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How To Become An Expert Networker (Even If You’re Shy)

This is a guest article from my good friend Bud Hennekes, who writes down more thoughts over at A Boundless World. As I mentioned in our recent podcast conversation, Bud is a pro at making connections and building relationships with successful people. I’m cavorting around New York this week, so I asked him to drop some knowledge bombs for those of you who want to learn the skill of networking as well.

I absolutely loathe the term “networking”.

Really, I do. Just saying the word instantly brings up the cliche scenario of the sleazy salesman (or woman) shoving a business card down your throat.

“Buy my product! You need my service! I know EVERYONE in the room — I’m a special snowflake! Me. Me. Me.”

Gag. If the previous scenario is something you aspire to emulate, do us both a favor and scroll your mouse up to the top right corner and click the “X”.

Still with me? Good. It appears you have a soul.

For those of use with souls, networking is simply a catch-all term for things we all want to do: connect with people, build mutually beneficial relationships, and make friends. Unfortunately, these things don’t come naturally to a lot of us.

But there’s this Dirty Little Secret No One Tells You.

Ready for the secret?

Here it is:

Networking is a learnable skill.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert. It doesn’t matter if your little sister can do more push-ups than you. It doesn’t matter if you failed your last three calculus tests.

It doesn’t matter if you live in your mom’s basement or run a multiple million dollar business from an internet connection in Thailand. It doesn’t matter if you have a PHD or if you majored in being a couch potato.

It doesn’t matter if you think you’re bad with people, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t have thousands of Twitter followers and slick looking blog.

It. Doesn’t. Matter.

If you’re reading this: who you are, where you’re from, etc –  is irrelevant. Unless of course you’re that guy who posts pictures of your six-pack abs on Instagram – in that case please click the X.

For most of my life, I held the limiting belief that I could never be “good with people.” I genuinely believed that I was destined to simply be the background noise others heard in the room. I was envious of the people who owned center stage.

Instead of trying to improve, I gave up. I shied away from people. Worse yet, I felt like there was absolutely nothing I could do to grow.

Luckily, I was able to overcome those limiting beliefs by learning from the best around. I devoured the ideas and methods of greats such as Gary Vaynerchuk, Ramit Sethi, Dale Carnegie, Steve Pavlina, Lewis Howes, and countless other successful individuals who seemed to “get” the art of relating to people.

I tried some things, and stumbled. But over time, I began seeing patterns of how people began to relate with me. My hard work started to pay off!

It took me many years of testing and tweaking (not to mention FAILURE) to discover that I really could be “good with people” just as long as I put in the work.

“In doesn’t matter who you are; anyone can be ‘good with people’ – as long as you’re willing to put in the work.” | Tweet This

While those who know me would undoubtedly consider me an extrovert, I’m confident that these 9 simple strategies can apply to anyone who wants to improve their relationships both online and IRL (in real life).

1. Change Your Mindset

Stop thinking in terms of “networking” and instead aim to make connecting with people part of your every day life. It’s not a game to be won, it’s a life to be lived.

Every relationship you have is an opportunity to learn and grow as a person. Some relationships will be short term, others you will carry with you for the rest of your life.

Not every personal or business interaction will go as planned; sometimes this will be a pleasant surprise, other times not so much. Ah, life.

Be open. Be vulnerable. Soak in the lessons reflected by the all-telling relationship mirror.

2. Show Up

You can’t genuinely connect with people by playing ping-pong inside your head. It takes some actual practice on the field. Tie your laces and go!

If you lean more on the extrovert side of the spectrum, set a goal of meeting up with 2 people for coffee a week (this is also a great career-hunting strategy as well). If you’re more introverted, queue up your favorite social network or open your email and dig in. Some of the connections won’t go anywhere, but each time you reach out to someone there’s a lesson to be learned.

As you begin connecting with more and more people, developing these relationships will become more and more natural. That’s a good thing! It means you’re growing.

At Exosphere, participants have been challenged to connect with 10 people who could help them on their current projects and goals. Some have set up coffee meetings here in Chile, others have reached out to professionals in their desired field.

For many, it has been an uncomfortable challenge. What if they get rejected? How do they find the right people to talk to? But that’s the point – to push past the uncertainty and simply take action.

Nothing worth doing is easy. Those who show up often, win. | Tweet This

3. Play To Your Strengths

There’s a common misconception that in order to be successful you must be an extrovert, which is absolutely not the case. As Susan Cain shares in her amazing book Quiet, there are plenty of introverts dominating the world.

Albert Einstein preferred to spend the bulk his time alone. Harrison Ford gets nervous when speaking in public.. J.K Rowling’s introversion made her the first billionaire author in the world.

Where you fall on the spectrum does not matter. What matters is that you know how you operate and play to your strengths.

If you’re an extrovert, be extroverted! If you’re an introvert, genuinely connect through other introverted means.

This doesn’t mean you should never try to work on your weaknesses, but focus on utilizing the strengths you already have.

We’re all playing the same game.

4. Add Value Without Expectations

So many people operate their every day lives by seeking ways in which the world can give them something. But the people that really understand the world of relationships know the goal should be reversed.

Instead of seeking ways to add value for yourself, openly seek ways to add value for others. The more value you add to others around you the more value you’ll receive in return.

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give” – Winston Churchill | Tweet This

Send an amazing book you recently read to a mentor or business partner. Help your colleague perfect that presentation she’s giving in a week. Mock interview your friend who’s looking for a job.

Adding value obviously takes effort. That’s the point! If you’re one of the few able to consistently help those around you, you’ll stand out as someone who is trustworthy and worthy of assistance in the future.

Drop the you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours-mentality. Focus on looking for ways to add value instead. Do it with zero expectations and everyone wins.

5. Create A Value System

According British anthropologist Robin Dunbar we as humans only have the capacity to hold 150 meaningful relationships at any given time. While there is some room for debate on the accuracy of this limit, the fact is that we do have a limited capacity to connect on a genuine level.

As your network grows, it’s important you do everything you can to keep your connections alive and fresh.

For me, this means giving someone a call if I haven’t talked to them in a few months to see how they are. Sometimes I’ll simply send an email checking in. Some people like keeping a spreadsheet categorizing their relationships that reminds them when to touch base, and others simply like to go with the flow.

This is a personal call here. Do what you’re comfortable with. Don’t be sleazy or inauthentic. There’s certainly a noticeable difference between checking in because you need something and really being interested in their well being. Don’t be that guy that does only the former.

6. Have Random Conversations

Some of my best personal and professional relationships began from a random chat or chance meeting. You never know how any one relationship will develop.

My former boss, Gary Vaynerchuk, has preached the importance of random meetings before.

I personally try to set aside time each day specifically for random meetings or a Skype call with people I know on Twitter. When I’m traveling I generally try to talk to the person I’m sitting next to on the plane. It doesn’t always turn into anything, but the value I’ve received in return has significantly outweighed the time and effort I’ve put in.

This doesn’t mean to be wasteful with your time; just leave space open for the unexpected.

7. Become A Connector

One of the benefits of being a great networker is that it opens doors for you to be able to connect other people. In the last week alone, I’ve connected three different parties simply by retweeting people who were looking for help.

The more people you know, the more people you can help. When listening to people’s struggles and issues always be thinking of when an intro to a friend would be a great fit.

As you connect more and more people you’ll quickly become the go-to resource for people in your networking looking to change the world. If you’re a connector, you’re indispensable.

8. Fail

When I first began reaching out to expand my network I emailed a very respected entrepreneur in the midwest. I began the email “Hi, Sarah”.

The entrepreneur was a man.

You’re going to say the wrong things. You’re going to get rejected. Some of the connections you put effort into won’t pan out. Some coffee meetings will be awkward. You might not get a response to the email you spent an two hours writing.

The only way to get better with people is by making mistakes.

Keep growing. Be human.

9. Ask Great Questions

Most of the amazing networkers I know have the uncanny ability to ask great questions.

The questions they ask motivate you; they get you unstuck. The questions they ask add value to you.

Great networkers don’t waste people’s time asking lazy and uninspired questions. They do the work and their questions show it.

If you’re asking for mentorship, don’t ask something that can be Googled. If you’re trying to help someone with a problem, dig deep.

The quality of questions you ask is directly correlated with the size of your success.

What are you going to do?

Here’s yet another dirty secret:

Despite what all the marketers are trying to sell you, there’s no info product you can buy or button you can press to make you radiate with charisma. Good ‘ole fashioned hard work is the only path to victory.

Most people reading this will nod their head in agreement, only to check Facebook seconds after reading.

The truth is, I want YOU to be different. I want you to develop the skills and produce the value needed to stand out. The world needs more leaders.

If you want to become a great connector of people and ideas you have to put in the work.

The steps are clear. No more excuses.

The world is your network.

Check out the original version of this article over on A Boundless World. You should also connect with Bud on Twitter; he’s a pretty cool guy 🙂

Images: NASA Robonaut by jsc2010e089924, CC-BY 2.0