Karin Burns has me thinking about how I have obtained not only my professional relationships, but my personal and online relationships. I believe in quality over quantity. So, when I am networking, I ask myself a few questions: “Will this person give me an (open) reference?”, “Could I call this person at any time of the day?”, “Do they inspire me?”, “Do they challenge my thinking?”, “Are they being their authentic self”. “Do they make me become more of my authentic self?”, “What do they want out of this relationship?”, and “What do I want out of this relationship?” Like Burns, I think it’s easier to find these things when you do the following.
• Look for common ground: Perhaps it’s the clinical social worker in me, but I truly believe you can find common ground with almost anybody. So, ask questions. My favorite is “What did you eat today?” Listen to the answers. Be honest. Be warm. Leave your judgmental hat at home.
• Keep in touch: Strong relationships rest on a solid foundation of shared experiences. Don’t only reach out when you want something. Invite people for coffee or to events you think they’d enjoy. If you run across an article in a magazine you think they’d be interested in, shoot them the link with a short note “This interested me. Love to hear your opinion on this piece.”
• Give as well as take. If they were the one to arrange coffee last time, then it’s your turn. If they ask you to give to their charity, don’t shrug it off; contribute what you can. You can also take it a step further and volunteer. This will allow you to meet a whole new set of great individuals. I also like what I call the commuter test. I enjoy inviting individuals on walks. It’s always interesting to see where they choose to meet. I think meeting someone in the middle shows thoughtfulness. Meeting close to their home or office could mean I am very busy but want to connect, or it could mean I am a selfish asshat and this is all about what I need. I also like the idea of email-introductions and connecting associates and colleagues that would profit from knowing each other. If you’re not comfortable connecting people, should they be a part of your network?
Finally, remember that your network shouldn’t consist only of people who work in your specific field. Everybody in your world (real or virtual) comprises your network. You never know who’s going to supply the tidbit that leads to your next big promotion or ah ha moment.