By Melody J. Wilding '11SW of the Columbia Career Coaches Network
Originally published on melodywilding.com
Networking can be, at times, awkward and even produce anxiety. The thought of reaching out to people you don't know to build potential business relationships can seem daunting. How do those "super connector" social butterflies carry themselves with such confidence while others stammer and stutter?
As it turns out, there's a psychology to relationship building that will not only help you feel more secure when meeting new people, but will also transform your stack of business cards into meaningful connections that may advance your career.
Remember, confidence and relationship building are not skills we're born with.
Here are four ways to leverage what we know about human behavior and the brain to become a better networker and to create relationships that last:
1) Position yourself to stand out
Catch people's eye by standing near the appetizers. Everyone loves food and at events, it's usually where people's eyes turn to automatically as they scan the room. Standing by the grub will get you noticed. Plus, a constant stream of people will circulate around you making it easy to float seamlessly from conversation to conversation. Body language also plays a big role in how people interpret your confidence level. Stand tall, nod while others speak, and keep a smile on your face. These behaviors all project curiosity, self-assurance, and approachability, which will keep others engaged and interested. What you wear can similarly impact others' perception of you. Wearing bright attention-getting colors, especially red, will project energy, assertiveness and action.
2) Be unforgettable
Want to create a lasting impression on someone? Make a point to talk with that person either first or last. Think about it this way: Who was the first person you interacted with yesterday? The last person? Easy to remember, right? Now, try to name every other person you had an interaction with throughout the day. Because of the serial position effect, we can most easily recall the first and last things we do, while the in-between activities tend to get muddled. If you make a point to talk to someone at the very beginning or end of the night, you're more likely to make a memorable impression.
3) Ask uncommon questions
What's the first thing someone typically asks to start a conversation? You guessed it: "So what do you do?" Because we expect most networking openers to ask about our professional work, one of the best ways to stand out and build a stronger connection with someone is to ask uncommon questions. Ask them questions about where they grew up, where they went to school, their hobbies—anything that could reveal a common bond. You could even do a little research on the person beforehand (that's what Google and social media are for) to figure out what makes them tick and find some common ground. Chances are people will feel flattered if you actually did some research. Getting personal with someone will show that you're taking a genuine interest in them.
4) Speak with power
There is nothing more annoying than a conversation filled with "like's" and "um's." These fillers weaken your speech and can give the impression that you don't really know what you're talking about. Make a conscious effort to speak clearly and concisely. Also, try to match your tone with the person you're chatting with. If they speak very loudly with a lot of hand gestures, try to match their energy. For example, you can do this by using more voice inflections and nodding your head more vigorously. Because we unconsciously prefer people who are similar to us, it's a great way to build rapport.
Remember, confidence and relationship building are not skills we're born with. It takes time, effort, and practice to become more comfortable with your networking skills, but rest assured these are skills you can develop over time.
Melody J. Wilding is a part of the Columbia Career Coaches Network—a group of over 20 accredited professional alumni career coaches who provide fee-based consulting and volunteer for the Columbia Alumni Association's free professional development programs throughout the year.