I have written a lot about networking. That’s because lawyers should (and they do) network a lot. The legal profession is one that counts on building relationships with clients, the community, and legal system as a whole—and all this talk about networking can make it sound like a full-time job.
For some, networking is a natural part of lawyering. For many others, it feels like a heavy commitment on top of an already heavy commitment. If you feel this way (or are starting to feel this way), I offer three quick insights to help you network more efficiently and smoothly.
Tip 1: If you can’t network more, then network SMARTER.
Connect with your online connections. LinkedIn has made it possible for you to connect with a vast network of professionals without ever leaving your bed. But it wasn’t too long ago when professionals had to invest time in building relationships with individuals they connected with. The internet has made connecting scalable—so if you don’t really feel like leaving the bed, consider taking time to build an authentic, trusted relationship with your online contacts.
Connect with the organizer. Learn who the organizers are of an event (networking, social, or otherwise). Many are in that role because they enjoy connecting people with people. Taking the time to introduce yourself and expressing your appreciation makes it easier for you to ask them for their recommendations on who you should connect with at a particular or upcoming event.
Practice reading situations. We’ve all met those social butterflies who have a talent for sharing just enough information in a networking conversation, finding a natural point of where the conversation should end, acknowledge its ending, wrap up and move on. If you have learned how to “enter” into a conversation, start practicing how to “exit” one just as gracefully.
Tip 2: LISTEN actively.
Listening is a habit worth forming (especially in a profession where so much of it is reputed to be about talking). Great listening skills enables you to accurately read a situation, know the right questions to ask, and make a memorable impression that will lead to a good follow up.
Start by framing your mind into a curious state about the person you are meeting. Make it your goal to learn what you can about them, what they do, what they care about, and what’s important to them. Don’t force yourself to have to “sell” something back in common unless it is a genuine connection. When you are the model of curiosity, they will often time mirror your curiosity and become curious about you. This leads to a natural rapport where you can mutually connect and learn how you can help each other.
Frequent networkers often fall short of listening and often only focus on raising visibility. Your aim is to create a reputation as a dependable contributor (someone who engages and shares).
Tip 3: STRENGTHEN current connections.
Consider attending fewer events or taking fewer meetings, and instead, investing time into relationships you have already forged. Rather than worry about growing it, strengthen it. The best networkers are “givers” and not “takers.” If your efforts to grow your network are exhausting you, shift your focus onto making sure that your connections feel that you have given them value for their time. Anyone who is able to make someone else feel valued, is not forgotten.
Great relationships are about the other person and not yourself. Forging a genuine relationship takes time to build. After connecting with a contact, make sure you respectfully reach out or follow up—but do not force it to develop at a particular pace. Remember that every individual has different zones of comfort, and that eagerness and enthusiasm can be misinterpreted. A network needs to be cultivated, after all.
A great way to add value to your contacts is to connect them with other people. Just as you find a great contact invaluable, so would your contacts! You never know when an introduction can help bring someone else business or help solve a tough problem. Take time to serve as a connector.