Did you know that one of the most accurate ways to predict your success is how extensive your network is? Several peer-reviewed studies have found that who you know plays a more significant role in your career than how skilled you are, the strength of your resume, and other characteristics that we commonly think are responsible for our success.
Why does having a broad network matter more than job skills and knowledge?
- People who are outside of your core circle of close friends can expose you to knowledge, people, and resources that you would not be able to access on your own. Often, it is the unexpected ideas and resources that people introduce you to that enable you to stand out.
- Your network can inspire greater creativity and motivation. When you interact with people who are striving to reach big goals and approaching their work differently than you do, it will often inspire you to improve your own goals and routines.
- It ensures improved emotional intelligence. The more you interact with people, the better you become at reading them and using that skill to best present yourself in critical social situations.
I have broken down the six building blocks for developing a strong network into three key areas to help you navigate different relationship phases.
1) Connect – Learn how to make initial connections with new contacts.
2) Create – Turn your connections into lasting relationships.
3) Credit – Add value to your network by showing people that you appreciate them.
Let’s get started!
Who you spend time with dramatically influences your behaviour and personal success. Research shows that we subconsciously mimic the people we know and consciously adopt some of their actions to better connect with them. Therefore, it is essential that you surround yourself with people who will bring out your best traits and enable you to be successful.
Additionally, your connections can play near as big of a role in your success as the work you are capable of doing. Human resources data from the last several years shows that employers are increasingly relying on referrals to make hiring decisions.
Making new connections is critical so let’s explore what types of people you should connect with and how.
Who – Mentors, Masterminds, and Mates
There are three types of relationships to consider and develop in your career:
1) Mentors. These are one-on-one relationships with people whom you admire and who have traveled a similar path to the one you want.
2) Masterminds. These are intense groups of people who are at the same level as you, have similar characteristics, and support you as you pursue your goals.
3) Mates. These are friends and colleagues you hang out with regularly. Having a group of mates in and out of work helps you relax, connect with people on a personal level, and ensure you have a balanced life outside of work.
Understanding these types of connections is important. Because how you approach people for each of those contexts is different.
With mentors, you have to be somewhat formal and very mindful not to demand much of their time. Masterminds are typically like a club with set meeting times. So while timing is not an issue, finding the right people to support you in this way is crucial. Perhaps start with an accountability partner and work up from there. With mates, informality and positivity are essential because most people do not want to spend their free time with someone who cannot relax.
Action step: Identify at least one person in each of those categories which you can make an initial connection with this week.
How – Networking Opportunities
Networking is time-consuming and, if you are an introvert, exhausting. To avoid burning out, you need to be strategic about choosing events with the highest potential for you to make quality connections.
There may be a range of factors you consider to choose the right networking events for you. Do you want to develop strong relationships within your industry association? Want to meet new people who are outside your comfort zone, different industry perhaps? Do you want to gain knowledge and skills while networking with others?
For example, if you are a project manager, attending events for project managers is a fantastic way to keep up-to-date on the latest changes in your field. However, people who are in your same position are unlikely to know or be willing to share information about exciting new opportunities. On the contrary, you are likely to make significant connections at events that target a variety of professionals in your industry.
It doesn’t always have to be the same old networking events. You are likely to meet meaningful connections if you step outside of professional groups. Look for ways to get involved with causes and activities related to your passions. Though you may not meet people who can immediately help your career, developing relationships based on shared passions can open up doors later on. They may be able to refer you to people who have relevant opportunities for you. If not, you will still benefit from forming new friendships.
Action Step: What event could help stretch your networks with people you would not normally meet?
Meeting new people is the easy part of creating a secure network. People are extremely busy, so you need to prove to them that it is worth investing time to keep in touch with you. There are two primary ways to do this:
1) Be a great conversationalist, so people want to keep talking to you.
2) Focus on building strong relationships rather than increasing your professional opportunities.
According to ontological coaching expert, Alan Sieler, there are different types of conversations that foster productive work and networking relationships. Some of them include:
1) Stories and Assessments: To share views and form stronger bonds by sharing personal experiences.
2) Clarity: To gain a mutual understanding to move forward together.
3) Common Commitment: To ensure shared commitment to goals.
4) Possibility: To generate ideas & explore different possible futures.
5) Opportunity: To identify specific opportunities from possibilities.
6) Coordination of Action: To get things done.
7) Progress: To pause and monitor progress towards goals.
8) Accomplishment: To acknowledge achievements & successes.
9) Appreciation: To publicly share recognition, value, appreciation, and gratitude of others.
10) Accountability: To deal with a broken promise/commitment or, in a working relationship, improve communication to prevent lapses in accountability from occurring.
You likely already have these conversations on a regular basis. However, being aware of the types of discussions can help you reach out to people with the intent to focus on one or more of those areas. This will allow you utilize your time with people more efficiently.
Action Step: Before starting conversations with professional connections, identify what type of communication you need to have. Work on your conversation skills to engage others.
According to Charles Green, leading leadership expert and author of the Trusted Advisor, trustworthiness can be broken down into an equation that you can improve upon to develop stronger connections:
Trustworthiness = Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy / Self Orientation.
Let’s break that down.
1) Credibility: What’s your area of competence? Being informed in the areas people expect you to makes your voice credible.
2) Reliability: Do your actions match your words? If you want people to trust you, you have to prove that you will follow through on your commitments.
3) Intimacy: Show that you genuinely care about people, so they feel comfortable sharing personal details with you.
Self-orientation is the extent to which you care about yourself more than others. It is the denominator because the more self-oriented you are perceived as, the fewer people trust you. This is because your actions and/or attitude show that you prioritize your own needs above all else.
A way to build all three of those elements of trust and reduce your perceived self-orientation is to create shared experiences with people.
Here are a couple of ideas:
+ Bring people together for an intimate lunch
+ Involve/share your networks in a charity event
+ Host your own mini networking events.
By being the person to plan events, you can focus them on situations that make you shine socially. This can make you appear more reliable, since you invested the effort to connect with people.
Action Step: Think about how you might be perceived at networking events and post-events. How can you improve your trustworthiness?
So far, we have focused on how developing a healthy network benefits you. Don’t forget that the people you develop professional relationships with expect you to offer them just as much value as you are receiving. The easiest way to show your connections that you value them is to help them and express your appreciation.
Leadership expert, Brian Tracy, believes that “successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others.” Focusing on what you can give in relationships rather than what you receive makes people feel grateful for their relationship with you (so they are unlikely to do anything to jeopardize it). It also shows that you are a valuable connection and proves that you care about their wellbeing.
Continually ask yourself: “How can I be of value to others? The help that you offer does not have to be huge. Introduce people who would benefit from knowing one another. Pass on valuable information and offer resources to people struggling with stressful situations. It only takes a few minutes of your time and can dramatically improve your relationships.
Action Step: Offer to help at least one person in your network per week.
Appreciation and Recognition
Research shows that telling people that you appreciate them strengthens your relationships. The power of appreciation should come as no surprise. Everyone has an innate need to know that they are valued. And busy people, in particular, want to know that the effort they invest in helping other people is worthwhile.
Among professional relationships, one of the most influential ways to show appreciation is by writing thank you notes. Most people express their gratitude immediately after someone does something for them, but few people take the time to follow-up.
Here is how to write a meaningful thank you note:
1) After addressing their name, write what you feel. For example, “I wanted to let you know that I appreciate…” “ grateful…” “Thank you for…”
2) State what specifically you are thankful for. For example, “introducing me to [valuable person],” taking the time give feedback on [important project], “recommending [useful tool],” etc.
3) Explain the positive impact that it had on you. For example, “[Valuable person and I will be meeting up again soon to…” “I incorporated your advice into my project, and my boss loved it, or “I started using [the tool] and…”
4) Offer to help them whenever they need it. Letting people know that you are willing to reciprocate favors shows them that you are interested in having a mutually beneficial relationship.
The power of appreciation
If you have an individual’s address or can slip a note into their office, using a physical notecard will make your token of appreciation stand out even more than it already does. Few people these days get handwritten cards. However, if giving a physical card is not possible, sending an email or text is still a great way to show your gratitude.
You should also develop a habit of recognizing people not for who they are but what they do for you. Positive psychologists have a theory called appreciative inquiry which explains that, particularly in professional relationships, focusing on what people do well and identifying ways to capitalize on their strengths enables people to form closer bonds and increase performance.
Regardless of whether you are celebrating a success with someone or working with them to overcome a challenge, acknowledging their positive attributes in dealing with the situation is likely to improve its outcome. It will also strengthen your relationship so that you continue to be someone that they want to share experiences with.
Action Step: Within the next twenty-four hours, send notes of gratitude and/or appreciation to at least three people. Moving forward, take a moment to recognize the contributions and/ or character of at least one person every week.
Relationships are both integral to your career success and what makes life worth living. Remember, our professional relationships are not the only relationships worth cultivating in life. Our personal relationships need time and attention too.
I remember a comment from Professor Fiona Wood, a burns surgeon and researcher, saying in an interview that we must strive to save the best of ourselves for those we love the most. This has stuck with me when I’m tired at the end of the day to treat my loved ones with respect and compassion.
Cultivating strong personal and professional relationships make life worth living, spend the time to cultivate yours!