The Two Most Valuable Skills You Can Develop to Network Successfully

Smiling businesswomen drinking coffee and networking at business conference

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Never attend a social or business event with the idea that it is all about you; it is not. Networking is about relationship building, not making sales pitches where you force others to listen to you drone on excitedly about yourself. The same is true for social and professional networking through the Internet. When building networks you must give something back. To sustain good personal and business relationships, both parties must benefit in some way.

The Two Most Important Networking Skills

The two most important networking skills you can develop are listening and asking questions. These two skills will impress your clients even more than your best business statistics.

Why? Because listening validates the value of others and shows respect. Talking too much is rude, dominating, and not reciprocal. Asking thoughtful questions shows sincerity and builds trust because it actively shows an interest in someone's opinions and thoughts.

How to Be a Good Listener

One of the most unappreciated networking skills that you can easily master is the ability to listen. To get people excited about you and your business you need to do more listening and less talking.

Good listening is active, not passive. To be a good listener:

  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Do not fidget, shift your body weight often, and never look at your watch! All these things send a message that you are bored, impatient, or not interested.
  • Nod your head to show agreement but do not interrupt to make your point or share your own experiences.
  • Respond by repeating at least one key point the person you are talking with just made in the form of a question. For example, if Cindy Miller just told you how excited she is about a new product, ask her when it will be made available.

    Good questions follow good listening and accomplish two very important things: it shows you are listening and interested enough to ask a question and it keeps the conversation going in the direction you choose.

    Networking Listening Skills Tips: A good listener actively pays attention to the conversation and responds appropriately with questions.

    Selling Yourself is not All About You

    An interview tactic I learned many years ago from an employment agency works like a charm in networking situations: To get someone excited about you, get them talking about themselves and their accomplishments first.

    When people feel good about themselves, they are more likely to feel good about you as well. It is important to show that you respect and value someone by listening and asking the right questions.

    When networking, salt conversations with tidbits about yourself and your business but always end your self-pitch with a question directed to the person you are talking to. They will get excited about their answers and associate that excitement with meeting you.

    Networking Success Tips: Basic human nature demonstrates that if someone is interested in you, they suddenly become more interesting themselves. To be interesting, you must first be interested!

    Networking with Sincerity Counts

    We are not suggesting that you make up questions just to sell yourself. We are, however, suggesting you learn the art of listening and asking questions so that you can build sincere, lasting relationships that are rewarding for both parties.

    Do not treat clients, customers, and other business associates as “cash cows” and opportunities. Most people are good at recognizing “suck ups” and are offended by insincere interest, compliments, and gestures.

    How to Ask the Right Questions

    Asking questions is an art. Ask the wrong questions, and you can easily offend someone. But the reverse is also true; asking the right questions can build trust by opening lines of safe communications.

    Keep questions positive and focused. For example, if Yolanda Winston tells you how hard it was to downsize and lay off employees, a good reply would show empathy and pose a question to redirect her thoughts:

    • A Good Response: “That must have been hard for you given how much you care about your employees (empathetic listening). Do you think the economy will improve for business owners over the next quarter?” (Refocuses the conversation’s topic to the economy and away from the layoffs while indirectly letting Yolanda knows that you attribute her downsizing to the economy and not her personal failure.)
    • A Poor Response: “Don’t feel bad, a lot of businesses are laying off workers (when sharing personal struggles, few people like to be compared to others; it is dismissive). You’ll do better next year (disinterested; patronizing)."
      Networking Success Tips: Ask a question that is on-topic whenever possible. If the topic is negative, do not just suddenly change topics. It will make the speaker uncomfortable. Instead, give an empathetic reply to show support and then ask a question to redirect to something that is still related, but allows the speaker to respond with something a little more positive.