By Parul Patel, with special guest Joe Briggs
Does the word “networking” send a shudder down your spine? Does it give you visions of a room swarming with people shouting about how great they are or professing, “Let’s do lunch”, only for those words and sentiments to disappear into the abyss?
I have to be honest and share that in the past I have been found hiding at networking events, taking a few deep breaths and trying to calm my fractious nerves (thank goodness for those self-care tips from Katarina Hunter in my earlier blog!).
Ironically, I attended a 1,500-person networking event about a month ago and was fortunate enough to find, unbeknown to me, Georgetown professor, small-business owner, and sports and tech angel investor Joe Briggs sitting on his own. I took the plunge and decided to join him – I can’t tell you how glad I am that I “got my brave on!”
Networking and building relationships are the number one influencers, if not predictors, of your career success (and potentially your personal wellbeing). When I talk about networking I don’t just mean meeting people you’ve never come into contact with before, I mean deepening connections with your peers and colleagues too.
I recently chatted with Joe on the Water+Air podcast (listen to the full conversation here), and if you can carve out the time I’d read this blog then go back and dive into the podcast because Joe shares so much wisdom it’ll rock your world.
In this blog I’ve pulled out five of the fundamentals that Joe believes bring networking out of the Dark Ages and into a vibrant 8K HDR OLED … reality.
1) Be present and curious about the person in front of you.
Joe: “When you are fully present you might discover a new horizon that you didn't know existed. This is about peeling back the shell of an egg to see whether or not it's fragile on the inside or whether it's hard boiled because you do not know.
This is about figuring out how many layers deep this cabbage is that you are now peeling apart because you are trying to figure out what is in the centre of it and going from layer to layer by discovering this person, who you thought was one thing, is actually something completely different.
The mysteries of connection are vast, and interesting, and excellent, and should be explored at all costs, and at every opportunity. And for me, that is one of the things that I get from being present from asking questions and from not only spending the time to get deep with a person, but also figuring out how I can practice listening more than I do talking.
The first step is about so much more than asking the person’s name and what they do for a living. You need to get to know who the person really is; what motivates them, why they are in the room, figure out what they want to accomplish and how you can help them.”
When I listen to those words I FEEL what Joe is saying; it makes me want to go out and build connections right now!
2) Listen deeply with all your senses.
Joe: “I love meeting people but I want to go deeper than seeing you, shaking your hand, taking your business card and suggesting that I’ll call you or that we should meet up for a coffee. I want to get to know you and why you do the work that you do; that’s so much more important than just knowing where you work.
If you are listening deeply with all your senses you’ll likely notice when you mentioned something specific that the person you were talking to cracked a smile; it might only be for a second but because you were so present you were able to notice it and then take that part of the conversation forward, perhaps by asking why that made them smile. If you do this you can build a bridge into a whole new world that you didn’t even know existed.
If you’re going to have a relationship you have to be able to trust people and that means you need to gather information. How do you hear the person speak about the things that you care about? Do they sound genuine or are they representing themselves in a certain way? Are they revealing deeper parts of themselves that allow you to go deeper into a relationship together?”
3) Ask open questions.
Joe:“Remember that you have two ears and one mouth; ask questions and spend twice as long listening to the response. Figure out if there is a follow-up question. Continue to be curious and find ways to better that connection.
If you’re spending your entire time listening only so that you can advance your own thoughts and desires and find ways to respond then you’re going to miss what someone is saying to you.”
4) Create community.
Joe: “Many of us spend so much time trying to figure out how to make a connection that would benefit us that it causes us to miss some of the purpose of the deeper connection that we could actually be making to the benefit of both of you and the people you support.
It takes time; if I’m making ragu [pasta sauce] I can’t do it in five minutes and expect it to be the best! Invest time into the relationship.”
When you are “in community” it means that you have created a strong connection and that creates a safe space to explore almost any topic because there is no judgement attached to the questions (or the answers). Your questions will sound as if they come from a place of genuine curiosity, because they do.
You’ll naturally create a safe space that helps the other person know that you’re not trying to judge or suss them out.
As Joe went on to explain, you have to be willing to step into the uncertainty as to how the other person will react if you do ask a question that’s not on the typical networking icebreaker list!
5) Be willing to exist in that unknown space (even if it feels a bit awkward).
Joe: “When you wrap yourself in deeper connection with someone else there’s a desire to stay in community with those people and do right by them. Typically, fear threatens to stop you from asking the question that you really want to know the answer to.
It’s a balancing act between how much you want the information and how much you are willing to sacrifice to remain ‘in community’ with them. You need to check if the fear of asking the question outweighs the desire to know the answer and how that could develop your relationship.
Unfortunately, fear derives fear. You want to be able to decide confidently what should happen next. If you are indecisive about asking that question for fear of losing the sense of community with that person then you are already causing that community to erode because instead of listening and engaging and learning more about the person, the monster of fear is killing your curiosity.
You may be presented as a person who was not open to the question or not open to developing a relationship further. You might look like a person who is only interested in what he or she can sell. You might end up looking like the person who is only at that networking event to tick off the boxes on your to-do list.
That person is very different from the person who's gone to that space and is open, willing to meet, learn and go deeper with people.”
Listening to Joe was so inspiring; his sincerity and open-heartedness almost made me want to cry.
We live in a world where we are pushed to have goals, to go out and meet people and build our online following. However, the reality is that being present, listening and getting curious, asking good questions, building community and being willing to venture into uncharted territory has the potential to bring meaningful and long-lasting connections that go so much deeper than business alone.
What do you think? Have you ever had a chance encounter or attended a networking meeting where you created a deep connection? I’d love to know, send me a message on LinkedIn.
And, if you’d like to take off your emotional armour and roll up your sleeves by discovering more about who you really are and how to bring that into your legal career, why not check out the training programmes that Fuel+Move has created exactly for ambitious people who want a thriving career and a personal life they love without sacrificing their wellbeing?
Parul is an experienced international lawyer, demanding client, disruptive consultant and thought-provoking non-executive director and board advisor.
She's advised law firms and big global brands like Nike, Speedo and Manchester United, as well as supporting inner-city social change programmes, startups and scale-ups. Fuel+Move is born of her passion to improve interaction with the legal sector and achieve a better experience with better outcomes for its stakeholders.
Parul Patel can be found here: LinkedIn