Have you ever encountered one of these clingy, slightly obnoxious people at a work event, who want to sell their idea to you at all times? At first they strike up a friendly conversation and you figure “pleasant chap, open and good at socializing”. You exchange business cards, and after reading theirs you decide that they are only mildly interesting to you. And then they don’t seem to know when to stop. They keep on raving about their idea – at the coffee break, during a speech, they pounce on you at the lunch buffet… And when you finally thought you escaped them in a small workshop, they manage to track you down and gleefully seize the seat next to you. And they have yet to ask you about your current job or your reason for being at this event.

Connections Work Two Ways

It took me several experiences of this type to figure out that other people might have perceived some of my early “networking behavior” similarly. The lesson I took from this is that networking is not about talking, it’s about listening. Where striking up a conversation serves as a perfect door opener, the real networking comes later. This becomes clear when you think about what networking actually means: forming a net by weaving connections between people. These connections are strongest when they work both ways and when both networking partners have a mutual basis of trust to build their bond on. This trust develops through being heard and understood. Thus, trust can only grow, when both partners are truly listening to each other.

Five Steps for Better Networking

So, how did I go about changing my networking behavior from “trying to sell” to “listening to understand”? Over the years I did three things:

  1. I practiced my listening skills,
  2. I adopted a “generosity mindset” and
  3. Created a really good business card, one with a clear message about the benefits for the recipients I could offer, and one that is easy for them to import.

And then I realized it would kill me to have to hold my horses and not to tell my counterpart what I do. So to get that out of the way; I did two more things:

  1. I devised a very short elevator pitch and
  2. Created a list of questions to ask the other person.

And each time I meet one of those “selling networkers”, I am now doing two things:

  • take their monologue as a learning opportunity to practice listening
  • use a clear and friendly phrase to slow them down, when it gets too much for me.