Have you ever scrolled through your phone contacts or your LinkedIn Connections? It’s an eye-opening exercise. Over the course of my 30 years of business experience, I have developed hundreds of contacts. For many, if not most, of them, I can recall who they are and a few basics of how, or in what context, I interacted with them. I don’t say that to brag about my memory. Far from it. Rather, I’ve made it a point to value the people and relationships in my life, and to ‘tend’ them.
In your professional and personal life, you will encounter roadblocks, impasses, struggles, and challenges. You will want to grow, shift, advance, change gears, hire, fire, or move somewhere new, and you won’t have what you need in your ‘back pocket.’ So where do you go with your need? Reaching out to your network would be a natural step. But are the relationships in your network of contacts fresh enough that you would feel comfortable reaching out for advice or an introduction to someone who could potentially help you?
If you haven’t reviewed and renewed your contacts in awhile, I suspect that you will after reading this article. That’s because I plan to remind you of the value of your network of contacts and of keeping your contacts ‘fresh’.
As you look ahead to the coming year, look back and consider how valuable your relationships have been in getting you to where you are today. The new acquaintance at a trade show who later gave you business advice. The former colleague who introduced you to a hiring manager who later became your supervisor. The teacher who inspired you to pursue your education or a sparked interest in a particular field.
We’re Social. Be Social. Intentionally.
It goes without saying: humans are social animals. An individual, no matter how talented, brilliant, or strong, will never accomplish as much as a group of like-minded individuals that work together. Everyone in the work group can be mediocre (or slightly better) at what they do, but collectively they will still be far better and perform better than a single individual working alone.
What I find in our hard-working culture is that people focus so much on accomplishments, deadlines, and making the numbers that they neglect the social / relational side of their professional life. Developing and maintaining relational connections is an essential aspect of our work life.
Contact and the way we connect is essential to developing and maintaining trust in all our relationships. In the workplace and our personal lives, it’s important to study and understand people and how they think and relate. Networking helps us exercise this ‘humans as a social animal’ muscle, by giving us opportunities to practice relating to people who are, inevitably, different from us. Ultimately, regularly making new contacts and renewing existing contacts by touching base with the people in our network helps us do a better job of relating to people as people and not a means to an end.
Tips for “Keeping it Human” as you Make and Maintain Your Network of Contacts
As you have interactions with people, take at least a few minutes to find out about their background. It could be as simple as where they live and whether they have family.
Ask about non-threatening things like interests and hobbies, as well as their most recent ‘proud moment’, accomplishment, or victory.
Ask about their background, whether education or career, or both and why they pursued that avenue.
Consider a follow-up question or two to show deeper interest.
I like to go into new situations whether it’s a trade show, a professional development class, or a cocktail party, armed with a few questions.
Make it a point to note down a few tidbits (maybe even add it to their contact file in your phone). This serves a few purposes including jogging your own memory and giving you a talking point the next time you interact (‘How is your son liking college?’). Having these kinds of prompts will help make your second, third, or twentieth interaction more meaningful. You can even reach out on special occasions such as their birthday or work anniversary with a quick congratulatory email or text message. That extra touch is a differentiator. It shows that you were thoughtful and caring. Your interaction wasn't just transactional.
Beyond the ‘give and get’, you develop and renew bonds. And you make deposits in a ‘bank of trust’.
I like to use common occasions as a reason to reach out. For example, a holiday that’s shared among all Americans is the 4th of July Independence Day. Through a private message on LinkedIn or in a text message, I will wish several of my contacts a fun and safe holiday, let them know I’m thinking of them. If it’s appropriate, I may suggest that we meet for coffee or have a call to catch up for 10 or 15 minutes. Sometimes, I leave out the request to talk, and the other person will suggest it, instead.
The LinkedIn Lift
When it comes to networking, LinkedIn can give us a huge lift. It gives us a glimpse into important ‘happenings’ in the professional lives of our connections and the companies they work with.
Beyond serving as a billboard for your professional skills and aptitudes, LinkedIn is one more way to keep in contact with and reach out to people in our professional circles, if we put in just a little effort.
People want to help people. If you are active on LinkedIn and curate a number of connections, you’ll find people to help you with introductions, resources, feedback, etc.
I’ve found it humbling to be so blessed so regularly by the people who have given me a lift personally and/or professionally at various points in my life.
LinkedIn shows you your degree of connection to the people in your extended network who could potentially help you answer your question or solve your business challenge. So there is a compound network effect. And as you're trying to solve a problem, LinkedIn gives you a broader network to reach out to.
But the willingness of that network to help you may depend on how much the people in that network like and trust you, and that depends entirely on the investment you have made. I believe that investment needs to be consistent and regular.
So, About that Contacts List…
Start by setting yourself a goal of the number of contacts you will renew each month. You can text a large number of people in 20 minutes using copy/paste.
Look for opportunities to give to others in the various circles you engage in. Help out. Be a listening ear. Be willing to help someone network and connect with others.
A Small Pebble in a Smooth Pond Makes a Ripple that Spreads
I’m always honored to be asked for something, big or small, whether it helps me or not. It’s a privilege to help people or to help people help others. The fact that someone asks shows that I rank highly in their ‘bank of trust’.
Let’s not forget the potential impact of networking on your own personal brand and professional success. Remember how I said that the success of a team of people working together will always trump the success of a loner. The same applies to your network of connections. Through the network effect, you can move more quickly to have a bigger positive impact in more - and broader - areas than you could if you continually ‘flew solo’.
Remember, people want to help people. So make 2024 your year to develop and renew and refresh your network of contacts. Go help someone. And see how the goodwill comes back to help you.