What would you attempt to do if you knew that your network would not let you fail?
Back in college I had a friend who seemed to know every alumnus from our fraternity, business executives throughout the state of Georgia, and members of country clubs everywhere. It seemed that every time I would stop by his room in the fraternity house or go to lunch to catch up with him, he was either on the phone with someone of importance or running into someone I would love to know. At the time, I simply did not understand how he did it.
Fast forward several years. It was just months until my graduation from college and I had not yet settled on my post-graduation plans. I attended a leadership development program through my business school that took us to a working plantation in south Georgia for a weekend. The plantation is owned by former Coca-Cola CEO Doug Ivester and the program included lectures by Mr. Ivester and a few of his closest friends. The lecturers included executives from big companies and small companies, the plantation manager, a war veteran, archaeologists, and Mr. Ivester himself.
By that time I had learned that it was not just my older fraternity brother who practiced the art of networking. Every time I met a highly successful and influential person, I found that they also practiced the art. So I began to study the art of networking. How did successful people attract other successful people?
To find the answers, I studied Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. I learned from master relationship builders who were alumni of my university. I connected with more and more executives and learned that everyone of them knew more people than I could imagine. As I did this I picked up on little practices and methods for showing people just how much you care about them, and, in turn, building truly meaningful relationships.
Those little practices and methods are exactly what allowed me to instantaneously build rapport with the executives on the program at the plantation in south Georgia. I knew that the relationships would be powerful ones from the instant I saw the list of people who would be in attendance. However, I did not know just how powerful until I met the man that would help me land my first job.
The week prior to attending the leadership program, I had received an email informing me that I was not chosen for a first round interview for a consulting position at my #1 choice of employers. It was devastating… Until I met a former executive from that same company while on the plantation.
Within 15 minutes of meeting him and sharing my story, the conversation turned to my post-graduation plans. I shared that I had been turned down for an interview and that I was in the process of reevaluating. He immediately offered to place a phone call when he returned home from the weekend to see what he could do.
I worked hard to continue building the relationship throughout the rest of the weekend. Come Monday morning, I received notice that an interview spot had opened up and I was scheduled to attend all of the pre-interview events. Just like that I had gone from being rejected for a first round interview to being offered an interview spot. There was no word of how or why that had happened.
But I think you and I both know what happened.
That experience solidified my belief in the power of building meaningful relationships. However, the problem is that most people rule themselves out from the process of building a networking by building relationships. They say “It’s an old boys’ club” or “All those Ivy leaguers have a huge advantage” or “The old money crowd has the upper hand.”
I’m here to tell you that that’s a load of horse manure. I did not attend an Ivy League school, nor did I come from an old money family. In the video below we’ll talk more about the problem with the way most people think about building relationships, as well as the solution to that problem. That will lead you into the rest of this post, which will help you master the art of networking and begin building meaningful relationships today.
The Five Principles of Networking Success
Based on my personal experience, if I could give you five short tips on how to connect with anyone, it comes down to five basic principles:
- Do your research
- Offer to help
- Have a desire to learn
- Ask great questions
- Care about the people
Principle #1: Do your research
Everyone has a story. Finding a connection or an overlap between your story and someone else’s is the key to building a meaningful relationship. When I set out to meet someone, however, I want to know the story behind the public story. In other words, I want to know where you’ve come from, what’s gotten you to where you are now, and how your story was created.
Researching helps me learn that background information in hopes of finding that connection and overlap. First, I find the person online. I look for a personal website, LinkedIn profile, Twitter feed, etc. How do they describe themselves? What information is most prominent? Then, I Google the person to see where else (or if) they’ve been featured around the web.
If I’ve found enough online, I stop there. For deep digging or people who lack online presence, I think like a reporter or detective. Who do I know that might be able to share the person’s story? What resources or people do they know of to help bring more of the story to light?
Once I find great sources of information, I ask questions about my target contact’s professional and personal life. I want to know what experiences and relationships have created the person we see today. For example, if you wanted to connect with me, you could learn a ton if you took the time to find this article about my background and the experiences that made me who I am today.
Principle #2: Offer To Help
Five words will exponentially increase your odds of pursuing your dreams: “How can I help you?” These words build two key factors into a relationship: reciprocity and trust. Scientific studies show us that when we help another person, they want to return the favor, or reciprocate. It is human nature.
Despite the fact that we can expect reciprocity as a basic reaction to receiving help, I never expect anything in return when I help others. Instead, I try to keep an attitude of genuine service in order to build trust into the relationship. Trust comes from caring about the person’s work and backing your caring up with action.
Reciprocity and trust are keys to building meaningful relationships. The more meaningful relationships you have, the more likely you will have the resources and contacts to make your dreams reality, no matter what they are. That starts by offering to help however you can and then trusting that the energy you put into the world will find it’s way back to you.
Principle #3: Have A Desire To Learn
Every person has some kind of expertise, and I make sure to treat every new connection as an expert. There is an opportunity to learn something new from every person, and I have found that approaching every person as an expert builds a more meaningful connection. It opens the other person up and makes them feel valuable. In return, I am able to accelerate my learning curve by avoiding their mistakes and building on their successes.
You can use every other principle from this article to increase your learning while building new relationships. I take note of what I can learn from the person when I do my research. I offer to help in ways that will help me learn from the other person and help them get closer to achieving their goals. I also use principle number four to maximize my learning…
Principle #4: Ask Great Questions
I’ve found that asking meaningful questions makes for meaningful relationships. There is no faster way to build rapport with a new connection than to ask great questions.
Asking intelligent questions is a skill I’ve worked hard to hone and one that you can develop as well. When you research a new contact, look for the gaps in the information that is already publicly available. Ask questions that bring new information to light.
What is the moral of the story they are telling? Ask questions that help explain how they developed the moral of the story. What personal experiences led to that moral in particular? What has made them who they are today? You can see examples of seeking new information through intelligent questions on old episodes of The Living for Monday Show.
Dig deep with great questions that challenge people and engage their heart and mind. An engaged heart and mind make for a deep connection. Even more important, listen hard, take notes, and remember what they tell you. There is no better way to show a person you care than to take their advice to heart and show them that their words matter to you.
Principle #5: Care About The People
I connect with people with whom I genuinely care to build meaningful relationships. Often, these are people who share similar beliefs, values, passions, interests, dreams, or some other common characteristic. Understanding our commonalities before building a relationship requires me to truly understand a person, which helps in my research and in developing meaningful questions.
This last principle may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s the most important of all. Most networkers are all about “me”. You can stand out by genuinely caring about the other person. Caring means that you want to know the authentic person, their family, their dreams, and even their weaknesses. Caring means that you want to help the person, even when it is difficult or inconvenient.
If you don’t think you can care about the other person on that level, then don’t waste your time. Find someone who inspires you to care and invest in the relationship with time, energy, and resources.
The reason so many people think that networking is a sleazy activity is because so few people actually care about their counterpart. Instead, they walk around with their arm out, business card in hand, ready to shove it into the hand of anyone who will look their way. If you don’t want to be a sleazy networker, then don’t be. Instead, go beyond the surface level and work hard to show just how much you care about people.
You can (and should) even practice caring deeply in business relationships, where most people stop at the surface level and never make an effort to learn more. Whole people show up to work, and whole people are made up of so much more than their professional lives. Practice going the extra mile to learn about the aspects other than their career — it will go a long way.
These Five Principles Can Change Your Life
Remember, these principles are the ones that will differentiate you from others, help you master the art of networking, and allow you to build meaningful relationships with people who will not let you fail. Here they are, one more time:
- Do your research
- Offer to help
- Have a desire to learn
- Ask great questions
- Care about the people
If you can adopt these principles into your networking activities, then you will see massive benefits. Those benefits will continue to deliver value over time, but right now they will help you reach whatever goal you are striving for — whether that is finding a new job, living a healthier life, building a more stable financial foundation, or travelling the world. There is no limit to the power of a network based on meaningful relationships. It’s only limit lies in your desire and willingness to apply these five principles repeatedly.
Photo: Oak Alley Plantation by Kay Gaensler on Flickr