How to expand your network
Somebody recently asked me for advice on how to expand their network, to make new friends, to expand their circle of acquaintance. Honestly I didn’t know what to say at first since it isn’t something that I engage in consciously anymore. However, I am an introvert by nature so it really didn’t come to me so easy either I did have to work on it. I believe about 4-5 years back one of my bosses pointed out in my annual performance review that I had to improve my organizational visibility. His observation catapulted me into action, forcing me to rethink my strategies and redesign the way I interacted with people. I think I literally studied extrovert people and tried to find out what made them connect so easily with people around them before putting it all into practice. Here’s my 5 easy points, feel free to add your inputs in the comments 🙂
- Take a genuine interest in people:
Everyone and I mean every one has at least one good point. Find that and you find something to like in every body. This creates a good starting point for the relationship, by starting off on a positive note you create good vibes that can help the relationship grow. The more you find to like in a person, the more that relationship is likely to thrive. This feeling will likely be reciprocated by the other person as they process that you are not faking it.
One word of caution – if you do fake it keep in mind that when you meet someone and you are busy sizing up how they can help you and whether or not you will be interested in keeping in touch with them, just remember that they are doing the same too, so you better be very interesting or very important, otherwise all that fake interest is not going to take you anywhere.
- How can I help you?
I like to start most of my conversations with the question – ‘how can I help you?’ I don’t literally say it out loud most of the time and this mindset takes a lot of practice. If you do ask out loud, don’t just ask for the sake of starting a conversation, if someone responds to that question with a specific request, make sure that you try to help at least. Everyone needs help, could be with something really small or something really big, and regardless of whether it is big or small just follow through. Remember one man’s mountain maybe another man’s mole.
In this age, we are all storehouses of information without even realising it. Most of the time it is information that people are after, so pass along that knowledge or bit of info and watch the magic work itself. Example, one of your ex-colleague’s is looking around in the job market – if they know their USP (unique selling point) highlight that and pass the information or put them in touch with people who may be looking to recruit their specific skill set.
Another example – my son was never in day care, yet I had the contact for at least 2-3 different day care centres at any given point of time because I knew that this is the kind of information that most of my girl friends and female colleagues needed at some point of time.
- Do not expect anything in return
Seems rather simple, doesn’t it? Even if you do someone a favour or help them in some way, do not stick around or go back hoping that they will return it. Most will not either remember it or be in a position perhaps to help you in the same way. What is important here is not what people can do for you but what you can do for people. Relationships and networks are not based on ROI (return on investment), unless you are a business, then you better have a very good ROI on your network.
Called someone and they wouldn’t return your call? Let it go. Emailed someone but they didn’t return your email? Let it go. Unless it is business related and you need that response, let it go and move on.
I believe in Karma. I believe that you do good and you will get good in return. I believe in paying it forward. I believe that one good deed sent out into the universe creates positive vibes that the universe returns in other ways.
- Common interest
Everyone has interests that they share with millions of other people. Family ranks as number one and hobbies a close second. Anyone can start a conversation on the topic of family / children / siblings – just be sensitive to how the person responds, they may not wish to talk about this subject and keep their answers really short, so take your cues accordingly. Pay attention to body language, voice tones and facial expression. Hobbies are relatively safer subjects to discuss, found someone in your professional network who is passionate about rock climbing like you? Perhaps you can take a combined excursion and see how that goes, you never know, you might actually end up making a life long friend.
I found my best friends at work like that. We took exercise classes together and became work out buddies and over the ensuing months we went for lunches and shopping and brought in dishes to share at lunch break and before I knew it, I had a family at work. People whom I loved and looked forward to meeting every day, they undoubtedly made my long hours at work much more enjoyable.
5. Agree to disagree
I have found that no matter how disagreeable someone may seem, usually, there’s at least one thing, one subject that I can find, on which we can agree. If nothing works, then simply agree to disagree instead of getting into lengthy arguments falsely believing that you are going to convince them to change their mind about anything. No one changes their opinion about anything when they are busy defending their positions, their beliefs on that subject. Arguing unnecessarily merely creates irritation. The same happens if you start to behave like you know everything there is to know about a subject/topic/object. In my experience so far, no one really likes a “know-it-all”.
Life is too short to know everything and too unpredictable for anything to be rock solid so take it easy on the arguments. Having said that I also have to point out that you should have an opinion, maybe not about everything, and when you do have an opinion and a belief you should stand by it, be assertive without aggression.