8 Key Tips to Network Successfully

Are you in college? Moved to a new city in a different country? Looking to meet new people and make new friends? Simply network and grow your horizons? There are some universal truths you should remember about people everywhere as you try and engage with them, while retaining your sanity.

Six degrees of separation.

Six degrees of separation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have found that the key to finding meaning and making meaning usually comes only from surrounding myself with people who are smarter and more accomplished than I am, in every single way, in every facet in my life.

Even during the moments of networking failures, I’ve observed some commonalities through the process of networking. Some have told me I’m great at it: I have met world class actors and directors and artists, worked with folks at the forefront of defining progress and change in their respective fields, attended wine receptions with heads of states.

I have been most humbled, and repeatedly, about how little I know, and how much needs to be done, especially when I’ve met members of disenfranchised communities, such as the vivacious Lakshmi who is a key spokesperson for transsexual rights. Unfortunately, I have also had some pretty distasteful interactions, leaving me wondering what on earth happened, because I have a tendency to go over and beyond the call of duty with people I like, and it doesn’t always reciprocate.

Hence, I share with you today some commonalities that shape social etiquette and understandings everywhere:

1. Be Nice, but do Practice Some Limits

You are a reflection of the company you keep, so know when to continue, and when to back off.

Don’t like it that someone you are acquainted with is always drunk or always whining, and month after month, things don’t seem to get better? You’re no one’s babysitter. Dump them, despite the initial guilt you’ll feel. Your life is too short to be labelled by those who you don’t know.

I’ve moved around a fair bit. This usually means I’ve had to start over repeatedly trying to meet fantastic people everywhere I go. I make it a point of making sure the company I keep is well-bred, even in those moments when I’ve had my personal failures of living up to my usual high standards. This is important to remember, always, to have limits to the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, because otherwise people WILL walk all over you.

2. Beware of those strangers who claim to be your friend and know all about you.

Sometimes, especially for the most insecure ones of us, affiliation is perceived as immediate connection, and passing acquaintance is seen as binding friendship, to the point of where you may become subject to suffocating encounters, where you come to find that even though you have not divulged any of your life’s information, some individuals will claim familiarity with you and that they know you. This is especially dangerous with acquaintances you meet fairly sporadically.

Don’t be discouraged when this happens, because this WILL happen if you’ve lived long enough. Just remember folks who live in your shadow are unable to accept their own mediocrity, and are raising you on a pedestal by speaking about you. They need to either venerate you for being attentive, or moreover, they need to insult you when you ignore them in order to feel good about themselves.

There is no way to save such a situation, except for taking a clean break. In doing so, you assert your cool. Remember this simple rule: if someone is wonderful and great, they WILL do what it takes to impart this knowledge. Every brilliant teacher wants his or her students to do better, and accomplish more than the teacher has accomplished. This is the underlying rule of success, and moreover, it is the underlying rule behind human interaction.

3. Be aware that people talk about you when you’re not around.

The world is smaller than you think. Facebook  and social media always reminds me about the six degrees of separation, as well as friends who are like, hey, I didn’t know that you knew so and so.

There is something to remember though: Christmas party conversations about that ONE colleague who was sloshed, even if everyone else was also sloshed? We all have them, the stories about the one person who was just a bit over the edge. And people always talk the next day.

Are you the new kid in town? Of course they’re talking- they all know each other, and they don’t know you. Judgments are easily passed, and rarely altered. So what do you do if you don’t want to get a reputation that may  be stinky? Don’t give anyone anything to talk about. Go mum on your issues, and exercise some control in the information you divulge. Some things are best left between you, your therapists, your partners and/or your creative outlets.

4. Everyone has a right to their bad days,  so do cut folks some slack.

At a recent gathering, I found myself quizzed by some strangers, and ultimately insulted, because I claim my halfie-Indiannes. I was indignantly reminded that the woman in question has lived in 9 countries, and has retained her Bengali-ness. At no point did she allow me to explain that my roots are from North India from mom’s side, before she began her attack.

Upon deciding to make a quick exit from the situation, however, I learnt that the poor woman hasn’t slept in days because of her new-born. This changed my attitude completely. I stayed back, and had a great time learning about shared boarding school experiences, even though I made the mental note that cranky newly nursing mothers may not be “my thing.”

5. Your appearance should be impeccable at all times.

There’s no point owning 20 really crappy pieces of cheap clothes. Instead, spend a bit extra on a couple of nice outfits Take the French approach to style: less is more, especially when quality is at stake. Please don’t wear loofahs to a job interview. And yes, having shabby nails when attending a high profile meeting with a donor who is a fashionista may be social suicide. It’s tragic, and it’s unfortunate, but people are more superficial than you want to think they are.

Along these lines, you should also be in control at all times, mentally, emotionally, with your words. Your upbringing is always on the line.

6. Talk Less, Listen More.

I’m the biggest chatterbox I know.The moment when I run out of something to say, however, has always been the very same moment that I’ve learnt the most. Ask questions, and wait for the answer, instead of just waiting for your turn to speak.

7. Be positive.

This took me the longest time to recognize- I’m innately a critic, which has served me well in academia, and perhaps also been the root cause of why I needed to escape it after a while.

There is a fine line,  however, between criticism and cynicism.  When criticism flows over into cynic pessimism, you run the risk of losing yourself, your audience, and the respect of those you’re trying to get to know.

It also takes time to get to know people, so give it time. There is no rush. Rome, after all, wasn’t built in a day.

8. Try, but don’t try so hard that you’re bending over backwards.

If someone’s cool, and they think you are cool too, they will make time to hang out with you. Irrevocably, invariably, they will come back. Otherwise, they will make excuses.

Don’t try to go to extreme measures to chill with people you have just met.  Remember, they all know each other, they don’t know you, and it always takes time to reach comfort levels with strangers.

Happy networking!

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