If there is only one lesson that I can pass on and teach then let it be this. There are four things you can do to become a better connector; give before you take, learn active listening, let them have their story and find commonality outside of work.
One: Give before you take
How many times have you opened an email, stood in a room, or been at the other end of a phone call and someone is asking for your time, money or expertise? Quite often being preached to about how this service or product will solve all your problems. Yet they haven’t once asked if it’s a problem you have in the first place.
That’s not having a conversation. That’s not building a relationship with the person on the other end of your interaction. Instead, think of what you can give to another person. Where are you willing to share of your own time, money or expertise? Be clear on your own boundaries of what you are willing to give so that when you start building rapport with someone, you know you can, or can’t, be of help to them.
Be ready to ask questions and find out how you can help this person achieve their goals - they will in turn be much happier to help you achieve yours. Give before you take. That is one of the easiest ways to distinguish yourself away from the pushy salesman or saleswoman.
Two: Learn active listening
Too often we are preparing an answer before someone has finished their sentence. Eager to have our own voice and opinion heard. There’s nothing innately wrong in this, we all do it. However in doing this, you aren’t really listening to what the other person is trying to tell you. You may get a blanc look on your face when preparing your answer, you may miss a vital piece of information that would help you in the future. Learn to be comfortable with silences and only planning your answer or next questions once the person has stopped speaking. Being comfortable with that silence or thinking time will show you are truly taking in what the other person has said. How else to show that you really value their opinion, even if it differs from your own?
Three: Let them have their story
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt when interviewing people, is that I have an insatiable need to connect with what ever the other person is saying. To the detriment of our growing relationship. How many times has someone told you a story that is so similar to your own, you can’t wait to jump in and say “Me too!”?
I found myself aching to say “Me too!” When hearing peoples stories, just to show them I understood what they had gone through. Until I looked at the situation and realised that these people were telling me a story that meant something to them. They were sharing situations that had impacted their lives significantly. Jumping in with my own story then ran the risk of minimising how special that moment was to them. Did I want to leave them feeling like their story was less special because it’s happened to dozens or hundreds of people before and after them? Absolutely not.
So I learnt to listen and give them the space to share their story. I found other ways to connect with them and let my own story come out when the time was right. When trust had been built and the threat of having their story taken or commandeered was eliminated.
Four: Find commonality outside of work
I’ll never forget the day I got the best advice in how to make connections. It was in a busy hotel lobby, the sound levels were almost deafening as people milled around almost frantically to make as many connections as possible. The host, Scotland’s very own Mr Networking, managed to quiet the room and boomed out advice that slowed the whole room down.
“Spend the first five minutes of every networking interaction speaking about everything other than work! Get to know what you have in common with the people around you.”
And the next five minute we did exactly that. Work was banned from the conversation, and I made connections I still hold three years later. Looking past the label of a job title or industry allowed us to connect with people that we actually liked and wanted to interact with. It became about more than just networking - it became about making connections.
A bonus tip for you: you won’t like everyone you meet, and not everyone will like you. The purpose is to connect with people that you enjoy being with and talking to. Let everyone else pass you by, but not without trying at least one of these steps out on them.