, this bummed me out and I’m a bit mad at myself” — true story BTW); by stating clearly when I have personal requests (“I wanted to say hey and see how you’re doing and also ask for your help with something”); by sharing painful stories from the past (“I learned this the hard way when I had to do X and did a few serious mistakes in the process”).
- Try to help. I actually don’t know if this is trivial or not. I made it a habit to finish introductory conversations by asking “how can I help”. Not everyone has an answer and this could also come off as condescending, so maybe not something that can work for everyone. For me, I feel this helps the other side to feel at ease, to sense the conversation went ok and to actually present me with his interest. I meet people for introductory calls with the stated intention to cooperate, so if I can’t help at least some people I am wasting my time. If done right, you may find yourself with small and simple action items, with the potential reward of getting genuine gratitude. This takes practice, and I still find myself at times getting requests I can’t or do not want to act on. But overall I think this practice serves me well.
- Accept that not everyone is your type. Oh how I struggled with this one. The need to please or feel appreciated, the desire to gain respect, all very human needs. The acceptance of some people being outside your reach, after you've already met them, is not easy, to say the least. In this context, accepting some people will never like you is liberating. Some people we meet are attracted to more aggressive people, louder people, free spirits, reach people, you name it. I now know that a person I see very often, and will probably require his assistance in the future, is not fond of me or thinks highly of me. I tried many different approaches but just couldn’t get to him. It took me months but just a few weeks ago I made peace with that fact and I feel unburdened. Not everyone will like you and you will not like everyone.
- People are not functional equations. This one came from a man who was my tutor when I was a teenager. I don’t know how well I understood the depth of this statement, and it is very well possible that I do not fully grasp it to this day. But I do make use of it. The idea is that people don’t work as mathematical equations or algorithms with input and output. People are complex, dynamic. It is simply not practical to view people as functions: considering the input and expecting a certain output (“I gave her a raise so she should be happy”). It is far more practical in my opinion to live with the understanding that inputs can affect outputs but in various ways, both direct and indirect. I try today to remind myself that people have wishes and feelings, that people sometimes try and not succeed, and that people are not rational creatures. I find it helpful and also a bit magical.