How to become a better networker without having to socialise with strangers
‘I love networking and making small talk with strangers,’ said no one ever. Luckily, Marissa King, a professor of organisational behaviour at the Yale School of Management, who literally wrote the book on the topic – Social Chemistry – has a weekly ritual to make networking a little more enjoyable. King explains that there is extraordinary power in our existing networks. And arguably, the most impactful thing that most people can do to improve their network is to reinvigorate dormant tie
ties. Dormant ties are people who you might not have seen in two or three years, or even longer.
Research led by Daniel Levin from Rutgers Business School examined the benefits of reaching out to dormant ties. The researchers asked people to make a list of ten current connections and ten people they haven’t reached out to in two or three years. Participants were then asked to get back in touch with these people for advice or help with a project.
Levin and his colleagues found that dormant ties were extraordinarily powerful in that they not only provided more creative ideas to people but also the trust had endured within those relationships.
King applied this research to design a ritual that she now carries out every Friday. ‘I write down the names of two or three people. And I reach out to them just to say, “Hey, I’m thinking about you”. Sometimes, I will have an ask or something I’m hoping to get out of it, like feedback or a question. But most of the time it’s just, “Hey, I’m thinking about you”. And that, for me, has been a source of great joy but it’s also been extraordinarily helpful.’
Before starting this ritual, King was hesitant. ‘I thought “Oh my God, isn’t this going to be awkward?”’ And personally, I’d be having the exact same thought, too. But it turns out, it wasn’t.
‘The more you do it, the more you realise that this is actually great. It’s also helpful for me to imagine myself being in the other person’s shoes. So if I imagine I received this email, would I be happy to receive it? And the answer is almost always “yes”.’
King thinks about how she can be helpful to the people she is re-establishing contact with. And for her, there are three ways she can achieve this.
The first is to say “thank you”. ‘We know that gratitude is extremely powerful as a source of connection. So I think, “Is there a mentor who comes to mind right now or someone who gave me a piece of advice a couple of years ago or served as a role model?” And I simply reach out to them and thank them for what they’ve done.’
While this might seem inconsequential, research has found that people tend to underestimate the effects of saying ‘thank you’ and giving someone a compliment. In one study, people either gave or received praise from someone else. They were then asked to estimate how positive they would feel after giving or receiving these kind words. The researchers found that people significantly underestimated the degree to which their compliment would boostthe mood of the other person.
King’s second reason for reaching out to people in her existing network is to share something she thinks the other person might enjoy, such as a podcast or an article. ‘There are lots of things that we all have to give and just saying, “I’m thinking of you” is in many ways a gift, too.’
The final reason is to ask for help, which she also believes can be a gift. People enjoy feeling that their expertise matters and research shows that when we are asked to help someone else, it makes us feel closer to the person to whom we’re offering assistance.
King says that despite the fact she is reaching out to people with whom she has had no contact for several years, she almost always receives a reply. ‘I can’t even think of a time when I haven’t,’ she admits.
The impact of her networking ritual has been huge, especially during 2020 when she spent most of the year in lockdown due to Covid.
‘Particularly during the past year, it’s been a lifesaver. It has allowed me to feel connected during moments when I didn’t feel as connected as I possibly could be.’ King’s husband also adopted the ritual and found a new job, even though he wasn’t looking for one. It was his dream job working with an amazing group of people, which was a game-changer for their family.
Time spent nurturing relationships with existing connections can not only lead to rewarding exchanges, but also to potentially transformative opportunities.
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