Become a Better Networker

Dynamic communication is one of the keys to success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success.  If you want to become a dynamic communicator, you need to master three skills: 1) conversation, 2) writing, and 3) presenting. 

Among other things, conversation skills are important for networking.  Networking, whether formal or informal, is an important way to build the relationships that can greatly enhance your personal and professional success. 

I read a funny/sad article in the January issue of “Harvard Magazine” called “Making Mingling Manageable” by Christian Flow a Harvard Junior.  In the article, Christian describes “the strange science of mingling: a discipline that demands moving through a room full of people you don’t know, minimizing silences, and somehow contriving that a few of those present remember your name” – in other words a networking nightmare. 

Christian is pretty witty.  Early on in his college career he decided he didn’t like mingling events.  But he had to attend some.  Here is what he has to say…

“I tried to steer clear of mingling events.  If I did have to go, I skipped the pleasantries and started asking questions that were calculated to throw the conversation off the beaten path…I tried to go no limits.  I was Ken Kesey and his bus full of Merry Pranksters, but instead of doing LSD and messing with policemen, I was speaking a little too directly and messing with the bounds of conversation.  And, like the Pranksters, I cultivated a disdain for smooth operators and politicking.  If you played within the system, you perpetuated the system.  And that meant more terrible mingling events.”

Christian is a pretty introspective guy though, and he soon came to this conclusion…

“When I look hard at my conversational boundary-pressing, it occurs to me that, in its own way, it has the contrived and strategic air I claim to detest in standard cocktail party conversation; that its benefits were somewhat limited, and that it was, at its root, nothing but a calculated defense mechanism.  Instead of confronting awkwardness and inanity, I had been finding my own inane way to run away.”

Good for Christian.  He realized two important things: 1) sarcasm and cynicism don’t make one a dynamic communicator, and 2) in order to become a personal and profession success, he need to become a good conversationalist, even in situations where he knows no one or only a few people. 

The common sense point here is simple.  Networking and mingling events are meant to help people connect and build relationships.  No matter how uncomfortable they may be for you, staying away from them hampers your long term prospects for personal and professional success.  And, as Christian Flow found out, approaching them as a smart ass doesn’t do you much good either.  If you want to become a good networker you need to become a good conversationalist.  The best conversationalists ask a lot of questions.  They really try to get to know the other person.  They listen carefully to the responses to their questions and they respond appropriately and with empathy.  Try this – ask, listen, respond with empathy — approach to conversation and networking the next time you find yourself in a group of strangers.  It works.  I guarantee it.  It’s only common sense.

That’s my take on conversation skills and networking.  What’s yours?  Please leave a comment sharing any of your funny and/or embarrassing networking moments, and what you learned from them.  As always, you have my deepest thanks and appreciation for taking the time to read this post.


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