BUT I DON’T KNOW ANYONE!
Even if you’re just starting out in a new job, a new city, or a new industry, you know far more people than you realize. Don’t limit your work connections to those people within the walls of your business. Your existing networks can be used to great effect—often there are connections hiding in places you won’t expect, and there are relationships to be built in places you would have never imagined. The more people you know, and the better you know them, the more likely you are to succeed. And if you’ve worked hard to help those people, then you can be certain that those favors will come back your way, tenfold.
To need connection is human. But to get it—that is the key to life.
INVITE TO GET INVITED
Building a network sounds like a daunting task—like running a marathon. But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming or draining. Having breakfast with three people sounds pretty easy, right? Let the guests you invite do your legwork for you by inviting a friend. Connections will unfold organically with hardly any effort on your part. All it takes is two committed people to quickly build to four people. Then the next time you meet, ask each of those four to bring a colleague—and voila you already have eight people. And you’re well on your way to a network that grows exponentially.
And if this method doesn’t work for you and you find other tips and tricks that work better—perfect. Because the other big mistake people make is becoming married to their “shoulds.” Whether it’s a conference, mixers, or a meetup—sometimes we feel like we just have to go to them, or we’ll miss our chance. Aarons-Mele compares it to dating: when you miss that one event you think, “Oh my God, I missed the one.” In this case, meaning the perfect next boss or cofounder that was going to make you rich and famous. She feels that people often put an undue amount of pressure on these types of events, creating a lose–lose situation: if you don’t go, you’re anxious and upset, and if you do go, and you don’t meet the one, you’re still stressed out because it wasn’t a good use of your time.
avoid this she offers a tip and suggests looking retrospectively at your calendar: What were the three or four conferences, dinners, or mixers that were really worth the time? Repeat those. Think about the levers that will drive your life forward—and make a point of going there. You don’t have to exhaust yourself going everywhere and trying every method. Find something that works and stick with it. If you’re young and just starting out, you might have a boss who’s always telling you to “build a network” and perhaps even offering you tickets to go to this or that event. But it will pay to be as discerning as you possibly can. Because every yes you say to one gathering or event is a no to something else.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Sometimes the best connections are made with great intentions, and other times they are accidental or unexpected. As you build a community in a new city, in a new industry, or in whatever form of disruption you may face—don’t discount the seemingly fleeting or random connections you make along the way. What you invest in these seemingly “random” connections, you will reap. Keep those connections in your mind as you move through the different phases of your career, and stay open to the possibilities that can come long term.
As an example of this, Aarons-Mele says her entire business was built on a random connection. She met the founder of BlogHer, Lisa Stone, while she was in Mexico on a work getaway trip. Stone and Aarons-Mele started talking, and Stone revealed that she was starting a new company called BlogHer. At the time, Aarons-Mele was a political consultant. “Lisa asked me to start writing for BlogHer, and then I just got thrust into this world of women in community online—and about five years later, I started my business, Women Online.” Today Aarons-Mele still works with a lot of the original people from her BlogHer days—women who were very early bloggers, and those women are still very much in her life.
ZOOM CALLS, DMS, IRL MEETINGS
As you continue to add to your constellation of contacts, you will begin to develop a knack for knowing which particular medium (IRL, Zoom, Phone call, or DM) is best in which instance and for which particular contact. Until then, here are a few suggestions to get you started, offering some scaffolding for knowing which particular venue is best.
- Whenever possible, it’s best to meet someone for the first time IRL. Smiles, interpersonal chemistry, eye contact, the friendly buzz of a new kinship—these subtleties are nearly impossible to replicate online. If you need to have an important negotiation or discussion, or if you are interviewing for a job, in person is also best. You can avoid awkward digital hangups or miscommunication.
- Presentations (that don’t need much discussion), status updates for an ongoing client or partner, or a replacement for an in-person meeting that can’t take place due to cost, travel challenges, or distance, a Zoom meeting works best. Video calls are also ideal for small group gatherings of people who couldn’t normally easily get together. Perhaps you’re in London and your other attendees are in on the east and west coasts of the United States: one call that spans nine hours of time change!
- By phone. For regular check-ins with clients and colleagues, especially if you work remotely. As much as people tend to avoid connecting by phone today, it’s the perfect way to follow up with someone you’ve met with previously in person or by Zoom. Notice the way that you can listen—and be heard—by phone.
HOW CAN I HELP?
Imagine you’re at an event where you don’t know many people. You’re wearing name tags, awkwardly eating food, and looking for a place to put down your drink. You engage in a meaningful conversation with someone about your line of business. Instead of rattling off your elevator pitch about what you bring, ask them, “What’s challenging for you right now?” And listen. You will be amazed at what you learn. Think back to all of the business conversations you’ve had over the years when you could have asked those questions but didn’t. Perhaps you missed an opportunity to help a colleague or a boss. Maybe you could have helped find someone a babysitter or fixed someone’s laptop. The possibilities are endless.
Leading with “how can I help?” is effective because most people hesitate to lead from a position of weakness. But offering your help obliterates the notion of weakness altogether; it brings you and a potential client, colleague, or friend one step closer together. This conversation starter equalizes the room by reminding everyone: we all can benefit from assistance, care, and support. It also asserts your intentions: I have something to offer.
The bottom line—asking “how can I help?” will always point you in the right direction. Whether you are asking “how can I help in this moment” or “how can I help in this life”—listen to those answers. Those answers are the key to finding your path, your constellation, and the people who will see you and help you feel most seen.
KNOW YOUR ASK: THE WHO, WHAT, WHERE OF GETTING WHAT YOU WANT
THE FIVE-MINUTE ASK
When you’re starting a new business or organization, instead of waiting until everything’s ready to launch and then getting supporters—you want the reverse. You want supporters early on so that they can accrue a vested interest in it. The same is true of making connections in a job search process. Your greatest references for a dream job, customers for a new business, or supporters for a local campaign you care about will not necessarily be the ones who give you the most of anything, but the ones who are personally invested in your mission. Don’t wait until you need a big ask before bringing in help. Use
the five-minute ask. There are a million different ways you could get specific help in a brief amount of time: What do you think of this business proposal? Could you retweet the details of this event? Could I get five minutes of your time to look over my résumé? Could you recommend the best technology platform to host my virtual summit? Can you offer some tips into breaking into the industry?
When you’re at the beginning of the relationship: small, five-minute offers and asks are the way to begin.
QUESTIONS TO BREAK THE ICE
Let’s say you’ve prepared your Oscars introduction, you’ve studied up on your contact’s background, and you have some five-minute asks and offers in your arsenal. When you’re about to meet face-to-face for a meeting, it’s good to have some questions lined up, too. What will you talk about if you have already learned everything there is to know about them? Here are a few of my favorites to kick off any conversation, and notice none end with a yes or no answer.
- What are you most interested in right now?
- What’s the last great meal you’ve had?
- Where do your kids go to school?
- Where in Brooklyn did your sister live?
- Where are you from?
- What gets you most excited right now?
- What are you most curious about in the current world?
- When you’re not working, what keeps you busy?
- What do you wish you had more time for?
- What article or book have you read (or podcast have you listened to) or movie you have seen that I should check out?
- If you could visit anywhere in the world next week, where would you go?
SPEAK UP! A GUIDE FOR INTROVERTS
INTROVERSION VERSUS ANXIETY
We tend to conflate social anxiety or shyness with introversion. But they are two very different things. Introversion and extroversion are defined by how you derive energy: Do you recharge best in quiet reflection? Or do you get a boost in energy from other people? An extrovert
feeds off of the energy of others. Some introverts are perfectly fine being alone and don’t need a lot of social stimulation, but others enjoy being around others—they just need time to recharge afterward.
Social anxiety is independent of whether or not you’re an introvert or an extrovert; social anxiety stems from a fear of being criticized or judged. Social anxiety can affect both introverts and extroverts.
success. As Susan Cain pointed out in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, we live in a culture that rewards extroversion and categorizes introversion “somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.” But introverts tend to be fantastic listeners, and deeply hearing what others have to say is anything but a liability in building relationships.
Instead of trying to change your disposition and seek to become what Cain calls “the extrovert ideal: the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight,” Aarons-Mele tells introverts to lean into their strengths. You don’t have to become the chattiest person in the room to get the most out of a gathering. (And if you want to hide in the bathroom, she says that’s OK, too.)
When you communicate with others, regardless of the medium, keep the focus on the bigger picture. In business, it’s easy to let individualism drive your communications: How will my interactions with this person affect me? How can they help me? Me, me, me. But viewing communication channels, styles, and messages through the lens of relationalism places the priority not on how many relationships you have, but rather on their thickness and depth.
How can you communicate with this person in a way that deepens your commitment to each other, as well as your shared goals and values? How can you pave the way for deep conversation, mutual comfort, or impactful work in a way that builds beauty and depth? Not every relationship needs to go this deep, of course, but every single human relationship you have in business—and every communication you send—should strengthen the notion that you see this person as a whole human. Resist the urge to generalize or see the person as a transaction or a spreadsheet. Our society has grown increasingly individualistic. The ego often drives our communication: What is in it for me? What’s the easiest and fastest way to get this issue taken care of? But for relationships to truly be deep and meaningful, the symbiotic needs to come to the forefront.
WHEN IN DOUBT, OVERCOMMUNICATE
When relationships thrive, it almost always happens because the two people in the relationship are both good at listening as well as sharing information and feelings. If you think about most failed business relationships, deals, or partnerships, one of the common denominators is a disparity between expectations and reality. In other words: a miscommunication. You thought you were getting one thing, but actually received another. So compensating for that by overcommunicating, especially now, is a great way to avoid the communication wires getting crossed.
THE ART OF THE FOLLOW-UP
NEVER STOP BEING CURIOUS
Curiosity is linked to psychological, physical, and emotional health. Recent research shows that it may also play a critical role in our social relationships. It makes sense that curious people may have an easier time bonding with a diverse range of people, simply because they are interested in learning about what people from different walks of life have to offer. But can curiosity be learned? Can you become more curious? The research isn’t clear.
Simply walking into a meeting, event, or dinner with the mindset that your primary goal is to find out about others—just that reframing of your intentions alone—can make a big difference. If we can learn better stress-reduction and productivity skills in the workplace, why not curiosity?