Management gurus tell us that networking is good for us. They’ve been telling us this for decades. Yet many lawyers don’t like networking and see it as a waste of time. Some are uncomfortable with making small talk with strangers. Some are fundamentally introverts and cannot bring themselves to do it.
At the other end of the spectrum, even if you’re a successful networker and bring piles of business cards back to your office, chances are that if you’re like most people, you don’t do anything with them. A year from now, you’ll wonder who what person was and where you met them.
And can you relate to this typical networking scenario?
LOCATION: A cavernous, dimly lit ballroom of a large-chain hotel, a bar, or a banquet hall.
PURPOSE: To network
ATTENDANCE: 50 to 500 people
AMBIANCE: Animated, the room is full of energy, but you don’t feel energized.
YOU: Armed with a drink in hand, you join a cluster of people chatting. You spend 10 minutes in conversation, exchange business cards, and move on to the next cluster of people. Rinse and repeat.
WHAT YOU RECEIVED: Questionable
WHAT YOU GAVE: Questionable
What is wrong with this picture? Two things.
First, our expectations of networking are all wrong. We expect to receive first, and preferably now. (“Hire me, hire my law firm.”) The focus is on ourselves, not on the people we are meeting. We don’t know what to say and are trying to extract information which will help us from that person. Second, we approach networking as a one-hit wonder. A relationship is started, but not continued. That’s a waste of time—and a huge missed opportunity.
I keep asking lawyers if they took any psychology courses in law school. The answer is invariably “no.” Maybe some criminal lawyers, or those who work in litigation support, have an affinity for reading people and
In the 1950s and 1960s, Dale Carnegie’s landmark book How to Win Friends and Influence People, originally published in 1936, began to get a lot of traction. I could argue that this book launched not only the self-help book movement, but also the sales psychology movement. The book has sold 15 million copies over the years, nothing to sneeze at. But there are now at least two generations (Gen X, Gen Y, and Millennials) of business people that may not have heard of Dale Carnegie. He’s worth checking out.
Carnegie was noted that people are basically self-centred; they have their own needs, wants, troubles, frustrations, and aspirations. Remembering this, get yourself into the headspace of giving first and receiving later. Here’s a 4-step process for better networking:
STEP 1: Give help first, receive help later
The next time you’re at a networking session, you’ve met someone who could be a useful business contact, volunteer to be helpful. Here are three great questions to ask people at a networking function, that are sure to get them talking: “What are you working on right now?” “Where are the problems/bottlenecks in your situation or problem?” and “What isn’t working well right now? Where are you stuck?” This is not fake, forced, or idle “small talk.” It goes straight to the heart of what people care about.
Trade business cards with your new acquaintance; write down what the person says on the back of their business card.
If you can think of an idea, or make an introduction you think would be helpful to your new acquaintance, volunteer it. What is the cost of this to you? Zero. What impression will you leave? Huge!
Confession: the first time someone helped me with a problem I was having sourcing suppliers in a particular industry and a new acquaintance offered to help me out of the blue, I was impressed. She connected me with three people in her network who helped me (I did follow up with them). I was terminally grateful for what she did for me.
STEP 2: Follow up
When you get back to the office, send your new acquaintance an email with the promised information. Offer to introduce them to your colleagues, friends, neighbours, associations, or concepts that your new acquaintance may find useful. If you follow-up in 24 hours, the networking conversation will still be fresh in your mind. It will also impress your new acquaintance because most people don’t follow up.
STEP 3: Link to your new acquaintance on LinkedIn
Connect to your new acquaintance on LinkedIn; they may have connections that could be useful to you in future. Ask them for introductions, too.
STEP 4: Forward Useful Info
When material that could be potentially useful to your acquaintances and connections crosses your desk, send it to them. Let them know you’re thinking about them and want to help them succeed. When people know that you care about them and what they want, that’s when they want to do business with you.