We often have a shallow conception of what networking means.
We imagine exchanging names and basic information with someone at an event, meeting up with that person for coffee, and then asking them for a favor.
“The way many people do it is gross. They get in touch out of nowhere in order to work an angle or ask for something under the guise of friendship. Too many people visualize their ‘network’ as a list of names they can utilize to achieve an end goal,” said Artsy CEO Mike Steib.
Steib suggests that what we should strive for, instead, are “meaningful connections.”
There are many benefits to building deeper network connections. For instance, maybe you’ll find someone who can be your mentor – or who you can mentor. You might also make connections you can use for emotional support.
“By connecting with others, you’ll have access to emotional support and camaraderie, which can be invaluable for your mental health and well-being, and you’ll also have the opportunity to learn from others and potentially avoid stressful or costly mistakes,” said Keith West for Entrepreneur.
But of course, you can’t reap these more meaningful rewards without forming deeper connections with your network. So, how can you build more meaningful relationships with professional connections you don’t know well?
Find alternatives to traditional networking.
Networking “speed dating” and traditional events are often more geared towards building quick, immediately-helpful connections than long-term relationships.
So, though you can find contacts this way, you may be better off seeking out networking events where participants are equally motivated to build meaningful connections.
“The best networking I do is when I have the opportunity to spend two or three hours with a group of open-minded people who seek to grow their businesses and themselves through continually learning ways to think about their businesses,” said Colleen McKenna of Intero Advisory.
Winnow down your network to people with whom you “click.”
Creating a meaningful network means that you don’t have time to foster as many deep connections.
You also shouldn’t try to build relationships with professionals who don’t share your values, energy level, or vibe.
If you don’t click with someone, look for contacts with whom conversation is immediately easy and natural.
Don’t talk too much about yourself.
When building relationships, many people fall into the trap of talking way, way too much about themselves.
Monologuing about your life might feel good. However, you’ll come away without knowing much about the other person. You probably won’t have made a great impression either.
Try something completely different – talk as little about yourself as possible.
“From now on, use every interaction as a chance to appreciate someone else by investigating their work and interests. ‘How long have you been doing CrossFit? What are the results? As a vegetarian, is it hard to get enough protein to support all that weight lifting?’” said Review.
Share knowledge with your contacts.
Once you have a surface-level connection with someone, how do you take your bond to the next level?
One of the best ways is to help that person in one way or another.
“It can be as simple as relating an interesting and relevant insight that you know, emailing an article, or sending a book with a note. But it’s only useful when you’ve thought hard about it, and you’re sharing something that will be important to the other person,” said Steib.
Don’t help your connection simply so they’ll pay you back. Building a relationship means that you value the other person – whether or not you think they can “help” you.
Connect with your contacts – during the good and bad times.
You can also prove that you truly care about the other person by connecting with them when others don’t.
If someone gets a promotion, a new job, or public success, then they’ll have people coming out of the woodwork to connect.
But if they fail at something, fewer people come around.
“When things break the other way, and you get passed over or have a failure, your inbox gets a lot quieter, and you only hear from your true friends. Make the decision now to be one of those true friends for others,” Steib suggested.
Building Deeper Network Connections
Networking gets a bad rap when it’s used only to ask for favors.
However, the most meaningful networking involves making deep, long-term relationships with others in your field.
Building connections like these take time. You’ll need to check in with your contacts during good and bad times, offer them opportunities, and maintain your relationship over time. If you haven’t reached out to a contact for a while, why not say hello without a “goal” in mind?
How do you know if you want to form a deeper network connection with someone? Here are 20 questions you can ask to see if you click with others you meet at networking events.