I am continually struck by the interaction of business and personal conversations in the process of business networking. Traditionally at business mixers, people look at your name tag and ask, “What do you do?” You then answer, hopefully in a clear and succinct manner, and ask them a similar question. This type of discussion, though it might yield insights into the business side of a person, does nothing to develop or deepen the personal relationship which is so essential to success in networking. It has been demonstrated that people are somewhat “wired” to falling somewhere on the continuum of a purely business orientation to a purely personal/relational one. We could just as well ask “Tell me about yourself, your interests, and your passions” or “Let’s get to know each other” but some business settings don’t seem to encourage that type of interaction.
Ideally, we find a comfortable blend of personal discussions to enhance the business relationship. We might ask where a person was born, where they went to school, what their hobbies are, or if they have any animals. I have noticed that there is often an almost unconscious drifting to more personal conversations. A purely business discussion does nothing to develop the rapport necessary for building a strong personal relationship. For these reasons, it is beneficial to include social activities (mixers, socials, sports tournaments, outings) in the mix of your networking activities. Learn about others and what they do outside of work. Pay attention to these conversations, and build upon them in future discussions.
Sometimes it is necessary to build some kind of personal connection in order to derive any business benefit such as referrals or introductions. People have to get to know you, like you, and trust you before they are willing to share trusted contacts. If you focus solely on business conversations, you are missing the opportunity to build meaningful and enjoyable relationships, and the possibility to exchange business referrals. This does not mean that every discussion has to be deeply personal. However, it is important to be open to personal conversations. Be interested in others, and you will develop friendships as well as business connections.