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5 Steps to Master Networking Skills and Perfect Your Personal Branding

5 Steps to Master Networking Skills and Perfect Your Personal Branding

The phrases “personal branding” and “networking skills” make a lot of people cringe. It’s often associated with being sleazy and ingenuine, with the main goal being wriggling your way into the “inner circle” for your own selfish reasons.

Leaving aside the nasty reputation, networking—if it’s based on building genuine relationships—is one of the most powerful tools for personal brands.

First of all, hanging out with the crowd in your industry is important for being able to learn from the best—knowledge sharing is one of the most powerful ways for everyone to succeed.

Networking is also a great way to get yourself associated and on the radar with other professionals—not just because, but for establishing useful partnerships and cooperation.

There is definitely a subtle art behind successful and authentic networking. Besides the work that goes into figuring out your motives, finding your approach, and creating compelling conversations, a lot of hard effort needs to go into maintaining the relationships you form too.

Today, we’re going to share five tips for polishing your public relationships skills, and maintaining your connections.

1. Figure Out Your “Why?”

Like we said in the intro, the word “networking” tends to have a bad reputation, so you need to make sure that your motives for wanting to network don’t align with that nasty label.

Before you start taking any other steps, you need to understand what networking really means—especially for you personally.

What’s your ultimate goal with trying to make connections with other people in your industry or area? Why are you doing it?

Are you mainly trying to initiate knowledge sharing and learning from others? Are you looking to maybe start cooperating or working with these people? Are you looking for business partners or investors?

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You need to have a very clear understanding of why you want to start getting into networking, rather “just because” or “it’d be fun”. This will help you pick your strategies and make sure you have the right approach.

Even though, like we said, networking needs to be based on genuinely, there are still different initial “pitches” you need to make—even just to start a conversation. You don’t have to sell yourself by any means, but knowing what you’re after will help you set the right tone from the get go.

Just trying to make a light connection with someone whose work you admire is very different from starting a conversation with someone you hope will invest in your business.

So, before you jump into any action, figure out your “why” and think about how that would set the tone for your communication.

2. Do Your Research

Once you’ve figured out what your end goal or main interests are for getting into the networking world, it’s time to really do your homework about the people or companies you’d like to get in touch with.

You might think that you know a lot about them already, but there’s most likely things you haven’t discovered yet.

Take your time and make sure you’re really familiar with everything they’ve done. Go into detail too—the more specifics you know about them and their work, the easier it will be for you to connect.

You might even find things that you have in common that you didn’t know about. For example, check out their social media profiles. Maybe they tweet about cats as much as you do!

Even if there really isn’t a single thing you’ve missed in your previous knowledge about them, you can still refresh your memory. Read their content again, listen to their podcast, look at their designs—whatever area they’re in.

If you’ve been keeping an eye on them for a longer time, you’ll be looking at their work with a fresh set of eyes, and might even have a different attitude towards it.

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Having intimate knowledge about the people who you’re going to attempt to connect with will give you a lot of topics to discuss, ask about, and connect over.

3. Be Human

There’s a good chance that the people you want to network with already have a crowd circling around them, trying to do the same.

This might not be the case, but even then, make sure to keep your human-ness in any contact.

Don’t put on a mask, or try to come across as something or someone you’re not. Even if you’re not dealing with people who have thousands of others trying to connect with them, most “regular” people can still tell when you’re being fake.

Try to not treat anyone like a business contact from the get go. It usually comes across as cold, impersonal, and rigid. Even worse, it sends an immediate signal that you’re up to no good and in it only for your own causes.

Networking shouldn’t be about using people, it should be about helping each other and sharing experiences and knowledge.

Rather than just handing off a business card, a much better way to go is to make a light, friend-like connection, literally. When you’re making your contact, think about how you would approach a potential friend!

Don’t start any of your conversations with “so how about that giant funding your company got yesterday?”, start with “I saw on your LinkedIn profile that you’re big on surfing—mind giving me some tips?”—you get the gist.

As your conversations go further, you’ll find the time to talk about work. Everything at its own, appropriate time!

And who knows, you might actually end up being best buddies.

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4. Know Your Boundaries

This should go without saying, but know your limits.

Sometimes, connections just don’t happen, no matter how much you’ve worked on your skills or thought it’ll be the most amazing networking experience you’ll ever have.

If it’s not happening, it’s not happening, and you need to let it go. Nobody likes pushy people. If you find out your interests aren’t aligned, the conversation isn’t flowing, or the connection just isn’t there, don’t pursue it. Walk away. Don’t be rude about it, but just walk away.

Think of it kind of like dating, some dates just don’t work out. Not that anyone did anything wrong, but the alignment just isn’t there, and trying to push it isn’t beneficial to either side.

To avoid wasting your time as well as other people’s, it’s best to exit conversations that aren’t a good match sooner rather than later. This will give you the opportunity to go and connect with someone you’re a great fit with.

5. Keep In Touch

We all know how hard it is to keep in touch with people who aren’t immediate family or very close friends.

Time goes by, we’re all busy, past contact is forgotten; it happens.

The key to keeping relationships alive is keeping the conversation going. You’ve connected with people that you admire and want to learn from, right?

So, keep an eye on what they do, what they say, and what they’re up to. Start a conversation when they do something awesome—write a good post, launch a product, whatever it is that you’re excited about on their behalf.

Remind yourself every now and then. Reply to their tweet, leave a comment on their content, send them a postcard—whatever. Don’t be worried about being annoying.

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Here’s what Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove, has to say about following up in his article about how networking can help you succeed in life and business:[1]

“A lot of people are hesitant to follow up because they think they’re being annoying. But consider this: what if you’re not being annoying? What if you’re actually being helpful?”

So make sure you include your experiences as well, something that could help them. Work on making your relationships meaningful ones, with a lot of mutual learning involved.

Did they just announce they’re writing a book? Send an email telling them about the awesome editing tool you just found.

If you know you tend to be forgetful when it comes to keeping relationships, make a physical note to do so. Have a weekly planner? Jot down “shoot John an email” or “recommend this app to Susan.”

Mastering Personal Branding Is an Art and a Science

Even though it has the unfortunate reputation, building public relationships doesn’t have to be evil or ingenuine.

As long as you understand that successful networking is built on creating real, genuine, mutual relationships, it can be an incredible tool for learning, connecting, knowledge sharing, and business opportunities if you want them.

Take your time, figure out your end goal of why you want to start getting around more, make sure you’re connecting on the right foundations, and keep the conversation going—even if you have to teach yourself to do it.

Even if you don’t 100% get to your end goal, deliberate networking is still a surefire way to create great relationships that can be helpful when you least expect it!

More Resources About Networking & Work Communication

Featured photo credit: Antenna via unsplash.com

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Reference

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Dmitry Dragilev

Single-handedly grew a startup from zero to 40 million page views, Dmitry is a role model for aspiring entrepreneurs.

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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