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Networking tip 18: Ask questions

Remember that hoary old cliché that there are no stupid questions?  In fact, the question that feels most cringingly stupid at the time probably, in retrospect, convincingly demonstrated both your humility and—ironically—your confidence. And, of course, it showed that you were interested—your main conversational objective!

When I started out as an outsourcing lawyer, people often asked me, “What exactly is that?” While the answer was of course quite obvious to me, I never thought anyone inferior for not knowing about it, and I always answered the question fully and enthusiastically. As far as I was concerned, people who never asked, but whose ignorance later became clear, made a far worse impression; I could only assume that they never inquired because of either indifference or insecurity. Think about it: When has someone ever asked you a question about yourself or your work, hobbies, or interests that you weren’t glad to answer?

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Networking tip 17: Verbalise your listening

In my last blog I talked about the importance of listening.  To follow on from there...

When really interested and engaged, you should follow up on the speaker’s statements. This shows that you are listening with intent. Note that such comments are not interruptions! If well chosen, they should have a number of beneficial effects:

They encourage the speaker to continue: “I can’t believe that you coped when [insert unbelievable situation] happened. Tell me more!”

They subtly flatter: “That’s so impressive. Personally, I could never jump out of an airplane at 12,000 feet.  Sometimes I need a glassful of wine just to get into one!”

They suggest that you empathize: “Gosh, that’s awful—the first and only time I was rushed to the hospital with an injury, I fainted before I got there.”

They provide openings for questions: “How on earth did you manage that without any support?”

And if none of these are appropriate, you can at least acknowledge that you’re taking it all in with the occasional comment, “Gosh . . . amazing . . . Tell me more!”

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Networking tip 16: Listen

There are two purposes to being a good listener. First, it’s an opportunity to pick up nuggets of information about people and their circumstances, their businesses, or their needs. But it’s also an opportunity to be empathetic and appealing—and even to come across as a great conversationalist!

Listening can be your most important contribution to the discussion, so be sure that your body language shows that you’re attentive. Above all else, maintain eye contact—This is not the time to people-watch, or to lustfully scan the buffet table!

It sounds straightforward, but the next time you’re at a dinner, notice whether you are fully focused on the conversation. Most people glance around the room, more from habit (as experienced multi-taskers) than from actual boredom. Now, good friends probably wouldn’t even register your subtle glance across the room, but a person you’re meeting for the first time very likely will. He is subconsciously testing your reactions, and when you fail to give him your full attention, he (or she) will tend to decide that you’re either bored or arrogant. The result is a complete absence of rapport—all because you fell for some trivial distraction!

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Networking tip 15: Be interested

I'm off celebrating my birthday (which was yesterday), so I'll keep this message short and sweet!

If you've read my blog (or my book), then you will be familiar with this message, which is:  the key to being a good conversationalist is focusing on others. The bottom line is that most people love to talk about—themselves! So the more you ask and listen, the better a conversationalist you’ll be deemed to be.

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Networking tip 11: Have the right attitude

In my last blog I talked about "working a room" as part of your networking endeavours. So to follow on from that....

The first step to working a room is attitude: You should either feel happy to be there or be able to convey a decent impression of the same. So get into that mindset, or you might as well go home (indeed, I would urge you to do so)!

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