Networking Coach Dishes On The Networking Paradox
By Andrea Tinianow, Connector-in-Chief, Connector Street
A lot has been written about networking during the pandemic which you can read here and here. I even found a course on professional networking from Open Learn. That got me thinking about the idea of “networking” and “making connections.” Are they the same or is there a difference?
“They can be,” says Megan Hudson, a networking coach in Concord, NH. “If you do networking right, you can make genuine connections.” Megan encourages her clients to be mindful and purposeful when they meet new people.
This means they should “listen and try to learn about the other person,” she explains, whether that’s in person or in a breakout room on a Zoom call. She says, “you don’t want to be that guy (or gal),” referring to the caricature of the hand-grabbing, business card shoving, networker who is more eager to speak than to listen. “You will always get what you need and want if you help others to get what they need and want,” she explains.
According to Megan, it is better to have one really good authentic conversation, than several empty conversations. In fact, she says, if you make an authentic connection at an event or meeting, you should feel like you’ve achieved success. “You can call it a night! It’s not about the quantity of connections that you make, that is important. It’s about the quality of the connection.”
Many of Megan’s clients are professionals in finance, law, accounting and the arts. They are amazing one on one, but can be tribal in their language, she shares. That is, they tend to use words and expressions that are endemic to the circles they travel in, but are not necessarily readily understandable to the rest of us. This makes it more difficult for them to navigate socially among larger groups. She suggests that many of them are introverts.
“While extroverts speak to think, introverts think to speak,” Megan says. “It is a paradox,” she continues “because words don’t always come easy to these folks.” This can put introverts at a disadvantage when it comes to connecting with new people quickly and in an artificially social environment, such as a networking event, either in person or virtually.
I can speak from experience. I am married to an introvert. He often speaks slowly and, at social events, he tends to be quiet. But when he speaks, “pow!” He is smart and interesting and funny. Everyone within earshot listens to what he has to say. He is an amazing communicator, and he connects really well with people.
But assuming we know what to say at an event organized for the sole purpose of generating connections, getting the conversation started in the first place can be a challenge. One of my tips is to arrive early. That way you can say a quick hello or even strike up a conversation before everyone arrives. But what happens when you arrive and everyone is already speaking in groups?
Megan suggests that we read the body language of the group we are considering joining before we do anything. Are they having a serious conversation, or are they jovial? If the latter, then you can just barge right on in, saying something like, “what are we talking about?”
My favorite phrase for insinuating myself into a conversation, especially where I have been standing around for a little while is to simply say: “I’m going to jump in here…..” And then I do, adding my two or three cents to the conversation already in progress.
In the world we’re in now, we can do our best to translate these skills to Zoom meetings and other virtual forums. But it isn’t always easy - I know.
Even if you do your best, be a good listener and add genuine responses, every so-called networking conversation may not lead to a true connection. But you have to start somewhere. Sometimes the process of meeting new people can be a lot of fun. And sometimes it can feel intimidating. That’s why folks like Megan are around to help all of us become better at it.
Andrea Tinianow is a Delaware attorney and founder of the Connector Street app.
Andrea is a frequent speaker on a range of topics related to networking, innovation, blockchain technology and the law. You can learn more about her here. Watch Andrea’s TedX talk here. Read her Forbes.com articles here.