Networking as a Way of Life

A Holistic Approach to Connecting

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On May 16 I am giving the keynote address at the UCLA Alumni Day, talking to alums about networking as a way of life, and as a holistic process.  This post will summarize the main talking points and really summarize the most important aspects of networking in my estimation.  The main point is that networking is about building genuine and mutually productive relationships over a period of time.  Networking is much more than exchanging business cards with as many people as possible.

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The basic paradigms of networking are as follows:  The first one is Know Like Trust Refer.  It simply means that you have to first know someone, then like them.  After that you have to build trust which then enables you to make a referral, strategic introduction or trusted advice.  Likability is vital to making the networking process work.  We simply tend to do more business and associate more with people who are likable.

The other paradigm is Commerce Camaraderie Community, which highlights some essential components of networking.  We often do it to gain business, and that can be the primary motivation to network in the first place.  Though we may start with a business (commerce) motivation, what often ensues over time are real friendships and a sense of community and the comfort that can provide.

A central principle of networking that must be understood is: GIVE FIRST.  If you approach networking with the attitude of “What can I offer and give to others or a group” the rewards will be plentiful.  In short, pay it forward. Get involved, show up consistently and remember that it takes time to develop strong and enduring relationships, both business and personal.  Do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it.

In networking you have to be able to introduce yourself in a way that is concise, clear, compelling and memorable.  It is often called an elevator pitch, and is the starting point in the networking process.  It can either be memorized or altered over time.  Both can be effective.  Memorable stories are a good way to do an elevator speech.

I also discuss the nature of conversation, focusing on the difference and relative value of business versus personal conversations.  Though business conversations are essential and useful, it is when you get “beyond the name tag” to the back of the business card that you gain the most in building relationships.  The business relationship is likely to be limited if you don’t get to know the other person on a personal level.

Should you build your network wide with many people in a large geographic region, or go deep with fewer organizations and groups in a more limited area?  It really depends on what kind of work you do and how much of your competition is in the same groups.  Generally, the more unique your work, the wider you will probably want to network.  The amount of time you have for business development/networking is also a determining factor.

There is no substitute for in person networking where you have actual face to face conversations, and actually see others.  This is especially true if you are really likable.  Though in person networking is critical, you can and should use social media to widen your reach and connect in some way with your broader network.  LinkedIn is essential and the more personal sites like Facebook can be wisely used to enhance the personal side of networking.

In sum, networking is best utilized in an ethical way to build meaningful long term relationships, increase commerce and provide a genuine sense of community.  It becomes a way of life when the relationships flower and mutually beneficial relationships abound.  My businesses owe their success largely to my years of networking.  I have abundant and consistent referrals and offers of introductions, numerous trusted advisors who I can not only consult but provide referrals, a few communities of great value, and friends.  It is a way of life and a holistic part of my business and personal life.

Likability and The Referral Process

Likability is perhaps the most essential component of networking and the referral process.  The most current networking paradigm is Know/Like/Trust/Refer.  The starting point is KNOW.  It has been said that it isn’t what you know but who you know that is important.  It is not only who you know, but who knows you and exactly what you do that begins the process.  People get to know you from your “elevator speech” and talking with you.  The next step is critical, because if people don’t like you then the process stalls.

Likability has many components.  What are the main things that make someone likable?  First of all, they have a positive outlook and demeanor.  Secondly, they are good listeners and genuinely interested in others.  They pay attention and remember the important things about others so that they can build on conversations.  For example, let’s say you meet someone, ask they what they are doing in the summer.  They tell you that they are taking their son Bobby on a college tour in the Northwest United States.  You listen intently and then the next time you see them in the fall, you can ask them how the college tour went, and if Bobby has decided on a college.

Another component of likability is finding things in common with others, and their openness and willingness to capitalize on any commonalities.  Likable people are congenial and like to have fun.  You can share a laugh with them or find common ground easily.  They tend to be flexible and agreeable.

On the flip side are people who are not likable.  Some characteristics are being argumentative, confrontational, egotistical, boastful, selfish, rigid, complaining and dominating conversations.  Unlikable people tend to be negative and critical.  You can’t really teach people to be likable, but you can alert them to the characteristics to avoid.

Likable people tend to be respectful of others regardless of their respective age, position or status.  They are reliable and do what they say they are going to do.  This behavior is consistent over time, and not just an act they put on to get people to like them.

Likability is often something that is assessed almost immediately upon meeting another person.  It is a function of being genuine in your encounters with others.  Call people by name.  Though that may seem trivial, calling people by name has a significant impact on interpersonal relationships.

Nonverbal communication also has a major effect on likability and perception.  Eye contact is very important, and it makes others feel that you are truly focussed on them.  Body language can also send important messages to others.  For example, if you cross your arms when someone is presenting a new idea to you, it can be perceived as being resistant or negative.

It has been said that it isn’t what you say but how you say it that is most important.  The phrases “I know what you mean”, “I really hear you”, “I am there for you” and “I’m okay with that” can have a variety of meanings depending on exactly how they are stated.

Likable people are more likely to achieve success, especially if their likability is coupled with competence.  Therefore, the third component in the paradigm, TRUST follows LIKE.  If you and what you do are known by others, if you are likable, then your capabilities will be considered in order for people to refer you or make strategic introductions.

How then do you know if you are likable?  It is fairly simple.  If people want to associate with you, you have a lot of friends and associates, and you get an abundance of referrals, then you are probably likable.  If that is the case, keep doing what you are doing.  If not, then ask people for honest feedback about what roadblocks might be in place.  Keep smiling, keep listening and stay positive.