Making genuine friends is different than meeting new contacts, although contacts can develop into friendships under the right circumstances. Perhaps you’ve just moved to a new environment. Maybe you plan to network to get that dream job. You’re determined to impress key people you meet. You think with some trepidation that you may need to put your friendships on hold while you climb your way to popularity and success.
Your real friends are your most valuable contacts. But while true friends will be glad to help out, they won’t want to feel used. Always put friendship first—and not for personal gain. Stay in touch with your friends, and show them you care. Anyone new you meet is at first a contact or acquaintance, possibly with the potential to become a friend.
Let’s say you’ve just moved to a new neighborhood or even a different city. Your friends are miles away. You’ve attended a cookout or two, but you aren’t making much progress in forming new bonds. You wonder what’s wrong. You wear a big smile. You have the gift of gab. You’re savvy on most topics. Why aren’t your listeners in awe of your conversation skills? First do some honest self-assessment, especially if you’re noticing some glassy-eyed stares when you’re speaking to virtual strangers.
Perhaps you’re trying too hard to be on. It’s obvious to others that you’re focused on yourself in your efforts to wow your target audience. It doesn’t matter how well you understand the facts regarding a particular subject, that person realizes you have no interest in him or her. Take heart, you’re not alone, in talking a little too much, especially under pressure, real or imagined.
Put yourself in your listener’s place. How many times have you tried to listen to someone who talks incessantly about him- or herself? My guess is that you felt frustrated, irritated, and possibly demoralized. Allow the other person to talk. If you’re paying attention, you may learn something. Ask polite questions in a light friendly tone. Then listen. When it’s your turn to talk, let them know you’ve heard what they said. If you want others to take notice you need to engage them. This means bonding with people by finding meaningful connections with them. This can only occur when individuals know their meaning is understood.
Networking usually alludes to making contacts within a business context, which has a somewhat more formal structure than making social contacts. The idea is to move from person to person with ease, connecting with other professionals in brief conversations to discover shared or complementary objectives. While this pattern can be intimidating, probably the biggest faux pas you can make is to gravitate to one person and stick like glue throughout the event, where there’s an implicit understanding that everyone is there to find new business opportunities and meet prospective clients—not to make a new BFF.
With practice, it becomes easier and more enjoyable to network and make new contacts. You can accumulate hundreds—even thousands—of contacts over time, whether you’re networking at an event or online—or even better—experiencing both venues. Making new contacts is an accomplishment when you use a meaningful interactive approach. Plus, you never know what relationship might develop with the next person you meet—perhaps a lifetime friendship, although this can’t be forced. Besides, schmoozing can actually undermine any attempt to connect. Remember mutual trust doesn’t happen overnight. The key is to relax. Take one pleasant and stress-free step at a time.
Mary Kathryn “M.K. “ Jones
Founder of Women Who Walk the Talk™