You just finished a few tasks in the morning, and the time for the day’s first coffee draws near. So you lock your computer, stand up and approach the coffee machine. A co-worker is already there and just about to put his capsule into the Nespresso machine. While the machine is running, you grab your cup and join your co-worker. In absolute silence, you both wait until the machine has done its job and return to your workspaces.
The situation displayed above is a scene that happens worldwide every day. Sometimes people pass by in silence, sometimes there is an interaction, a talk over the coffee machine. This set-up – a coffee machine, a few minutes of free time and a casual atmosphere – is a good way to start interacting with people. To engage in a conversation and build a relationship. Hence, to network. But why is networking so important?
Networking is omnipresent: Google returns about 968,000,000 search results when looking up the word “networking”. According to Novoresum, up to 70% of jobs are not advertised and 85% of vacancies are filled via referrals. The digital part of networking via, e.g. LinkedIn seems beneficial as well: A LinkedIn survey confirmed that over 70% of participants were hired by a company where they had a connection to someone already in the company. So networking is an essential factor when it comes to not only private but also business-related matters. It helps to have a solid set of connections, especially when working on a day-to-day basis with various stakeholders.
More than just talking
Networking is not an exact science, like many other topics that are people related. That is why there is no real step-by-step explanation on how to do it, when to do it or what not to do. But with time and experience, a specific pattern can help you to engage in conversations and start building potential networks within businesses. And networking is not just about talking – the way we interact with other human beings is primarily influenced by our body language and the way we say things, rather than the contents of a conversation. Hence, the signals we convey with our body and the tone of our voice have a more substantial impact. In this case, the good thing about non-verbal signs is that they can be trained to a certain extent.
When engaging in conversation, confidence is vital. If you are all right with yourself and you are satisfied with your current standing in life, nothing can knock you off balance. And your positive mindset will automatically be conveyed in your body language. It seems strange to give a tip to “be confident”, but it helps to start interacting with other people. An easy-going conversation between two engaged participants about business topics is preferable to constantly trying to convince the other party that you are doing such a great job all the time.
If confidence is a barrier to you, try to think of situations, projects or people that help boost your confidence. In this regard, it does not matter if it is in a private or business-related context. If it helps build up your confidence, it represents personal gain.
I have my doubts when I meet people who just came back from a conference with many new business cards and they tell me they have significantly expanded their network by about 20 new connections. In my opinion, it is not possible to establish 20 new relationships within a day and keep track of names, job titles and details. So in the end, they were running around talking superficially and not listening to their counterparts.
But listening is crucial, as is having a keen interest in the other person. Listen to your counterpart and try to understand what they are saying. Try to remember what they are saying and what their “hidden message” is. Also, ask questions if you are unsure or to continue the conversation. When giving someone your full attention, the counterpart will realise this and feel more comfortable when talking to you again. And you should be interested in the person rather than “selling” yourself all the time.
Active listening helps, especially in a consulting context, when finding out, e.g. what their current pain points are. In this regard, the consultant mainly asks questions and lets the customer talk. A customer who gets your full attention and is treated well is also more honest and direct.
Make the time for regular meetings
Establishing conversations and relationships are essential starting points. The next step is taking the time to strengthen your relationship with a person and meet up for lunch, coffee or dinner. These meetups do not have to be weekly, but it is essential to keep in touch and constantly exchange on various topics. You can also choose these meetups as opportunities to introduce other people or establish new relationships that can benefit your future development.
Balance of taking and giving
The main drive of getting to know people is being interested in them. Nothing is worse than people realising that you are pretending to be someone else – playing a role – especially in Switzerland, where values like trust, honesty, modesty and the constant willingness to compromise are essential when building networks. This includes giving something to the relationship and trying to help your counterpart. For example, you can establish a connection between different stakeholders or introduce new colleagues to others. All this effort is worth it and will support the continuation of the relationship.
Nevertheless, taking something out of the relationship is also valid when engaging with your network. A favour, a new contact or support in any way should also be accessible to you – especially when you ask for these favours. The counterpart should provide you with some assistance similar to how you helped them before. Hence, the balance between handling and sharing leads to good connections within your network. And it is worth giving because you never know when you will need support in the future.
These inputs were observations I made during various situations in jobs while engaging with people. Some of these can be insightful, others can perhaps be ignored. As mentioned: People-related topics are not to be taken word for word and are intensely dependent on yourself and your environment. But it can be worth expanding your network for having constant exchanges, doing or getting favours and boosting your development. Also think about your daily project work when interacting with various members – a good atmosphere and connection boosts cooperation. And good cooperation between co-workers leads to better project results in the long run. The bottom line is that you must want it and be willing to engage people.
So, the next time you meet someone at the coffee machine in your office, take your chance and start up a conversation. The worst case is that you have some friendly chit-chat. The best case is that you establish a new potential relationship. And having a way with people is always a handy skill.