7 Tips for Better Networking
1. People always have an objective in a conversation
Sometimes people know why they’re talking to someone and sometimes they don’t. Nevertheless there is always an underlying motive – even if it is entirely subconscious. This is true in social situations as well as in business. In a social situation it could be that the person enjoys making new friends and wants to connect with somebody. In business the person may be looking to sell you something or gain access to your clients, and this is to be expected. As always, trust is the reward for honesty; if you can’t figure out what your interlocutor is trying to achieve how much will you trust them? On the flip side, people will not feel comfortable around you until they feel they have some idea of what you are trying to achieve. Understanding what somebody is looking for from a conversation and being upfront about your own aims will help lay the foundation for a strong and enduring relationship
2. Other people are happy when they’re talking
Everybody can talk about something, and even introverts are happy to talk about their pet subjects if given the chance. Topics of genuine interest are likely to be personal to the speaker so be very wary of trying to pry somebody’s real opinion out of them unless you’re genuinely interested in hearing what they have to say – symmetry in a real dialogue is vital and you will also be expected to contribute something. Once somebody is talking about something they enjoy, their consideration of the topics will take up so much of their mind’s processing power that they will no longer have the spare capacity to feel anxious. They will be enjoying themselves, and you will be part of the reason.
3. You and a stranger don’t owe each other anything
A good feeling from a conversation usually derives from your subconscious telling you that the other person is giving you something you want more of. It can happen that one person derives a more positive feeling from the conversation than the other, and so there is an asymmetry in the respective levels of desire to continue building the relationship. If a stranger excuses themselves don’t take it personally – they may be looking for something very specific. Do not confuse your desire to secure access to whatever benefit you get from interacting with a particular person with you being selfless – in business or elsewhere. Strangers owe us nothing
4. Think of small talk as base camp
Transitioning from small talk to more open communication is one of the most challenging aspects of talking to new people. Small talk, in the sense of conversation that only contains a minimal exchange of personal information, is not something to be rushed or seen as an inconvenience. Other people need time to suss you out and may find it unsettling if you try to push them out of their comfort zone
5. Anecdotes are to be used sparingly
If the other person doesn’t know who you are, how reasonable is to expect them to care about what a great time you’ve been having recently? The only acceptable use of anecdotes in a first meeting is when one has been volunteered by the other person and you have one which is directly relevant. If you do try to use one and it goes badly, a self-deprecating remark about how your story wasn’t very interesting shows the other person that you are self-aware and can be trusted in a conversation
6. Don’t worry if you say something daft by mistake
Everybody says the wrong thing sometimes. In motor racing, the best driver is not the one who never crashes – and so it is with conversation. In order to be truly relaxed and happy in conversation with strangers you must be able to speak freely, trusting yourself to keep things more or less on track without micromanaging yourself. This only comes through making mistakes. The social penalty you will occasionally pay for saying something awkward may sting, but will be overall far more pleasant than forever wheeling out the same questions and gambits. If you really want to say something, then why not say it? The alternative is to never fully engage with people, and that would be the real tragedy
7. Be yourself
This may look like it contradicts the other advice, but it doesn’t. Like all rare things, genuine people are highly valued and sought after, and the maintenance of a public persona which does not correlate well with the inner reality places enormous strain on the individual that tries it. There are only three possible outcomes to misrepresenting yourself, and none of them are very appealing:
1. You fail and the person ceases to engage with you
2. You fail but the person continues to engage with you because they feel they’ve got the measure of you
3. You succeed and then have to maintain the fiction for the rest of the time you know them.
The only exception to this is if the other person is also deliberately misrepresenting him or herself, but this limits the potential depth of the relationship as you’ll both be terrified of being rumbled by the other. Your first contact with somebody will determine the path of your future relationship, so it’s important to start in good faith.