I gave up business networking. When I think about those days of showing up to monthly events to exchange business cards over superficial talk with uninteresting people wanting your business (and I wanting theirs), I cringe at the memories.
If the primary goal of networking, in this sense, is reduced to a transaction to "get" something from someone else, and everyone else is there under the same pretense, you can bet that authenticity is out the window.
Unless you change your approach. Read on.
To reinvent your networking routine so that others are attracted to you like flies to a sticky trap, stop showing up with the expectation of getting something from them, like a referral or their business.
Start showing up with the expectation of truly connecting with them by having fluid and engaging conversations, no strings attached.
Heck, even stop referring to it as "networking." Attend your events with the mindset of cultivating relationships that will be of mutual benefit down the line, not a one-time slam dunk.
First step (which is backed by science): Show interest in others
This involves an entirely different way of approaching and getting to know others. When you develop relationships, you connect with people because you are inherently interested in what they have to say.
And the biggest lesson I learned in reinventing my own networking approach was making sure that I was practicing the art of curiosity and knowing how to ask the right questions.
Several studies published in the Greater Good Science Center seem to agree that curious people have better relationships. The research suggests that curious people connect better, cope better with rejection, and enjoy socializing more. In fact, other people are more easily attracted and feel socially closer to individuals who display curiosity.
I found that being curious and showing interest triggered authentic responses in the other person.
As I learned to facilitate a conversation by learning about someone's story, accomplishments, passions, or interests, the law of reciprocity usually kicked in, and I had my turn to shine.
But here's the key: If you start a conversation at a business networking event or work-related function, your best move is not to ask work- or business-related questions; it's to discover common ties with that person that will steer the conversation back to the "work stuff," but with a deeper connection.
6 "curiosity" questions that will make an immediate impact
To that end, make sure to have an arsenal of interesting questions at your disposal to quickly build rapport and launch your persuasiveness.
While some of these below may not be ideally suited for icebreaking conversational starters with total strangers, I trust you will use your best judgment when and where to use them to deepen the conversation.
1. What makes you smile when you get up in the morning?
This question can go in many directions, with a wide range of possible answers. And asking it allows the other person to share something that he or she is passionate about.
2. What's the best thing that's happened to you this week/month/year?
This question helps the other person reflect on something interesting or pivotal that may have happened, which may bring him or her back to an area of interest for further discussion.
3. What's your story?
This open-ended question may trigger an intriguing story that will bring up more follow-up questions to deepen the conversation. It draws in the other person and lets him or her speak from the heart.
4. Why did you choose your work or business?
This question speaks to people's values and what motivates them. On the flip side, it may trigger an unexpected response about an unhappy career or struggling business, which may put you in the position to help mentor that person.
5. What book has influenced you the most?
Since books feed people's minds, showing genuine interest in a particular subject matter and offering a book suggestion in return helps attract that person to you.
6. What's the most important thing I should know about you?
Not a question you'll want to ask initially. Once you have a comfort level after establishing some rapport, it gives the other person a chance to open up and connect with you.