When most of us think of networking, we picture uninspiring small talk at conferences, awkward business card exchanges, "if you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" agreements, and, more recently, piles of LinkedIn connections.
But be honest: How often have these tactics helped your career? How many mutually beneficial relationships have they helped you cultivate? If you're like most people, the answer is "not a lot." That's why it's time for a fundamental change in how you approach connecting with others.
It's time to abandon the "mile-wide, inch-deep" world of traditional networking
and embrace what I call Connecting 2.0. The idea is not just to advance your career and make money, but to make life itself richer, more exciting, and more creative for both parties.
Need some networking tips to help you get started? Here are some dos and don'ts to guide you. (Click here
to tweet this list.)
1. Do think, “What can we create together?” Don’t think, “What can you do for me?”
The mental shift from “getting” to “collaborating” is the first step — and it's incredibly powerful. When we think of networking as a self-serving exercise, we tend to try to avoid it. Shallow interactions just feel bad. But when we infuse sharing and giving into the process, suddenly connecting with others feels good. And it works.
Be prepared: Offering to help and work with others may catch them off guard. That person you just met probably expects you to ask for an interview or a chance to pitch your product.
When you ask a person if you can, say, introduce him to an influential colleague or bring your therapy dog to the children's hospital she runs, that person will be delighted. And instead of initiating a relationship built on sufferance or obligation, you'll be creating a connection based on good karma.
2. Do sit beside someone you don't know. Don’t stick with friends and colleagues at events.
Stepping away from your social circle will force you to meet people rather than spending the whole time chatting with friends and colleagues. At first, it's really hard for some people — OK, most of us — to do this, but we humans are hardwired to connect.
Be friendly. Introduce yourself, introduce your neighbor to others, and find something in common. When you get over your initial anxiety, you will see how natural (and fun) it feels.
3. Do have three or four good "go-to" questions in the bag. Don’t wing it when meeting someone new.
In case the conversation grinds to an awkward halt, you’ll want a few good questions
you can turn to. It doesn't matter what the questions are, but you might consider thought-provokers like "If time and money were no object, what would you be doing right now?" "What is the best part of your job?" "What is the hardest part of your job?" "What is one goal you'd like to accomplish before you die?" or "What have you done lately that was fun?"
Chances are, the other person will be happy to move away from tired "Where are you from and what do you do?" conversational territory — and you'll stand a much better chance of discovering his or her values, goals, and interests. Remember, passion is a powerful energy source for making connections.
Once you ask a question, remember to listen
. The old style of networking involved a lot of "selling" your skills and showcasing your knowledge. Resist the urge. Instead, when you're talking to someone new, ask her about herself and really listen to her answers.
4. Do pick up the phone and meet face to face. Don’t always email.
Electronic communication is easy, but it's not
always the best way to meaningfully connect. Not only can verbal communication cut down on misunderstandings, it can also save time. Yes, really — just think of all the hours you've spent reading and responding to never-ending back-and-forth email chains.
Best of all, it can turn a contact into a relationship
. Calls and meetings show the other person that he's worth your valuable time, and that you want
to get to know him. This is more fulfilling for both of you and sets you apart in a positive way.
5. Do try to work with different teams. Don’t stick to the beaten path at work.
Most of us don't think about opportunities to network within our own organizations. But unless you work at a very small company, chances are you have colleagues you don't know at all.
Shaking things up by working with a different team
keeps you sharp and puts you in the path of exciting new people. When you work with people you don't know on projects you're unfamiliar with, you will learn, grow, and often discover vital new talents and interests.
6. Don’t look for opportunities to connect in the wider community. Don’t limit your networking to the professional realm.
Whether you're in a book circle or a kayaking club or a volunteer team at a local charity, get together on a regular basis with other people who share a common interest. A shared passion often generates connections that take on a life of their own. You may end up forging alliances, finding jobs, or winning clients — even though that's not the purpose of the group.
Here's the best part: Transitioning from networking to connecting doesn't require significantly larger amounts of time or energy.
The key difference is in your attitude and intentions. Switching from a "me" to a "we" perspective can make a huge difference in the quality and quantity of your relationships — and in what you're able to accomplish because of them.
Nancy D. O'Reilly, Psy.D., is an author of Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life and urges women to connect to help each other create a better world. For more information please visit and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter (@DrNancyOReilly).