Two Things to Do Next Time You Connect with a Professional Colleague

Everyone talks about networking, but what we really want is relationship development.  It’s not enough to just show up.  You have to make a mark with the people you meet, cultivate those connections, and deepen the meaning of the relationship you have with those people.  It’s not enough just to pass out a business card at the local networking event.

How do you do that?

Here are two simple techniques you can try the next time you run into a colleague.  It could be anywhere for any event, or even just a conversation over the phone or at a coffee shop.

When you the other person asks you how things are going with your business, use it as an opportunity to let them know what’s on your mind.  Too many people respond with a bland, “Great, how ‘bout you?”  If things aren’t going well, maybe you actually avoid the truth and pivot to the economic environment with, “You know, this economy is really tough now with the politics going on and everything.”  Instead, try giving a meaningful response.

If things aren’t going well, tell the other person what’s happening and if they have any perspective they’d like to share.  Leads are drying up?  Ask if it’s the same for them, or if they’ve heard anything on the street.  Just lost an employee?  Maybe they’ve had a similar situation in the past and can offer some recommendations on how to recover quickly.  The point is, if you open up a little, you might get something back in return.  If not helpful advice, you’ll at least show you are not perfect and you two can make a move toward a more authentic relationship.

Say things are actually going well.  When you say, “Great!” be sure to leave the door open to the person you’re talking with to help you get more business.  Chances are you’re still looking to fill out your pipeline with a few more prospects.  Remember what Yogi Berra said: “That place is so popular no one goes there anymore.”  Don’t pretend you’re full on business.  Aside from coming across as arrogant, you close the door to referrals from this person and everyone they talk with.  Instead of stopping at “Great!” add on something like, “And I could always use more clients, especially those that fit my ideal client profile of…”  You’ll open the conversation up to interesting topics for you to discuss and strengthen your relationship.

Another simple thing to do when talking with a colleague at a professional event is to follow up the conversation with a thoughtful gift that carries on what you were talking about at the party.  For example, you and your friend chat up about an upcoming vaction to a place she’s never been but you have.  When you get home, send over with a quick email some recommendations on places to stay or eat or things to do.  Even better, offer a gift for them to take with them on the trip that means something in the destination they’re visiting.  If you find out they are celebrating a milestone for something, send them a hand-written card.  And so on. 

It’s easy to some way to connect more with people you meet at professional events or over a friendly business lunch.  Don’t stop at making small talk.  Really get to know the person, and, importantly, make it easy for them to get to know you.