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5 Keys to Building Networks Over Time

5 Keys to Building Networks Over Time

The purpose of professional networking is to gain information, increase your visibility in your field, and establish personal connections that will help you advance in your career.  No matter how much you love your job, you should always be looking for ways to expand your networks because, ideally, your contacts will follow you from position to position.  A strong network allows you to get advice from trusted sources, to keep your professional knowledge current, to find career opportunities, and to support the careers of others.

Look for Contacts Everywhere

Your network should have lots of variety; individuals from different companies, career levels, and professions can add a range of perspectives.  Keeping in touch with your college friends who might be in different companies and industries is a great way to populate your network.  Joining a professional association in your field and regularly attending its events is also a smart idea.  Finally, investigate your company’s sponsored programs; many organizations provide opportunities for individuals to network within the company.  Training events, visits from management, guest speakers, or various types of interest-based events can yield the same type of contacts as an external event.

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Take One Step at a Time

Know that it takes time to authentically populate your network.  But also know that each new contact is a step in the right direction.  When I first got into educating people on twentysomething workplace issues, it was startling how helpful I found just one meeting of the Chicago chapter of the American Society for Training and Development.  I walked out of the event with business cards for several potential clients and mentors.  My network increased after only one event.

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Be Strategic

Before going to such an event, think about what you hope to get out of attending.  Is it general knowledge?  Is it a new contact in your field?  Or perhaps you are looking for someone to provide input on one of your projects?  Understand who the speakers will be at the event and how you might contact them or access their materials in advance of or after the event.  Also, learn what other companies and individuals might be at the event.  Prepare a few questions that you want to explore, and set a goal to answer them at the event. For example, if you want to do an informational interview—a thirty-minute conversation with an expert on a new development in your field—your goal may be to find someone at the event with that type of expertise.

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Be Personable

Many experts are willing to speak and share their knowledge, but some may not be as willing.  Don’t become discouraged.  It may take a few attempts at building your network to make a personal connection. Once you have received an initial response and are moving forward with an interaction—whether it’s in person or via e-mail or phone—be friendly, respectful, and conscious of the contact’s time constraints.  Confirm your contact’s available time and the topic you want to cover.  If you have the opportunity to sit down with a contact in person, remember to make eye contact, smile, shake hands firmly, and exchange business cards.  Ask thoughtful questions and listen carefully to the answers.

Follow Up and Return the Favor

If you are meeting over coffee or a meal, when the check comes, simply say to your contact,  “I invited you here today, so this is my treat.”  This, combined with a handwritten thank-you note, will make the best possible impression and leave the door open for future follow-up—which you should do, of course!  If your contact gave you any advice or suggested a course of action, touch base every few months with an update on your progress.  And since effective networking always involves give and take, think about ways you can help your contact in return.

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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