"Networking that Works"
By Dr Greg Story
How big is your database of contacts? How many business cards have you collected and filed? How many people do you know? Turns out these are all rather pointless questions! The best questions are: how many people know you and how many care? Networking throws up images of attending events, exchanging contact details and handing over meishi. This is basically a push model, where you push your details out to others in the hope that it will lead to business. But what is missing? The care factor. Yes, they have your beautifully designed and carefully crafted message-laden card, but do they care?What happened during your initial interaction that would create or increase the care factor?
I go to the occasional event here in Tokyo and, like many others, belong to chambers of commerce and study groups. Sometimes I look at my diary and wonder whether I should remove the word "president" from my business card and replace it with "professional event attendee". I am always fascinated by watching the way people interact—or don’t—at these events. If I am correct in my presumption that people are attending the events in the hope of learning something valuable from the proceedings, meeting someone who can add value to their business, or both, then the methodologies being applied are in need of some work. Incredibly, there are numerous unfriendly, brusque, unresponsive people attending these events who are just killing their brands—their personal brand and that of their organisation. Some radiate "I don’t like people" like a bad case of sunburn. I wonder why their firms allow them to wander around alone, given what a force of negativity they represent. They are there for the content of the proceedings, and meeting others is a byproduct of the process that they clearly detest. It simply never occurs to them that they are the brand!
We are social beings
, however, and today we are interconnected to a greater extent than in all human history. The six degrees of separation theory is already well proved. The saying, "No man is an island" wasn’t created yesterday; the idea has been around for a very long time. Yet some of the people representing their firms don’t want to connect. Dismal interactions however are doing damage to the brand. We come away thinking poorly of the person and the organisation’s culture. We are not going to think how we can help them, nor will we bring solutions to their problems. We will never dream of connecting them to others in our trusted network, nor ever give them any business. Others are more open to the possibility of expanding business through expanding their circle of friends. I use the word "friends" on purpose, since we all prefer to do business with people we like. We will do business with people we don’t like, but only if there isn’t a choice. Fine. Question: what makes you likeable?
There are two networking aspects to this: the sheer number of people we can meet and influence, who will like us; and the quality of that influence. You might be thinking, "well, I am not trying to influence people". Oh, but you are! It is a truism that we are all in sales, whether we realise it or not. At the minimum, we are selling an image of ourselves—trustworthy, professional, competent, reliable, friendly, intelligent, experienced, creative, etc. Being likeable is an advantage in business that we neglect at our peril.
Drawing business to our firms and ourselves requires that we influence others in a positive manner. "You don’t know which one is the beautiful princess, so you need to kiss a lot of frogs", is an old sales idea that is still relevant. By having a bigger circle of influence we can generate more opportunities, so frog-kissing volume helps.
However, what puzzles me considerably is when, on meeting people who are sitting at my table at an event, I discover that they work together. They are usually in pairs but, shock horror, I recently met five! I was really floored when I realised one of the five was their section boss! I would normally think that the firm’s management team definitely needs some of our training, but I happened to recall their president telling me a few months earlier what a sterling global internal training programme they already had in place. Just to really top it off, they were all recruiters!
Leaders, please take note: it may never occur to you that you would have to coach your people on something as basic as never sitting together at events. Why not generate the greatest possible influence and build new friends for both you and your brand? Here is a zero cost solution for you—tell the team to divide up the room between them and get cracking on being likeable!
How about the quality part of the networking interaction that I referred to? Here the fundamentals of communication and people skills come into play. My observation is that there is also a lot of work to be done in these areas. The questions, What do you do? and How long have you been here? seem to be about as good as it gets. There is nothing wrong with either of these, but we can go deeper.
Letting the other person talk is one of the key precepts taught by Dale Carnegie. It sounds too simple, but there is a lot of influence and power in using questions and following Principle Number Four: "Become genuinely interested in other people". Reflecting on the word "genuinely", should make instantly apparent the reason this idea is so powerful. Another good one is Number Eight: "Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves". We could try some additional interesting questions: What do you like most about Japan? Where is the best local holiday spot you have found? Which is your favourite restaurant here? These questions will tell us a lot about each other—what we think and what we like—and are always useful in finding points of common interest, the building blocks of being likeable.
I also recommend seeking advice from others. While we rarely ever take our own brilliant advice, we are usually geniuses at handing it out, and we enjoy doing it. Ask people you meet what they believe their firm does particularly well. Ask how they build a strong internal culture in their team, especially if there are cross-cultural challenges. Ask about their view on the state of play in their industry. Do they believe the current Nikkei Abenomics-led surge is a dead cat bounce? I think you get the idea.
Engaging people in a likeable manner builds brands, businesses and a powerful network of people who both know you and care. Try it!