FOREWORD TO THE 2ND EDITION
The first edition of this book was titled Networking Awesomely, in part because I thought networking was awesome, in part because I was very excited to be publishing a book. Truth be told, it was all I could do to keep myself from adding an exclamation point to an already enthusiastic moniker.
Now, a little older, a little wiser, and with far more books under my belt, I’ve returned to rewrite this title. The aim was to share essentially the same ideas, but present them in a less repetitive, more concise and digestible fashion. I also wanted to publish something with superior editing and formatting, and a reduction in verbiage.
Despite the change in name, presentation, and words I use to describe the concepts, I still believe the ideas presented in the following pages are awesome and worth sharing. They were revelatory to me as I picked them up over the years, and I still receive a large number of emails and in-person thanks when on tour from readers who gleaned helpful tidbits, and sometimes grand umbrella-concepts, that helped them grok what it is to build healthy, helpful, and long-lasting relationships with other people.
I hope you find some value in these ideas, too.
To avoid any confusion, let’s talk about what networking is, and what networking is not.
For the purposes of this book, ‘networking’ is the establishment and nourishment of healthy, valuable relationships. It’s about meeting the right people, connecting with them, and perpetuating that connection.
Networking, contrary to popular belief, is more than collecting business cards as if they’re baseball cards. It’s not knowing of everyone without really knowing them. And it’s not having 5000+ connections on LinkedIn. Networking, for the purposes of this book, eschews these old, empty, metric-based goals in favor of a connection that is legitimate, fulfilling, and truly valuable for everyone involved.
That definition will mean something different for each and every person, of course, but it’s a nice, loose description for us to start with. The idea is not to feel like you know everyone, but rather to know people who add value to your life, and to whose lives you can add something, as well. That’s what we’re aiming for here.
There are plenty of tricks you’ve been told are the key to success, and I’m going to ask you to set those aside for the time being. Some may be useful to you and your goals; some will not. It could be that shaking hands with just the right amount of pressure and with precisely the right amount of eye contact actually does make the difference between being memorable and forgettable; it might also be that even thinking about something so specific is wasted energy.
Like most other things in life, when it comes to networking it’s best to start at the beginning. The crux of why you want to network in the first place, and what you hope to achieve by doing so.
FOCUS AND FLEXIBILITY
Networking is an incredibly versatile skill to hone.
For some, networking means making new friends in a new city. For others, it’s all about finding new clients or customers and ensuring they want to continue doing business. For others still, there are no immediate and concrete goals: a healthy network of friends and associates just seems like a valuable asset to build up over time.
For me, it was all of the above. I had moved from the Midwest to Los Angeles, and outside of work I didn’t know a soul. Large cities don’t have the folksy friendliness of smaller towns, so I spent the entire first year in my new home socially secluded. I think I knew a total of ten people for that whole year, and most of them weren’t people I had much in common with, aside from sitting in the same building all day at work.
When I quit my job a year after arriving, I decided to start my own studio. It was a risk: I had zero clients, about the same number of friends, and only enough money in the bank to pay a month’s rent.
At that point in my life in particular, networking was about establishing a base of friends, acquiring some clients, and preparing for the future. I had no idea how long I’d continue running my studio, how long I’d stay in LA, or what kind of work I’d be doing a few years down the line. It made sense to reach out and find people to have in my life, not just for the short term but for the long road ahead. People who would grow with me, and vice versa.
Your circumstances will be different from mine. You may have a great group of friends and only need to grow the business side of things. Or maybe the opposite: you have tons of wonderful clients, but lack social chums. Or maybe you’re looking for ‘the one’ and hoping to expand your network, growing your group of friends and exposure to potential mates as a result.
The important takeaway here is to ensure you know which direction you’re headed, and thus where to focus your efforts. This book is full of concepts, philosophies, strategies and ideas related to networking, but like any set of tools, you’ll want to know what you’re building before you start hammering and sawing at things.
So take a moment now and think it through. What do you hope to accomplish?
Then read the book, and think again. Consider how to apply what you’ve learned in a focused way. This one tiny, preparatory step will save you an immense amount of time and energy — so don’t skip it.
Whatever your priorities, and whatever you hope to achieve, I contend that the best way to get started is by making some friends.
It may be that you’ve already got some good friends, and that’s wonderful, but even those among us who feel saturated with companionship should be able to find room for a little more. It may be that interacting with a new circle of people gives you the connections, momentum, or whatever else you need to get where you want to be.
Consider how much easier it would be to achieve your goals if everyone in your life was cheering you on. Helping you out. Keeping you in mind when they meet someone new, in case that new face turned out to be someone you’d get along with, or someone who might find your goods or services appealing. Now consider how being surrounded by such people might change things; making the difficult moments more bearable and the celebratory moments all the sweeter.
This is why I say friendship is a good place to start: it’s an excellent basis for any flavor of relationship. Whether you’re looking for business or romance, companionship or an arsenal of experts you can call on when you need them, having good friends can get you there, and far more easily than trying to build up each in a different way, from scratch.
Consider, too, that if your romantic partner starts out as a friend, you have something to fall back on should the romance fall by the wayside. If a customer ceases to be a customer (for whatever reason), friendship as a base allows for the opportunity to stay in each other’s lives, even if under different circumstances.
Friendship is an excellent platform upon which you can build anything you and the other person might desire. My best clients in LA were good friends. The people I’ve dated have been friends before all else. My most valuable connections when I travel, when I need information on a specific industry, or when I’m looking for help promoting a new book? Friends. All of them friends.
Now, that doesn’t mean that all of your friendships must look or operate the same way. The vast majority of my friendships change based on the other person’s situation and mine. Maybe we hang out every day when we’re living in the same city, but only Skype once or twice a year otherwise. Maybe we keep in touch primarily through social media updates and the occasional quick text conversation, but hung out in person one time several years ago, which allowed us to become comfortable with that kind of distance.
Each and every relationship will look different. Acknowledging this — and realizing that it’s okay — is key to keeping things healthy and happy.
Also important is ensuring that the relationship is balanced, regardless of what it might look like. That means neither person is putting in a lot more effort than the other, even if that effort manifests differently for you and them.
A good example of this is someone I met when I first started traveling, someone who remains a good friend to this day.
When I arrived in her country, I knew nothing about my new home, and she, being a local, knew a whole lot. At the time, she was working hard to start up a business, but had few of the connections she needed and was missing some key components in her business plan. She helped me by showing me around, introducing me to her friends and family, teaching me some of the language, and generally assisting me in finding my feet in my new home. I helped her by connecting her with friends overseas who were relevant to her business, helping her crunch the numbers, and helping to establish a professional brand for her venture.
We were both providing different types of value, but neither one of us felt we were taking too much, or giving too much. Neither one of us was using the other, and we both ended up better off for the friendship. This is an example of a balanced relationship.
Another less-intensive example is a friend from LA with whom I seldom speak. He and I met up from time to time when I lived in the area, but over the past several years we’ve connected maybe twice. The two times we spoke involved a quick catch up, and a request for some kind of assistance: in one case I needed a connection, and in the other he sought help promoting his work.
This is still a very balanced relationship, even though it involves very little effort on both his part and mine. It may be that you have dozens of friendships like this one, where neither one of you asks much from the other, and as a result, it maintains itself. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as one person doesn’t start asking for more than they’re giving. We actually live in a time where technology allows us to maintain hundreds of such relationships, should we want to. So keep that in mind, and if it works, enjoy it for what it is.
For some people, this may feel like a cluttered address book. For others, it’s ideal because it allows you to focus most of your attention on the prime relationships in your life: the secondary ones are still there in case you need them or they need you, of course, but they require little or no attention or energy.
One more point: starting new relationships as friendships keeps you from looking at other people as nothing more than a resource to tap when you need it. Everyone else in the world has as rich and complex an inner life as you, and their needs are just as vital to them as yours are to you. Keep that in mind, and you should never lack friends.
PAY IT FORWARD
One way to ensure that you’re not leeching off those around you is to lead with value. Start your relationships by giving rather than taking whenever possible.
In other words: pay it forward. Give before you receive.
It’s easy to overdo this, so let me tell you now that it can sometimes be unnerving if you insist on giving before you even know them. I know business books and blogs recommend this as a cold open for emails and such — “How can I help you?” — but keep in mind that if I don’t know you, I have absolutely no idea how you can help me, and it seems a little presumptuous to assume that you can. This creates a situation wherein your heart’s in the right place, but the tactic’s effectiveness is reduced by the discomfort caused.
A better way to go is to start a conversation, first.
Say you’re at a party and you meet someone who seems like a person you’d like to stay in touch with. You don’t say, “Hey, I’m Colin, how can I help you?” That person will assume you’re a server and give you their empty glass for a refill. Much better to chat a bit and find out who they are, what they do, and why they do it. If you ask the right questions and allow them to talk about what’s important to them, there’s a solid chance they’ll bring up an aspiration or problem you can help with.
So maybe after they’ve told you all about their business and how it’s expanding, you can put them in touch with a colleague who does amazing web design work, and who would be the perfect fit to help them expand internationally. Or maybe connect them to a friend who’s looking for the service they provide, which could result in them acquiring a new client. This is help that’s specific to them, rather than you popping up out of nowhere and insisting you’re valuable. The difference is important.
What’s more, once they know who you are and that you may be able to help out with something, it’s in their best interest to keep in touch. This flips the standard approach and puts the ball in their court. Now they’re free to contact you if they like, and free to drop it if they’d prefer not to. This is a nicety so that you don’t accidentally bug someone who doesn’t want to keep in touch, but also great for you because you’re not spending any additional time or effort on a one-sided relationship.
You may be thinking, “But Colin, how could I possibly produce enough value to start all the relationships I’d like to have?”
Amplification, that’s how. In this sense, amplification means increasing the value derived from the amount of effort invested.
It’s not the only way to approach things, of course, but I find that by figuring out a way to amplify your efforts, you’ll be able to produce more value for more people with the same amount of effort.
For me, this means publishing. I live in such a way that I have ideas to share, lessons to teach, and experiences to recall. I could share these things on a one-on-one basis, or I could write them down. Publish them in a public forum. Maintain a blog, for example, or produce free books.
With the same amount of effort it would take me to explain a concept to one person, I can write about it in such a way that millions of people a year have access to the same information.
Will everyone find it as valuable as that one person might have? Unlikely. But it’s an amazing feeling, knowing you can share so much with so many people while expending (relatively) little effort. The mind boggles when you consider how you can continue to compound the value produced, and how many connections you can make as a result of such a platform.
Now, not everyone is cut out for blogging, and blogging isn’t the right medium for each person’s information, skill, or whatever else they have to share. But you could start a community group, or work at a soup kitchen, or perform in a public forum.
There are as many means of amplifying as there are people, and it’s very much worth your time to figure out a way to more consistently, expansively, and effectively share what you’ve got to offer, even if that means acquiring a new skill to do it (say, building websites, constructing houses, writing, or public speaking).
Be sure to remember the direction you’re headed as you work on producing value on a grander scale. It’s possible to get lost in the game, to ‘make for the sake of making,’ which is fine if that makes you happy, but it misses out on the ripple effect that occurs beyond you and your happiness, should you amplify outward.
Build for yourself, certainly, but keep others in mind as you build, too. You’ll feel great as a result, and a whole lot of people will be wishing you well after you give them something without asking for anything in return. And even if all they can offer you is enthusiasm and encouragement, you’d be surprised how valuable those two things can be when you get into a tough spot, or just need some momentum to keep you going.
A bad first impression isn’t the end of the world, but it is a missed opportunity. An opportunity to speak clearly to a stranger about who you are, letting them know what kind of person they’re interacting with. A first impression is a chance to front-load your communication with the important stuff, without having to bog someone else down with an autobiographical treatise about yourself.
In essence, it’s an opportunity to say much by saying very little. And that means you can say good things — stacking the deck in favor of a positive relationship emerging from the interaction — or bad things, which might result in your words and actions being taken in the wrong context.
I’m going to mention this often, because I want to be very clear about this point: a good first impression is not a magic trick. It will not miraculously make you seem like something you’re not, and it won’t seal a deal one way or another.
Think of it like the opening line of a book: There’s a chance it will grip you, and pull you into the rest of the story seamlessly. There’s also a chance it will be humdrum and make you wonder what the hell you’re reading. Either way, the rest of the book is far more important, and will be the true gauge of quality. The opening line can prime someone to give the rest of what you have to say the benefit of the doubt, should there be a dull or confusing moment later on.
So how does one make a good first impression? By having a well-manicured personal brand. This sets you up to leave a good first impression with folks you haven’t met yet, whether online or in real life, and sends a clear message about who you are and what you do.
Another consideration is how you want to leave the other person feeling. That is, think about the better social interactions you’ve had, and how you felt afterward.
I’ve always enjoyed situations where I’ve met someone and felt like they were both interesting and also interested in me and my work. They were curious without being overbearing; friendly, without being desperate or sycophantic. As a result, that’s what I aim for; I like to make people feel at ease, ask them about themselves and their interests, and to have them walk away feeling like we’ve both gained something from the exchange. And if nothing else, feeling that it was a pleasure chatting, not a taxing experience.
Bare-minimum, remember that everything you do when around new people — how you walk, what you’re wearing, the look on your face, the words you say to others — contributes to your first impression. Be friendly, be cordial, be open, be interested. Try not to be a slob or rude or antagonistic.
If you have any conversational bad habits, like not making eye contact, making too much (creepily intense) eye contact, standing too close or too far away, or whatever, try to be conscious of that, as well. You may not mean anything by these habits, but they could unintentionally speak volumes to someone who doesn’t know you (and your quirks) yet.
Depending to whom you talk, the term ‘brand’ is either the core of a business model or a dirty word. This is because the word has been dragged around and misused for so long it’s kind of lost its meaning over the years, associated with everything from pop stars to smartphones.
For the purposes of this book, a ‘brand’ is the collection of ideas, visuals, sounds, and other sensory information that is associated with something. Apple’s brand is associated with clean aesthetics, flat colors, and just-outside-of-pop music. Moleskine’s brand is derived from the idea of tradition, especially European artistic tradition, and artisanal, hand-made things.
The same holds true with a brand derived from a person, rather than a product or company. My brand is the collection of associations that come tandem with my personality, quirks, habits, and the media that present ‘me’ to other people. The images of me that are available online, for example, make up a facet of my brand. My writing style. My books. The talks I give and the music I listen to. My handshake. The clothes I wear and the way I walk.
Your brand is an amalgamation of everything about you; it’s your vibe. We all have one by default, because we as humans tend to combine a thing’s attributes into a cohesive ‘thing concept.’ An apple is red, sweet, has a certain type of crunch, is roundish, smells a certain way, etc. Other people have a similar collection of attributes in mind when they think of you. Managing your personal brand is about managing those attributes and ensuring that others have the right idea about who you are.
It’s possible to use this concept to a negative end — to portray yourself as someone that you’re not — but I would advise against that. Some brands pull it off because they’ve got millions of dollars to throw into reinforcing brand elements to the public, but you don’t. If you try and portray yourself as someone other than who you are, you’ll eventually be caught, and that leads to all kinds of negative associations (and is kind of a douchebag move).
Far better to figure out who you are, decide what can be improved upon without losing your core character, and then express those elements as clearly as possible. This allows you to be yourself, rather than having to wear some kind of social mask all the time, but also gives you a massive advantage: no one can be a better ‘you’ than you. It keeps you from having to compare yourself to anyone else, and from giving others the means to do so.
Once you have a good idea of who you are, what you believe, your goals, what you’re passionate about — all the things that make up a person — it’s time to communicate that to the rest of the world. This is what having a personal brand is all about: clear communication.
There are multiple fronts worthy of your consideration for this task.
There’s your in-person self. This is how you walk, talk, dress, style your hair, and all that jazz. I’ll be talking more about the concept of ‘attractive’ when it comes to networking in greater depth in a later chapter. For now, consider that if you want to be taken seriously as a professional, you can get away with dressing like a slob and not taking care of your hygiene and lacking social skills, but only if you’re incredibly talented. It’s worth the effort to strive for at least average when it comes to such things, because anything less than that tend to be a negative mark in the ‘first impressions’ column.
Going above and beyond, of course, can do nothing but help. People generally like to surround themselves with gregarious, attractive people (again, more on ‘attractive’ later, but I don’t mean ‘sexually attractive’ here). Take care of the basics — brush your teeth, wash your hair, work out from time to time — and you’ll be on decent footing. Go the extra mile to have a personal style — to have an opinion on how your hair is cut, for example, and how you dress — and you’re even better off.
If you’re unsure of how to get started with such things, take a look at fashion magazines. Models tend to be done up with exaggerated features and styles that are archetypically ‘attractive’ in the physical sense. In other words, you can see what is considered attractive and water it down a bit, for everyday use. This goes for clothing, hair, physique, just about everything. Don’t be afraid to experiment and ask for feedback, either. Chances are someone in your life is better at things like this than you, and they’d probably be delighted to find you taking an interest.
Your online persona is another side of your brand that can be manicured and maintained, and likewise should be firmly planted in reality, not fantasy. That being said, there’s plenty of opportunity to let the most important aspects of you and your work shine through, if you take the time to do so.
A good place to start is the images you have available, on your website and social networks. These images will be the first glimpse many people have of you, and though it’s not necessary to be modelesque, it is a good idea to make sure you have well-lighted, nice-looking photos. The more professional-looking they are — in terms of production value, lighting, clothing, makeup — the better, though it’s good to have some decent ‘non-professional’ ones up there, too, if you want to share some aspect of your personal life alongside your professional one.
What you write about yourself and your work is also important, and you needn’t be a professional author to scribble something solid. A good place to start: ask yourself what is most vital that someone you’ve never met understand about you. Explain this in the fewest words possible, while still getting the message across.
Fair warning: this can be difficult, because you know too much about yourself to easily be reductionist about it. This is another place where asking a friend or family member what they think could be useful.
This brand you’re building carries through to everything that you do: the emails you write, the photos you post on Instagram, the reviews you leave on Amazon. Before you post something, ask yourself, “Is this something I would share, and is this how I’d share it?” If the answer is no, either figure out another way (rewrite it, use a video instead of a photo, etc.) or let it be. One of the best ways to maintain a clear personal brand is to avoid muddying the waters with bursts of randomness that others might see and assume are central to who you are (no one wants to be defined by a photo from college mid-keg stand, or a rant about how mean their neighbor is, for example).
Finally, consider your collateral. In this case, ‘collateral’ refers to the physical and intangible objects that support your brand, including business cards, your website, your social networks, and so on.
We’ve just talked about your online collateral and how it can help you maintain a consistent brand, but what about the things you use and carry in real life?
I would argue that this depends on who you are and what you’re doing with your life. There was a time that I carried really fancy business cards with me any time I’d go out. These days, I don’t have business cards. The difference is that back then I was looking for clients; my business cards helped me show off my design skills and communicated that I did high-end work without my having to say it. Today, I don’t have clients, and as a result it’s less important that I have that kind of collateral for people. I have little to communicate to them that I can’t convey through conversation.
Business cards, custom letterhead, stamps emblazoned with a personalized logo: these are things that may be helpful if you’re doing a specific kind of work. Your online brand is generally a better place to invest your time and energy, though, if you aren’t involved in a sector that values such trappings.
BEING YOUR WEIRD SELF
Recognizing that any talk of branding can come across like I’m encouraging you to sand down all your rough edges, I want to emphasize that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, I’d much rather you take a good close look at those rough edges and decide which are adding something to your life and will help you get where you want to be, and which are holding you back in some way.
Then, sand down the ones that are limiting you, and sharpen the ones that are beneficial. In other words, it’s not about becoming someone else, someone you think the world wants you to be. It’s about becoming a refined, better-defined version of yourself. A better you.
For most of us, this means being weird. Maybe not obviously so, but possibly. And there’s definitely going to be something there that separates you from the norm. Maybe many things. And those are the things that make you, you.
Keep those things. Treasure them. So long as they aren’t bad habits or antisocial quirks that are standing in your way, embrace them and make them your own. These idiosyncrasies are what makes a person charming. They’re what makes your work your work, and what will help you carve out a place for your absolutely unique brand in the world.
Your weirdness will also help you network because, frankly, anyone who seems too ‘normal’ seems that way because they lack rough edges — friction. There’s nothing there to hold on to, and at the end of the day, we’re all looking to surround ourselves with people whose flavor of strangeness complements our own.
Keep that in mind, and stay weird.
BEING MORE ATTRACTIVE
Attractive, in this context, doesn’t mean sexually attractive. Well, sometimes it does, but only because many of the traits we look for in people, socially and professionally, are the same traits we tend to look for in romantic partners.
But when I say ‘attractive’ and talk about being more attractive, I’m talking platonic and non-sexual. ‘Appealing,’ if that’s a more comfortable, less baggage-laced term. We’re talking about upping social appeal.
So why put in the effort to be more attractive? Simply put, the world is a friendlier place the more attractive you are. There’s all kinds of research that supports this assertion: attractive people get better deals, make more money, and even tend to get away with murder from time to time. It’s not a purposeless investment, putting some time into this aspect of yourself.
Of course, attractive can mean many things.
There’s physical attraction, for one. Getting in better shape is an excellent use of your time (for your health, not just networking), as is paying attention to your hygiene. Stylistic presentation, like your hair, clothing, and other accoutrements can also be a valuable thing to refine (though be careful not to depend overmuch on ‘stuff’ over ‘self’ — it’s easy to push too far to the opposite extreme if you decide that the only attractive things about you are the clothes/makeup/hair products you wear).
There’s also charisma and social attractiveness: being the kind of person others want in their lives because of your social magnetism.
This will mean different things for different people, but generally it’s some combination of charm, wittiness, friendliness, inclusiveness, a positive demeanor, and value. That last facet can involve business or connections or myriad other things. The other attributes, however, are personality related: your charming will look different from mine, as will your friendliness. Each of these items will probably look different for a punk rockstar than for a suit-and-tie businessperson, but the end result is the same in all cases: they’re the reason people want to be around you, introduce you to others, and generally see you as an asset, not a burden.
Finally, consider the conversational factor. We’ve all got quirks and rhythms to the way we speak, and some are more conducive to networking than others. Think of that person in your life who interrupts you every time you try to speak. Think of the person who allows for uncomfortable lags of silence between sentences, using verbal and gestural cues that make it difficult to tell whether it’s your turn to respond.
If used and emphasized correctly, some of these quirks can be positives. But be cognizant of how others are responding to you and the way you carry on a conversation. It may be that folks are constantly looking for a way out because they can’t get a word in edgewise, or that they’re intimidated by the speed at which you lecture when you start in on a topic you enjoy.
Be aware, figure out if the quirks are working for you or against you, and then act accordingly.
Speaking of attractiveness, there’s something incredibly attractive about confidence.
Not arrogance, of course. Arrogance is decidedly not attractive, and it’s easy to mistake one for the other. If you’re always feeling the need to build yourself up, push others down to feel taller, or prone to public displays of dominance, take stock; you may be coming across as arrogant to many people.
Confidence, on the other hand, means that you don’t feel the need to push others down, or assert your authority. You have a casual certitude that allows you to be calm and steadfast, and you know that changing your mind won’t make you less of a person. Confidence allows you to spend more time building others up, because you’re already taken care of.
Based on what we’ve been talking about with attractiveness, it’s probably easy to see why confidence is a better fit for networking than arrogance. If you are calm, collected, but also humble enough to change trajectory and admit when you’re wrong or don’t know something, you’re going to be more pleasant to be around. Folks will know that an encounter with you won’t be a pissing contest, or an excuse for you to put them down in order to feel superior.
I know a lot of good people who have had trouble with this distinction, because we’re told from a very young age that many of the traits associated with arrogance are worth striving for. That if you’re successful or beautiful or wealthy or whatever, it’s okay to lord it over others.
I would say that the better off you are, whether in looks or wealth or success, the more attractive it is when you’re kind, helpful, and humble.
If you lack confidence — and I think this applies to a good chunk of the population, to some degree or another — consider taking some time to build yourself up. Think through what you’re good at, what you’ve accomplished, and where you’re headed. Then set some simple goals, and achieve them. It’s amazing how much momentum a simple goal accomplished can provide, and that momentum can help you achieve greater and more significant goals over time.
Remember, too, that just because you haven’t achieved the things you want to accomplish already doesn’t mean you won’t. Just because you aren’t where you want to be in life, doesn’t mean you won’t get there eventually. It’s a matter of applying yourself and deciding what’s important. Focus your time and effort on those important things — eschewing the unimportant and less-important things, for a time — and check off some items from your list.
Confidence is, as much as anything else, feeling that you can get what you want out of life. If you haven’t had the victories you want to have yet, start with smaller goals and build upward.
Sometimes feeling good about yourself is just a matter of changing your expectations and your perspective, and doing so will help you improve your relationships. From there, build higher and higher, taking on new challenges and pursuing ever-more-formidable goals.
Without that second step — increasing the difficulty of that which you pursue over time — you’ll experience a quick burst of satisfaction, but it won’t last. Establish a habit of testing your mettle, however, and nothing will feel out of reach, with the proper time and effort.
If you’re socially magnetic, people are drawn to you: want to chat with you, hang out with you, and be around you.
It’s not because of any one factor that this happens, and there’s no trick to it (don’t wear a funny hat or spray yourself with puma musk or whatever). Social magnetism is the natural result of being confident, being attractive (in the networking sense), and adding value to the interaction in some way.
As you become more self-aware and work to become a better version of yourself, you’ll notice this dynamic shift. It’ll be easier to engage in conversation with people you don’t know. Doors will open for you; folks will go out of their way to help out. Recognize that this isn’t an opportunity to lord your status over those who are on the outskirts of your social bubble. On the contrary, this is the perfect time to welcome others in — to say, “Hey, why don’t you join us?” to someone who is less socially adept, or who doesn’t know as many people.
The point here is that you’ll experience changes socially that can be used to help or harm others. Think of the ‘in’ crowd in TV shows and movies about high school. Notice how they always thrive on exclusion and the belittlement of others? Don’t do that. You’re not a child. And everyone benefits when you make sure to elevate those around you rather than putting them down.
No matter what kind of relationship you’re trying to start, develop, or maintain, clear communication is key.
When I say ‘clear communication,’ I mean that you make your priorities and intentions known. That you ensure the person on the other end is informed so they can hold up their end of things. And that you keep yourself informed so that you might do the same.
This means asking questions when something is unclear. It can involve bringing up difficult or uncomfortable topics. It might require risking embarrassment or a perceived reduction in prestige. It might necessitate being vulnerable and showing your hand, when you’d prefer to play close to the chest.
It’s worth it, though. When all the cards are on the table, there’s no excuse for anyone not to be fully informed, or to act upon different data. It builds trust, because you know what the other person is thinking, and they know what you’re thinking. It ensures that everyone is on the same page, and that no one is trying to read the other’s mind or making wild guesses about the facts.
This is true in relationships of all kinds, and it’s frankly remarkable that more people don’t make it a centerpiece of their networking habits. Clear communication removes doubt from the equation, and in doing so allows you and the other person to make better decisions based on fact, rather than supposition. Who wouldn’t want that?
Well, in actuality, many people don’t operate this way because it makes them feel exposed. When you make your intentions clear, you’re leaving yourself open to be taken advantage of. The potential is there for someone to take what you’ve given them — insight into your inner-workings — and use it against you for their own personal gain.
I would argue that this is a possibility no matter how closed off or open you are. There are people out there who would sell out everyone else on the planet if it meant they would gain in some way, and in my experience it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been open with them or not.
It can actually be a good yardstick, opening up to someone you’d like to bring into your circle. If they’re hesitant to do the same, even after some time has passed and trust has been built, it may be that you’re better off spending your time and effort elsewhere.
If you’ve read anything about personal development, it’s likely you’ve been told about the benefits of being ‘in the moment.’
I’m here to tell you that the benefits of being present extend even further than the clarity and efficiency you’ll find when you focus on the ‘now’ and truly experience it.
Being in the moment in social situations can help you pick up on things a normal, non-monotasking person will usually miss, distracted as they are from the details of the interaction.
Consider body language, voice pitch, and gesticulation. Consider tiny social cues and shifts in rhythm that indicate whether someone you’re talking to would like to move on, or dive deeper into a topic.
These are things we have the ability to sense and interpret instinctually, but in order for those instincts to operate at top capacity it’s best to focus on the here and now. Doing so will allow part of you to be consciously focused on the person or people you’re with, while the rest of your attention will be subconsciously focused, picking up on things that are left unsaid. This is what makes the difference between someone who is good at socializing and someone who isn’t: being there and being aware.
Being present also allows you to be more engaged in the conversation itself: following along with the flow of information, and the words being used to convey that information.
Others can tell when you’re not engaged, like when your questions are disconnected from what they’ve been saying. Far better to remain actively engaged, and ask questions that build upon what’s been said. This shows your curiosity beyond just passing the time, and makes one hell of an impression. People like it when someone else is interested in things that get them going. Being an active conversationalist communicates your attentiveness.
Finally, being present makes you aware of the big picture of a small moment. How are you and the other person standing? Are you making eye contact? What’s the flow of conversation like? Are you asking questions, or just rambling on about yourself? Are you holding the other person hostage and not allowing them to escape? Or are they thrilled to be talking to you?
There’s so much you can pick up on, given that you’re mentally there and attuned to it. For those who have never been present during a conversation, trying this out will be revelatory. You may even find that you enjoy social settings more than before, since you’ll get so much more out of them.
Speaking of conversation, let’s talk about how such a thing works, and some verbal and physical cues to consider while participating in one.
We’ll start with real life, since it’s where we all live. You run into someone while walking to the grocery store, and stop for a quick chat on the sidewalk.
Here are some things to notice:
Facial expression. Are they smiling? Frowning? Wearing a blank look of purpose?
Stance. Are their feet pointed toward you? Spread out in different directions? Pointed in the direction they were headed before they stopped to chat?
Gestures and nods. Are they engaged in the conversation, nodding at the right times, gesticulating with their hands to more fully express concepts? Are their arms folded in front of their chests? Hands shoved deep into their pockets?
Some of this data will be useful, and some not so much. It may be that their arms are folded in front of their chests because it’s comfortable or how they generally stand. But that’s a posture we also tend to adopt when we’re feeling a little uncomfortable and trying to put a barrier between ourselves and what’s going on around us. We generally point our feet toward our priority, which means if someone has theirs pointed toward you, they’re fully engaged. If a person is pointing their lead foot in the direction in which they were headed when you started chatting, however, it could indicate they’re in a hurry and might want to make the conversation a quick one.
None of this should be taken as objective, scientific evidence. But by combining bits of data you can draw general conclusions, then test your theory. If I suspect a person I’ve fallen into a conversation with has other places to be, I’ll adjust my own body language and leave an opening in whatever we’re talking about for them to use as an exit. Something like “Where are you headed?” works well, or “What are you up to?” If they say “I’ve got to get back to take care of the kids,” then I have better context for the conversation, and can gracefully say, “I’ll let you get back to it, then, but it was great to see you.”
Consider what you can do to intentionally use this type of information within conversations, too. The pointing of feet being an indicator of attention is one of my favorite discoveries, and I use it frequently to be more inclusive in a social setting. If I’m talking with someone and want to indicate others can join us, doing so non-verbally can be as simple as opening up my stance — widening the distance between my feet and pointing them further out to the side. A simple shift in stance, and suddenly other people who were feeling excluded feel like part of the group, subconsciously. Bizarre how the mind works, but practical, if you use it.
Beyond physical cues and subtleties, asking questions is a wonderful way to learn about the person on the other end of the chat, but it’s also a great way to control the flow of the conversation. When you’re asking the questions, you’re in the driver’s seat; you’re essentially guiding the other people involved in what they should talk about next. Use that knowledge to find out more and learn something, when you can, but also ask questions that allow them to talk about subjects they’re interested in. Maybe things they can brag about a little, or geek out about.
When you’re interacting with someone new, you may not know a thing about them when you first introduce yourself. A few minutes later, you could know most of the important stuff, including details they wouldn’t normally disclose, just by asking the right questions.
I should note that you don’t want to approach asking questions like a police officer interrogating a subject. Far better to keep it casual, start out with the basics (if you’re at a party, maybe ask who else they know there, or why they decided to attend), and segue into something public but personal (like what they do for a living and what they do for fun).
As a general rule, avoid being too touchy-feely unless you know someone well. There’s plenty of gimmicky advice out there about how often to touch people, where, and when, but I’ll tell you from experience that it’s almost universally creepy in real life, and usually makes you seem like some kind of sleazy person, if not a pervert. Shake hands, give warm hugs if you’re in a casual setting where everybody is pretty open and friendly, but avoid stepping into personal bubbles beyond that.
From there, the sky is the limit. I find that by starting out at the surface, then asking something like, “How did you get into something like that?” about their career, you can learn a lot about a person, their motivations, their background, and the like. Home in on interesting sub-topics derived from their answers (“Must have been a major shift growing up in the Midwest, then moving to the coast for college, eh?”), then add details from your own experiences to the mix (“My family’s from Arkansas, too, actually. Really good people, but terrible humidity.”) That way they’re learning about you simultaneously, and have the opportunity to ask their own questions. And you won’t accidentally overwhelm them with queries when they might prefer to follow up on something you’ve said.
It’s important to note that I’m not suggesting you fake interest in people, and go through some kind of routine in order to navigate the sometimes muddy waters of a social setting. Rather, I recommend that you be genuinely interested and allow that interest to show. The advice I’m giving is specific because I want to show what I mean when I talk about asking questions and following up, but there is no script, no right or wrong question to ask; it will be different with every situation and every person. A good conversation is a balanced volley, not an interview.
That’s why developing a genuine interest in other people, rather than faking it, is the right way to go. Because once you have that, you won’t feel like you need a script to build relationships; you’ll do it without even thinking.
The same applies to conversations that take place on the phone or online. There’ll be fewer physical cues, of course, but you can tell a lot by tone of voice, the rhythm of the conversation, and what’s being said (all filtered through some knowledge of the quirks involved with the technology you’re using, of course…don’t assume computer lag is a lag in the conversation).
It’s all about being present, paying attention to what’s being said and done, and empathizing. Put yourself in their shoes to better understand where they’re coming from. Default to kind and helpful, don’t overstep any boundaries, and pay attention. Everything else is situational.
A quick note about introductions: an aspect of conversation that some people seem to do miraculously well from birth, while for others it can take a lifetime to master.
Making an introduction is sometimes as simple as telling two people the other’s name. “Mary, this is Howard. Howard, meet Mary.”
But it can also be more than that. An introduction is an opportunity to help another person (or people) make a great first impression, because it gives you the chance to brag about them to someone new. It also gives you the chance to show that you know them (or something about them) that is important enough to lead with.
An example of a good introduction:
“Mary, this is Howard, the head of HR at Omnitech. He’s also a champion pool player and just came back from a tournament in Bali. Howard, this is Mary, the mother of two amazing kids, and the author of that mystery novel I told you I couldn’t put down.”
Note what can be accomplished in a very short time when introductions are used as an opportunity, not just a responsibility. Now both Howard and Mary know something about the important things in each other’s lives, and have starting points for their own conversation. They also know that I know about the important things in their lives, and have provided value in helping them express those things (alleviating the feeling that they’re bragging about their accomplishments to strangers).
This won’t always be possible, of course, because you won’t always know enough about a person to provide a thorough introduction. You’d be surprised how quickly you can pick up the fundamentals, though, when you ask the right questions, and take the opportunity to summarize when it arises.
Maybe you don’t know the most important things about someone, but you know enough to compliment them a bit to someone else you know who’s entering the conversation: “Hey Frank, good to see you. This is Mat, who was just telling me about this crazy trip he took around Southeast Asia.”
The same approach works well online, too, though you’ll obviously be writing out the introductions, rather than speaking them. Quick, concise, introductory emails can help make your reputation as a connector; a wonderful thing to be, and a great way to add value to your life and the lives of others. Mine usually look something like this (with both parties included as recipients):
“Hey Susan! My good friend Natalie was just asking me if I knew of any designers with a flair for web development, and you came to mind immediately.
Natalie, meet Susan, a seasoned entrepreneur who’s working on a new project she’s planning to launch next year. I’ll let her tell you the details, but I think you’ll dig it, whether you have time to take on a new client right now or not.
I’ll talk to you both soon!”
Simple, to the point, and essentially the same information you’d find in a verbal introduction, but scaled for the online world.
The vehicle you use for an introduction doesn’t matter very much; what matters is that you say your piece, give the other people some indication of who the other person is and why you’re introducing them, and allow them to take it from there.
The followup, much like the introduction, is a concise craft all unto itself.
These days, most followups will take place online. There was a time when you would call to leave a voicemail or to set up a coffee date, and this is still sometimes relevant. But in most cases, the best way to get in touch with someone after you’ve met them is to either send a text message (if they gave you their phone number) or via email. If they told you they’re on a social network like Facebook, and didn’t give you anything else to go on, use that, but keep it as a third option.
A good followup generally has three main components: a greeting, a reminder, and an action item.
The greeting is easy: “Hello!” or “Hey Mildred” will do.
The reminder is a quick memory prompt of who you are and how they know you. You can say something like “I’m that guy you met last night at the Christmas Party,” but bonus points if you can present it in such a way that doesn’t imply they need a reminder. Something like, “Great meeting you at Sally’s Christmas Party last night; I still can’t believe we both got our labradoodles from the same shelter!”
And finally, the action item. This is a next step, which could mean setting up some kind of in-person get together, or further discussion of a certain topic. Something like this works well: “I’d love to grab a cup of coffee and pick your brain about the film industry, if you’ve got the time. Let me know what your schedule looks like — I’m free all week, after work.” As does this: “I was hoping you could connect with me the web developer you were talking about: does he have work online you can link me to?”
The greeting is just polite. The reminder makes sure they know who you are, and re-establishes context. The action item is why you’re making contact.
It’s worth noting that if you don’t have an action item in mind, it may not be vital that you followup, unless you feel the need to cement the connection while the initial meeting is still fresh in their mind.
So we’ve talked a bit about how to interact with people, but how do you meet people to begin with? Where are all these people with whom you can interact?
All over the place, actually. But who you want to meet will depend on what you’re hoping to accomplish, socially. Are you keen to expand your client base? Make new friends? There are some broad actions you can take no matter what goals you might have.
One early action that you can take is to take a look around for pre-existing groups you may be able to join. Maybe there’s a book club at the indie bookstore downtown, or a kayaking group at the camping gear shop. Online, you can search social networks like Facebook to see what kind of groups are active locally, or sites like Meetup to see if there are interest groups nearby that may be relevant to you.
It’s great if you can find something that aligns with an interest you’re already keen on, but consider opening yourself up to new hobbies and experiences, as well. It may be that you can’t cook to save your life, but there are cooking classes being taught nearby. Learning something new while also meeting some new people? Double-win.
Events, like concerts and book readings and gallery openings, are also great places to meet new people. Hangouts where folks tend to become regulars — think coffee shops, bars, and libraries — are also excellent spots to establish your own habits and make some connections.
No matter where you end up, or under what circumstances, it will all be for naught if you’re closed off and socially unavailable. If you bring your laptop to a coffee shop and decide to work from there for the day, keeping your headphones in at all times, sitting in the corner, and not making eye contact with anyone is an excellent way to be alone in public, but not a great means of meeting people.
Chat with the barista. Make eye contact with people and allow yourself to smile at strangers. Bring a book to read, and ask other people about theirs. The trick here is to be cordial and friendly without being annoying. It’s easy to shoot too far to the other end of the spectrum and become that irritatingly chatty person at a place where people are trying to get work done. Aim for the middle ground: open for interaction, but not overbearing.
Sometimes this will result in a spur of the moment conversation about a song that’s playing in the shop, and sometimes it will result in nothing at all. But being able to put yourself out there when you need to is a skill that’s useful anywhere you go. All you have to do is adjust it for where you happen to be, and never step over the line between gregarious and tiresome.
The same general rules apply online, though you’ll find there are all kinds of tools available on the net that help you make connections with like-minded people. These types of connections are easier to make, but also generally less valuable by default.
That’s not to say that you can’t build a solid relationship with someone through, say, a music streaming service that connects you based on your tastes. But in the online world, ‘connections’ are a far more tenuous thing, and many people are ‘friends’ with thousands of people they’ve never said a word to on social networks.
If you do make some kind of online connection through those means, don’t assume too much, and like in person, avoid being pushy or overbearing. Maybe send a quick and simple message, expounding on your appreciation for a certain band they also like, or the artistry of a photo they posted. If they don’t respond, let it be. But if they do, approach it like any other conversation, taking the social norms of that particular network into consideration (that’ll generally mean being far more brief than in real life).
Open yourself up to interaction, and go places where there are people to interact with. Also: don’t be pushy and overbearing. And have fun. This is by far the best, easiest, and most consistent way to meet people on a regular basis.
It isn’t necessary to have a wingman or wingwoman when you network, but it doesn’t hurt. A wingperson is a friend you enjoy being around, and one who is just as interested in being social and networking as you are. Ideally, they also know you well and feel at home in the relevant environment.
Just like having a wingperson when you’re going out to a bar looking for a date, the idea of a networking wingperson is that they go out and connect with folks, make introductions, and make you look good. Just like we talked about with intros, your wingperson know enough about you to lead with the important stuff and get conversations off to a good start. They can also hold their own in a conversation, picking up the slack if you falter.
Reciprocation is key to this kind of relationship: the wingperson makes introductions and such for you, and you do the same for them. If you’re looking for clients, they’ll point potentials in your direction; if they’re looking for a romantic relationship, you know something about their type so you can introduce them to anyone you meet who seems like a good match.
I bring this up not as something you absolutely must do in order to reach your goals — you don’t need a wingperson to succeed at networking. However, it can be a great way for someone who’s less comfortable in social situations to become acclimated to the rhythm and requirements of such interactions. It reduces the tension and fear to have someone nearby who you know, and who’s on your side.
Just be careful not to close your social circle, which is a common occurrence when friends go to networking events or parties together. Sometimes when everyone is else a stranger, it’s easier to just chat with the one person you know. Don’t do this. Go meet new people, together.
If it helps, make a game out of it. Challenge each other to go talk to someone specific, to walk up to a group of strangers and introduce yourself, or step into a conversation and add to it (just be careful not to be rude, or to step into anything too personal).
This is something that helped me when I was first finding my legs at networking events. If I couldn’t come up with anything else with which to initiate a conversation, I’d just walk up and say, “So my friend over there challenged me to walk up to a bunch of strangers and introduce myself. I’m Colin.” It’s amazing how well that breaks the ice.
THINGS TO AVOID
Let’s go over some general things to avoid. Issues that may not warrant their own chapter, but are, nonetheless, important to note.
I wish this went without saying, but don’t be a jerk. Don’t be rude or mean or petty to other people. Don’t be overly loud in public, don’t be obnoxious, even if you think you’re being funny. Don’t be prickish or racist or sexist. Or prejudiced, in general. Don’t put others down to make yourself feel big, or to make them feel small. Being any of these things limits you, and makes those around you uncomfortable. They also make you look more than a little pathetic and lacking in confidence.
A confident person doesn’t need any of this. A confident person has the benefit of being kind and polite and uplifting. Do that. Be that.
Don’t be the kind of person who ‘knows’ everyone but actually doesn’t know a soul. This tends to happen if you turn networking into a game, making it all about numbers and how many people you can talk to, rather than being in the moment, adding value, and connecting with people. This is the real life equivalent of having thousands of friends on a social network but not knowing a thing about any of them. It’s an empty metric and not worth your time.
Don’t name drop without substance. It’s fine to mention that you know someone if relevant to a story, or in trying to help someone else make a valuable connection, but don’t do it just to do it. Your affiliation with others is not anywhere near the most important or interesting thing about you. Share the important stuff, instead.
Don’t assume too much, about other people, or about your relationship with them. Don’t assume they ‘more than like’ you, for example. I’m talking to guys in particular here; we tend to be optimists when it comes to assuming someone we have a crush on is crushing back. Our brains play tricks like that, so be aware, and avoid that social faux pas by allowing things to happen naturally, rather than deciding everyone is in love with you and making every interaction about ‘more than friends.’
On a broader note, don’t assume people want to hang out with you, or that they don’t. Communicate clearly, and other people will generally do the same. Act upon concrete information, not baseless supposition.
Don’t self-deprecate. It’s great to be humble, but it should be a confident humility, derived from an awareness that you’ve failed and have been wrong in the past, and will do both again at some point in the future. This acknowledgement allows you to take risks without becoming over-confident because you’re aware of the possible negative consequences. The bad kind of humility involves assuming you’ll fail, are not good enough for someone else, and the like. You’re fallible, yes, but you’re also capable of greatness. That’s the attitude of a humble-but-confident person.
Don’t be too cool for school. That is, don’t be ‘above it all,’ sneering at trends or events or whatnot, because it makes you feel powerful or big to put other things or people down. Being above it puts you out of reach, which makes it difficult to connect with people, but also makes you look like a tool. Be encouraging and enthusiastic. Have taste, but don’t dismiss the tastes of others.
Don’t pigeonhole yourself or others. If someone has always been a sports enthusiast and cared about little else, but has decided to start reading more and to pursue a degree in advanced chemistry, be encouraging and helpful. Don’t make fun of them, express surprise over their pivot, or otherwise try and force them back into the caricature you’re familiar with. That tends to be our knee-jerk reaction to changes in those around us, and is a manifestation of our own need to maintain stability in our environment. That doesn’t make it right, and anyone who has ever tried to grow — to evolve into a better version of themselves — and experienced pushback from the people around them will know what I’m talking about here. I’ve had to leave plenty of people behind because they couldn’t accept the ‘new me.’ Don’t be the kind of person folks have to leave behind because you can’t adjust to new realities, and support them as they try new things and grow.
Avoid getting drunk, high, or otherwise altered in social settings (unless you’re getting together for that specific reason, and everyone’s involved). It’s incredibly uncomfortable for everyone when that drunk guy at the party starts shouting, falling over, or generally acting drunk. The same is true with folks who are tripping or whatnot, when everyone else is just trying to enjoy some conversation. If you know you have trouble moderating, opt for something non-alcoholic. If you feel weird about that, tell people that you’re the designated driver (or be the designated driver for people who are imbibing). It’s quite possible to go overboard without meaning to, even if you don’t have moderation issues. A good rule of thumb is to have at least one glass of water after each beer, and two for anything stronger. This will give you more time to metabolize the alcohol, and will also ensure you have something in your hand at all times (it can feel awkward to be the only person at a bar or party without a drink in your hand).
Don’t be a statue, closed off and personality-less. Don’t be a hooligan, flailing around, loud and obnoxious.
And finally, avoid having too many limitations. It’s your own business if you’re close-minded, but it will limit you socially. Your prejudices, preconceived notions about people and food and cultures and whatnot, all limit the scope of who you can hang out with and what you can do. It’s a good idea to default to ‘open’ when it comes to new things and ideas. No one can force you to like music you don’t like, or enjoy food you don’t enjoy, but networking is a million times easier if you can tolerate anything: food that isn’t your favorite; music you’re not a fan of; places you prefer not to visit.
You may even find that you start to like some of the things you thought you hated — this has certainly been my experience. But even if you don’t, you’ll find that the doors open far wider for those who are willing to roll with the punches and be cool with anything.
So long as you aren’t doing anything that goes against your sense of morality (no need to eat meat if you’re vegan, for example), take up the challenge of rolling with it.
Before we start talking about specific flavors of relationships, let’s talk a little about sociological premises that determine how we interact, and are therefore relevant to networking.
The Law of Reciprocity
This is the tendency of people to respond to a kind gesture positively, whether with a kind gesture of their own or with increased cooperation or social enthusiasm.
A practical example of this is the marketing tactic of giving something to a potential customer before trying to sell them your product.
The Hare Krishnas, a religious sect, used to hang around airport terminals, giving flowers to strangers. Even though most of the recipients of these flowers knew nothing about the Hare Krishnas or what they stood for, the chances that they would then contribute a donation to the church was much higher because of this social tendency.
You’ll see the same tactic used by salespeople quite frequently: go in to buy a car, and they’ll give you a cup of coffee, maybe a pastry. The idea here is that they’ve already given you something, so you’re more likely to respond favorably to them; to want to do something for them, or help them out in some way. That means it’s more likely you’ll let them ‘win’ a negotiation, or sell you something, even if you wouldn’t normally buy at the price they quote.
I’m telling you about this concept not so you can take advantage of people or sell them something, but so you can understand why it’s good social policy to start relationships by giving; to lead with value. By helping someone out early on, or by being introduced through work you’ve done or help you’ve offered, you’ve paved the way for mutual respect and general sense of camaraderie. You’ve made it far more likely that they’ll see your actions in a positive light, and be more open to establishing some kind of relationship.
In nature, the rule of thumb is that when another living creature comes within sensory range, you drop everything and figure out if they’re friend or foe. Is this something that’s going to try to eat me? Is this something I can eat? It’s simple math, but a reflexive necessity.
That instinct is still around in humans, but the development of civilization, and especially cities, has allowed us to set it aside in certain contexts. The resulting (unsigned, unmentioned, generally unnoticed) agreement we have with each other is referred to in sociological circles as ‘civil inattention.’ That is, the agreement that we can pass a stranger on the sidewalk without needing to sniff them or eyeball them suspiciously, wondering if they’re predator or prey.
This works because over the centuries we’ve established a fairly successful means of keeping law and order. It’s not generally worth our time to break the law, and part of that law says we’re not going to attack each other. This is convenient, because cities would be impossible to live in if we had to stop and greet every single person we encountered in a day. Can you imagine walking through Times Square in Manhattan, feeling socially compelled to say hello to and size up each and every person you see? Nothing would ever get done.
Civil inattention is an important concept to be aware of because in many cases it’s a barrier to meeting new people, and a default status we fall into when in public. Unless you live in a very small town where everyone knows everyone else, chances are you’re perfectly willing to ignore the people you walk by, and they’re willing to ignore you, too.
Respecting other peoples’ right to this public isolation, while also being able to penetrate that shield when the situation allows for it is a great skill to have.
The Iron Law of Oligarchy
Simply put, this is a sociological premise that says those in power will do what they can to hold on to their power, and to accumulate more power.
This is important when networking because many people fall prey to this law as soon as they find themselves in control of a situation, even one as small as a conversation.
Don’t be afraid to lead, but avoid being a petty dictator. Allow others the chance to take the reins, if they want to, but don’t be afraid to guide. Try to be more Julius Caesar than Joseph Stalin. The former had absolute power and used it to do what was best for his people. The latter stomped down all opposition and killed anyone who fell out of lockstep. Don’t be a social Stalin.
This is an evolution of the ‘panopticon,’ a concept for an ideal prison that allowed a single guard in a central tower to watch hundreds of inmates arranged in a circle around him.
In the omnopticon, rather than one person watching everyone else, everyone watches everyone. It’s a metaphor for the internet- and surveillance technology-enabled social landscape we live in today.
I bring this up because it’s important to be aware that, no matter where you go, you’re essentially being watched at all times. Maybe by the government, maybe by other normal folks, and maybe just by yourself and your own judgement. Whatever the case may be, having a faux public persona would mean staying ‘on’ at all times, leaving no room for the real you.
Don’t create a faux public persona. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. If you can be the same person, no matter who you’re with, no matter who’s watching or not watching, no matter what you’re doing, you’re in good shape.
That means you’re not changing yourself to suit others, you’re emphasizing different aspects of yourself based on how relevant it is to the people around you. And that means when people see you on a social network, they won’t be wondering who this stranger is, so different from the person they know in real life. It means if a friend visits you at work, they won’t be shocked by the person you are when you’re wearing a tie.
There’s never been a better time to be yourself. Keep it simple and be yourself.
It happens all the time, whether by design or accident. You meet someone, you hit it off, and you end up romantically involved.
When things go straight from meeting to dating, or meeting to friendship to dating, it’s a relatively straightforward proposition. The norm, in fact. But when there’s another step in between — say, business — things can get complicated if you’re not careful.
As someone who’s had experience with this, here’s my advice on the matter. Every relationship is different, but these ideas should be broad enough to be of value no matter what your specific scenario might look like.
First, communicate, and as clearly as possible. Be up front with each other, and there shouldn’t be anything you can’t work through. This is true in all relationships, I would argue, but is particularly helpful when things get muddled, physical, intimate, and involves business. Make your ambitions, priorities, intentions, and concerns as clear as possible. Make sure they feel comfortable doing the same. Check in from time to time, but don’t obsess over it. Establish this kind of rapport from the start, and you should be able to trust that if anything’s wrong, they’ll say something.
Second, trust. Communication helps establish trust, but so do your actions. If you act in contradiction to what you’ve discussed, or are deceitful or shady in any way, chances are that level of trust won’t be there. Be trustworthy by being open and honest and supportive. Also be willing to trust the other person until you’re given a reason not to, and even then, make an effort to clarify before jumping to conclusions. It may be that you think you’re seeing monsters when all you’re actually seeing are shadows.
We’re exposed to a continuous barrage of storylines and messages that imply we have to keep things from each other, and that every relationship is constantly on the verge of collapse. This couldn’t be further from the truth, so long as you both want stability and are willing to act in support of such a relationship.
Finally, there are wonderful benefits in mixing business and pleasure, so long as you establish some guidelines, and make sure that no one is being taken advantage of.
This touches on the idea of balanced relationships: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with both parties getting something different out of a partnership, so long as neither one feels they’re being used. If that’s the case, being communicative about the details can help establish an equilibrium, but if not, you can get out clean and with your other relationships (business, friendship, etc.) intact, so long as you continue to show each other respect.
If you’re able to make it work, not only will the other person be someone you enjoy being with, but they can also be an incredible professional ally. A wonderful payoff for both of you, even if it’s not always the simplest of things to achieve.
One final note: breaking up is something you should definitely discuss before it happens. That’s not to say it will happen, but being uncomfortable discussing it makes it more likely that you’ll be unwilling to discuss other uncomfortable things, which kills the whole clear communication thing.
From the beginning, figure out what it would look like if you broke things off. A solid foundation is something like, “If this doesn’t work out, for whatever reason, I’d like to remain friends. Even if it’s difficult.” Don’t say it if you don’t mean it, of course, and maybe instead of friends, you say ‘colleagues’ or whatever business terminology you can commit to. In either case, figure out what the end of days might look like, and you won’t have to fear them.
When friends go into business together, it’s best to sign a contract. Signing the contract actually makes it less likely that you’ll ever need it. Being up front about relationships makes it far less likely that they will end, or if they do, that the break up will be something tragic.
MINIMALISM AND RELATIONSHIPS
Minimalism is all about removing the unimportant from your life so that you have more time, energy, and resources to focus on the things that are most important to you.
This concept is most frequently applied to possessions, but it also applies to relationships.
We all have people in our lives who don’t really add anything; they might even cost us time, energy, or resources to keep around, while giving us nothing in return (happiness, companionship, or support, for example).
You’re better off focusing more on the people who add the most to your life, and far less on those who only take. Relationships are about balance, and if someone is only taking from you and not giving anything you value in return, that’s not a connection worth maintaining. Your time, energy, and resources are better applied to those who are adding to your life and contributing to your happiness.
A good example of this is time spent with friends of convenience: friends you have because you went to the same school, or you work together, or whatever. You’re not friends because you have anything in common, you’re friends because you might as well be, you have to sit next to each other all day, either way.
Instead of going out for a drink with your friends of convenience, maybe you should spend that time with your significant other. Or your family. Or the good friends you don’t see as often. Or even on yourself, learning something new or working toward some goal.
Minimalism is about reclaiming your time, energy, and resources and reapplying them to those activities, possessions, and relationships that bring you the most value; make you happiest. A common complaint I hear from people is that they don’t have the time to go out and meet new people, or don’t have the time to start their own business, or don’t have the time to see their husband as often as they’d like. But you know what? We’ve all got the same 24 hours to work with, and there are people who do those things.
Stuck in a relationship that isn’t fulfilling? Reassign it to a different level that requires less investment: communicate less in person and more via email, perhaps; or just be friends, rather than lovers.
If you have the same problem on a smaller scale — maybe you’re ensured in a tedious conversation at a party — gracefully extract yourself by bringing others into the conversation and handing it off, or start using exit language, something like, “Well, keep me in the loop about that project. I’m going to go grab another drink, but I’ll see you around!”
It’s a matter of prioritization, and if you’re spending the time you’ve got on relationships that aren’t getting you where you want to be, you’re saying, through your actions, that those non-essential relationships are more important to you than building your network, starting a business, or spending time with your spouse.
Step back, consider what you’re doing with your life, and figure out where you’re spending what you’ve got. Chances are you’ve got plenty of what you need, you’re just spending it on the wrong relationships.
I want to instill a few final thoughts before leaving you to your networking adventures, wherever they might take you.
Remember that adding value is a great point of focus, no matter what type of relationship you’re trying to establish. Be a valuable addition to peoples’ lives, and they’ll want you around, and want to introduce you to others.
Take time to figure out what goals you’re after, and how best to pursue them. Don’t ever use people, but be aware that having the right people in your life can help you achieve anything. Add something to their lives, and chances are, they’ll add something to yours.
Don’t forget that practice makes perfect. I’ve given you a lot to think about, and not all of it will come easy. Try some things out, practice practice practice, and adjust to taste. It’s best to keep the broad strokes intact — adding value, not using people, and being a good person by default are pretty important points — but the details are all just details. The strategies described here are things that have worked for me as I’ve endeavored to become a more socially capable person, despite having grown up a socially illiterate introvert.
Don’t stress out. Enjoy the journey, and fill your life with lots of (or just a carefully curated few) people who make you happy and help you grow. Learn to tell stories well, and enjoy living out new ones with amazing people.
Be the best you that you can be, and help others be the best possible versions of themselves.
Leave the world, and the people in it, better than you found them. And have fun!
A great big thanks to the folks who helped me whip this book into suitable shape for publication:
Lisa Figueroa, Eric Kenlin, Tahlia Meredith, Sean Rogers, Deb Goodwin, Feyyaz Alingan, Riviera De Ty’Ty, Brad Gantt, and Shawn Mihalik.
Any typos or other mistakes are probably the result of me ignoring their damn good advice.
Personal relationships are always the key to good business. You can buy networking; you can’t buy friendships.
My ‘Golden Rule of Networking’ is simple: Don’t keep score.
That in putting ourselves out there, we might be a boon to others doing the same.