When I ask a group of people, “Who here is a natural networker?” I see few hands go up – if any.
The most common reason I hear is that people hate talking to strangers; without a specific reason for approaching the person, the exchange feels shallow or selfish. That makes perfect sense – no one wants to go around making small talk or coming across as pushy or demanding. That’s not the way to build productive relationships.
One quick fix for having more impactful conversations at work is to start with the people you already know and like. From there you can warm up to people you know less or have never met.
There are four steps to building and leveraging relationships:
Discovering and connecting with new people
Cultivating those into meaningful contacts
Maintaining and investing in your network by keeping up with people (reaching out to say hello, sending a meaningful article, etc.)
Leveraging your network by asking for things from key people
Another key to building and leveraging better relationships at work is to give something before you ask for something. This should solve the issue you may in your head about asking for things.
Look for ways you can help the other person with something they value, such as insight, news, expertise, support or other information. What can you do to make the other person look good, or to offload something from their busy plate?
Set up a coffee or lunch date, or plan a conversation for when you know you’ll both be at the same event. After planting this initial seed, water it by closing the loop with regular follow-up and more value.
Ask for what you want
Once you’ve worked through the first three steps and provided value to the other person, it’s time to make your own request.
To start, know what the other person cares about. That will help you align your perspectives and show how your request will help them and/or the organization.
For example, you may ask your boss to introduce you to key stakeholders (giving you access and awareness to do a better job), for greater responsibilities, for the opportunity to chair a committee (filling a need), or just an open-ended offer, “What can I do for you?”
Consider simply asking for someone’s perspective, insights or advice. Not only could you use that to improve your performance and results, but people typically enjoy being asked for their opinion.