With January behind us, and most of our resolutions consigned to the dustbin, it’s time to get serious about the rest of the year. And getting serious – especially about career or business goals – requires committing to connecting with the right people and building relationships. In short: networking.
Which immediately conjures up the scary thought of walking into an event and staring at a wall of people you don’t know. Or maybe you’re imagining reaching out to a perfect stranger and introducing yourself by email or on LinkedIn. All these things are not easy.
But here’s the bad news: the initial contact is not the hardest part of networking!
Turns out, the hardest part of networking is maintaining the relationship. Month after month, year after year.
If we are not deliberate and vigilant, human nature will take over, and we will drop our hard-won new connections because they are ill-defined and loose acquaintanceships.
Why? Because human beings are programmed to hate uncertainty and love clarity and categorization. If we can assign someone to a box – “family,” “friend,” “coworker” – we are far more comfortable with that relationship, and we act accordingly.
For most of us, “LinkedIn connections” or “Met at a conference” are not definitive categories for which there are clear mental frames of behavior. This causes discomfort. And discomfort causes opting out.
But to reap the benefits of networking we need to master the art of keeping in touch with exactly these types of loose connections.
Here’s the good news: We can create a feeling of greater comfort for ourselves with these ill-defined connections, which will increase the likelihood of us continuing to build these relationships. To do so, we need to consciously think of our connections as a new category that we have defined, then assign a set of behaviors to how we interact with this new category of people.
What does it look like in practice?
- Create a system for keeping track of your new contacts and your interactions with them. it doesn’t have to be a fancy app. A simple Excel spreadsheet, or even a stack of index cards is good enough. The trick is to actually use whatever system you create.
- Decide how often you’re going to follow up, and put a reminder on your calendar for that periodic interaction.
- Think about two or three types of low-stress interactions that are going to be your go-to actions. It could be commenting on something your connection has published; sending an email with an article of possible interest; introducing your connection to someone else.
That’s it. By doing these three things, you will dramatically increase the chances of staying in touch. And, as we know, good things come to those who follow up!