Networking is a mind game. If you’re anything like me, first you have an internal negotiation just to get yourself to the event. Then you have to psych yourself up and issue yourself the reminder that if you make five or six connections, the mission was a resounding success.
It can be so easy to get stuck in your head when you’re networking that when confronted with a room full of people you get distracted from the mission and forget all the networking tricks you had up your sleeve. The thing is, though, in order to make connections that matter, you really only need to remember three things. So instead of wandering around your next event like child lost in the woods, let us guide you in some thought hacks and mental tricks to help boost your confidence and ability to make professional connections that could have a profound impact on your career.
1. Network ‘Clean’ Research out of Northwestern University suggested that participants in a study who were asked to “think of a time they behaved with the intention of building a professional relationship” were more likely to feel “dirty” about networking. Their counterparts, who were asked to think about the act of making personal connections, seemed to feel better about the interaction.
Networking mentor Marsha Shandur suggests thinking about networking as “making industry friends.” She says, “You want to look at everything from a ‘friendship-y’ point of view.”
Treat the people you meet, well, like people. The networking context can be so forced, we can forget we’re all people outside the room with lives and professions that are important to us. So find out what’s really important to the person you’re talking to by asking questions and being curious. Be willing to admit you never heard of something, and ask them to expound. There’s no shame in saying, “Tell me more about that…” In fact, it’s a great way to keep a conversation going!
Then, the next time you meet someone at a networking event and create a connection you’d like to nurture, make sure to send a personalized follow-up email. Reference things they said in your conversation. This makes them feel seen and heard. And maybe even do a little sleuthing to find out what they’re into so you can be a useful source of information.
2. Own Your Value These relationships aren’t meant to be one-sided. Even if you have a lot to gain from an introduction, don’t underestimate what you can bring to the table.
Cynthia Greenawalt, an expert in building social capital and contributing author of Masters Of Networking, suggests asking yourself: “What’s the music I’m playing as I walk into the interaction?” before starting any networking conversation. If it’s not an empowering tune, it’s not going to work. “Get in touch with what’s great about you,” she says, “otherwise you’re in the ‘I hope you like me’ mode.” If you show up owning your value, you’re more likely to develop a strong, mutually beneficial relationship rather than seeming like an excited fan.
Find your value by asking yourself what you bring to the table that’s relevant in this interaction. Identify the need you’re fulfilling in the eyes of the people with whom you’re interacting. And, finally, look to what makes you different than other people in your space. This could be anything from your personal or professional past to a passion that helps you connect with people.
Make this your networking mantra: “I am someone worth knowing.”
3. Farm Strategically Greenawalt also suggests “identifying what kind of fruit could come from the tree you’re cultivating. Don’t network blindly or randomly.”
This is strategic networking, which Harvard Business Review says is the most important for growth. Strategic networking goes beyond just chatting with anyone who will talk you up at a networking event and instead pushes you to identify people who can help you see the big picture, figure out where your unique skill set or viewpoint fits in, and work to connect with them.
This kind of networking might mean asking for introductions to big-wigs in your industry. But, it will be important to think to yourself “Am I into this person?” as the relationship evolves. If the answer is no, get out before the things gets icky or you end up wasting a ton of time. If you prolong the relationship, the person might start to feel used. (You’re not that into them yet you’re using them for their contacts and industry knowledge.) The fruit you end up harvesting will be kind of rotten.
If the answer is yes, channel your energy into continuing to nourish and build the relationship—and spend your time there rather than attending tons of random events.
This article is a repost from Forbes.com