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Networking vs. Building Relationships

Is there a difference between networking and building relationships? Could they basically be the same? It's a question that many of my professional colleagues continue to discuss when we get together for tea, coffee, lunch, or a cocktail.

I can remember being invited to a business networking luncheon for entrepreneurs and independent consultants. When I received the invitation, I simply tossed it aside in my 'Review Later' folder on my computer. After several days passed, I decided to review that folder and delete most of the "Not in Your Life" invitations and announcements that arrive daily. This one was different for some reason, one of the co-organizers was a colleague that I had collaborated with on several projects. It piqued my curiosity as they were someone I had built a strong relationship with over many years. So, I responded in the affirmative, still feeling a bit hesitant. The question that kept running through my head was, is this a networking hello meeting, people trying to sell me something I have no interest in, or a building relationship opportunity?

Over the years we have been taught by professionals to always have an elevator speech in our back pocket or tucked away in your brief case to be pulled out at the drop of a hat. They usually say practice makes perfect and you end up delivering a canned speech that has been remembered, often sounding less than sincere. If you have an elevator speech, remember that it should change, depending on the audience or person you are talking to at the time. Giving a 10 to 15 second speech about yourself can inform and peak curiosity, but follow up is an important next step. Quite often I hope that the elevator door will open sooner than later. Remember, keep that elevator speech fresh.

You can always tell if someone is sincere about wanting to get to know you or if they are simply looking for an opportunity that is assumed you may be able to provide them. Most networking conversations will start with the question, what is your name, followed soon afterwards by, so, what do you do? If the questioner is not interested in what you do or they feel there is nothing for them to gain from talking to you, they will usually make an excuse to end the conversation. These are the type of people that I love playing games with because it's fun to see their true colours of being pretentious. I would often change my job title to see the shock on their faces. Often I would attend events with my Administrative Assistant who was smarter than most people. Being a man, people would assume I was the boss. When questions were directed at me as my Admin person was ignored, I would take pride in leading the conversation and answering all of their questions that started and ended with, "My name is Mikael and I am an Administrative Assistant and this great woman is my boss, the Communications Director". The expressions on their faces, especially the men made us laugh nonstop with each other as we watched them run away. Communications is one of the key factors in everything that we do at home or at work. Active listening is essential in networking and building honest relationships.

Often, most people are not listening at all, but waiting for a chance to jump in and share their story whether it relates to what was discussed or not. Trust me, it's a turn off. Often when conducting in-house or online video training sessions, I have participants practice this concept and ask pertinent questions to what had been communicated or shared by their partner. Try practicing active listening over the next few days, most people notice when someone is listening or not listening to what is being said or requested. It's key when working with clients because they notice your body language, eye contact and how you can summarise what has been shared.

Not everyone wants to build a relationship, but they are interested in networking if they can see the benefits for themselves. Networking can be a bit like speed dating.

Often you may be asked the same questions whether it's in business or on a date. The usual questions are:

  • "So, what do you do?" My response is when? Then they probe further asking -- "For a living?" People tend to be impressed by job titles as opposed to who you are as a person. Of course, this varies from region to region. I have always been much more interested in the person as opposed to their job title.

  • Where do you work? If you say Google or Apple people want to know more about you and if advantages come with knowing you. When living in Washington, DC, the question always started with "Do you work on Capitol Hill?" Give the wrong answer and people walk away or turn their backs to you. It was always fun to say I work at the White House to see them start to drool and gather around to become a new contact. Remember, it's easy to spot fake people.

  • Where do you live? I sometimes say in my car just to see the look of horror on their faces.

  • Do you drive? When dating often someone will volunteer to walk you to your car as if you need a security guard for protection. Do you know why? It's to see what type of car you drive. They never ask if it's a rental or belongs to a friend or your mother. Apparently, it provides more information on how successful they think that you should be.

Building a solid relationship is an investment and takes time. It's a bit like fishing, if you reel the fish in too fast you could snatch the lips off, as my dad would tell us kids on every fishing trip. "What's the rush", he would always ask? Just get acquainted with the fish.

Here are a few tips that may assist you in networking with style:

  • Always smile, it makes you appear approachable.

  • Talk to people at parties, events, in grocery store lines, walking for exercise, on public transportation, or even at your doctor's office.

  • Focus on being an attentive, interested, and a good listener. Try to avoid interrupting when someone is speaking.

  • Start networking before you need it. Seasoned networkers can smell the stench of desperation from across the room. People can sense when someone is only out to help themselves.

  • Have a plan. Since every person has value, it’s essential that you know what yours is. Before you attend any networking event, get clear on what talents, strengths, skill sets and connections you can bring to the table. Map out what you want to talk about, particularly how you may be able to help other people, either now or in the future.

  • Forget your personal agenda.

  • Never dismiss anyone as unimportant.

  • Connect the dots. Once you begin to listen to people and learn what they can bring to the table, you’ll start realizing how one person in the room may be able to help another.

  • Figure out how you can be useful. Before any conversation comes to a close, be sure to ask, “How can I help you?” Because it’s done so rarely, you may encounter a surprised look, but it will most likely be accompanied by an appreciative smile.

  • Follow up and follow through with people. If you tell someone you will get in touch with them, do it and reaffirm your intent to assist in any way you can. If you promised to introduce someone to a colleague you know, take the time to do it.

  • Believe in the power of networking and building strong relationships with others. Networking isn't just about getting what you want, but it's about sharing information and working together. You will be surprised when the magic starts to happen.

Often, organisations ask me and those in my network, "How do we get into the African American, Latino/Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander community?" Building relationships with communities can take years to create properly. The relationship between individuals must be nurtured and respected before it's used. Developing a genuine relationship creates trust and a strong bond. Creating strong relationships is a process of honesty, commitment, loyalty, and growth that starts with being culturally sensitive, respectful, and trustworthy. It saddens me that most companies and staff are not interested in putting in the time it takes to develop contacts or build lasting relationships.

Today, most companies and people expect it to happen immediately through social media, text messages or emails but not in person. One of my interns said to me, "What would anyone talk about over lunch or coffee with a stranger?" Fast and dirty is not always the long-term solution to being successful. So, I took my interns to lunch with a new contact to teach them how to have a delightful, respectful, and meaningful conversation.

So, is there a difference between networking and building a relationship? Please share your ideas and best practices in what works best for you.

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