The Networking Paradox
Networking events can often feel like a marketplace where everyone is pitching, but no one is buying. The emphasis is usually on transactions rather than relationships, rendering these events less effective for genuine connections. This is where emotionally intelligent networking comes into play—a concept popularised by structured networking groups like BNI. In this guide, we’ll delve into mastering the art of emotionally intelligent networking.
The BNI Approach: Networking with Emotional Intelligence
BNI (Business Network International) offers a refreshing approach to networking. It’s not about selling to the room; it’s about building relationships and exchanging referrals. BNI provides training on initiating conversations, breaking the ice, and becoming comfortable with public speaking. The structured environment and focus on relationship-building make it an excellent starting point for those new to networking or those looking to enhance their skills.
Practical Tools for Emotionally Intelligent Networking
The 40% Rule
If you find yourself dominating over 40% of the conversation, it’s time to step back and listen. Networking involves as much listening as speaking.
If someone is overtly trying to sell to you, look for opportunities to steer the conversation towards neutral or relationship-building topics.
The Friendship KPI
Aim to form at least two new friendships at each networking event. These are individuals you can later meet for a coffee to discuss business or other interests. The goal is to create a support network, as business endeavors can often be isolating.
The Importance of Being Authentic, Without Oversharing
While authenticity is crucial, there’s a fine line between being genuine and oversharing. For instance, discussing an $80,000 tax bill with someone you’ve just met is not advisable. Instead, focus on positive challenges and opportunities, like your plans to expand into a new market.
Time Management in Networking
Avoid spreading yourself too thin by attending every networking event. Be selective and prioritise quality over quantity. For instance, if you’re in the start-up phase, a weekly BNI meeting and one additional event might be more than sufficient.
Strategic Networking Action Plan
Identify the industries that refer the most work to you and explore their associations or networking events. If public speaking isn’t your strong suit, consider joining Toastmasters to bolster your confidence.
The Follow-Up: Building on First Impressions
The initial meeting is just the beginning. Effective follow-up could involve inviting the person to an informal business owners’ lunch rather than pushing for a sales meeting. The goal is to strengthen the relationship without immediate expectations.
The Pitfalls: Speed Networking and Business Card Poker
Avoid falling into the trap of speed networking and the habit of indiscriminately handing out business cards. These approaches rarely lead to meaningful connections.
Pro Tips: Remembering Names and Faces
If you struggle with names, consider bringing along a ‘wingman’ from a non-competing industry. You can help each other remember names and even introduce each other to new contacts.
- Prioritise assisting the person you’re conversing with before moving on.
- Be discerning about the events you attend; focus on those where you’re likely to meet ideal clients.
- Effective follow-up is vital for nurturing the initial connection.
Emotionally intelligent networking revolves around building relationships, not just contacts. By applying these principles, you’ll not only become a more adept networker but also a more empathetic and efficient businessperson.