Three Tips on Networking Etiquette

While it’s been amazing to watch so many people finally “get” the importance of networking in recent years, and commit to strengthening the quality of relationships in their lives, many folks are still a bit behind the learning curve — and could likely benefit from every helpful hint they can get on the subject!  Along these lines, I’d pass along three tips for consideration that might help a few of you get better results when promoting your cause via word-of-mouth.  Enjoy…

1)  Always give people an “out” and allow them to say no

One surefire way to turn people off in your network, especially if you’re dealing with a fairly new and untested acquaintance, is to act pushy or “entitled” to the person’s assistance.  As important as your own priorities might seem, you’ll usually get farther, faster, if you start off with a polite statement letting the other person know (directly or via implication) that you won’t be at all offended if they turn down your favor request.  This might sound something like:

“I realize you’re likely quite busy these days, but if you can spare a few minutes, I’d love your help with…”
“Please feel free to say no, but I was wondering if…”
“I’m sure you’re getting plenty of requests like this these days; however, if I could be so bold as to ask…”

Maybe this is a passive/aggressive Seattle thing, and different from how one would network in, say, New York City, but I know that I personally feel much more inclined to help when a person shows they appreciate my time — and doesn’t give me a guilt trip if I’m unable to immediately grant their request!  So think about letting other people off the hook, immediately, when asking for favors.  Most of the time, this will improve your success rate.  While the squeaky wheel may get the grease in many situations, networking is not one of them!

2)  Don’t ask directly for referrals; make them come to you

You may find this surprising, but I rarely advise my job search clients to ask other people directly for personal referrals.  To me, such an “ask” isn’t necessary if you’re already following good networking practices, since as explaining to people what you’re looking for (aka the Elevator Pitch) and providing them with a clear description — or better yet, a printed list — of the specific types of people and organizations you’re most interested in connecting with.

If you always make a point to set the stage in this manner, you’ll find that you rarely have to ask people to pass along useful names.  They’ll start doing so of their own accord, based on the clues you’ve shared with them, and will usually feel a whole lot better about things since THEY get to be in control in this scenario — and feel like a hero — versus feeling pressured to cough up their Rolodex.  So back off, stop acting like a sleazy salesperson, and ditch the “Do you know anybody else I should be talking to?” phrase from your vocabulary.  Start doing your part, instead, to build rapport and to educate your contacts about your ongoing networking goals and objectives.  You’ll find that people respond much better to this approach and will turn out to be more prolific in terms of making introductions on your behalf!

3)  Mind your manners with on-line networking

Lastly, just in case there’s any confusion, social networking websites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and BizNik don’t exempt one from practicing good manners and being polite — at least, if one hopes to get useful mileage out of such systems!  Time and time again, I see people asking for favors on these kinds of sites in a manner that comes across as “borderline rude” in terms of tone.  So don’t discriminate between on-line and off-line networking in terms of the need to practice common courtesy.  Both avenues require it.  By way of example, here’s a recent before-and-after exchange I went through with a client in terms of helping them polish up a LinkedIn request:

Original Version

“Tina:  Would love to get your insights on Lean and Six Sigma opportunities in the area (employment, contracting and consulting).  I am a Lean Master Black Belt and spent 12 years at Lockheed Martin. I moved to the Seattle area to work for Amazon.com when they came looking for Six Sigma to help them build out operations for their new On-Line business.”

New & Improved Version

“Hello Tina: We haven’t met, but we apparently have a few trusted friends in common on LinkedIn.  As a fellow Lean and Six Sigma professional who recently moved to the Seattle area, I was hoping to compare notes with you on which companies in town might use these methodologies to a significant degree.  Following 12 years as a Lean Master Black Belt for Lockheed Martin, I moved to Seattle 3 years ago to work for Amazon.com when they came looking for Six Sigma to help them build out operations for their new On-Line business.  Since that time, however, I haven’t had the chance to do much research on what other companies in town might be proponents of Lean or Six Sigma.  Would you have any potential insights in this regard?  And if so, would there be a time in the near future when I could call you for a quick 5-10 minute conversation?  If so, I’d greatly appreciate it!”

At first, my client didn’t really see what was so wrong with his original note, until I asked him to flip the situation around and ponder how he’d respond to such a request, if sent along by a total stranger.  This seemed to do the trick.  And once he retooled it to include some extra elements of context, appreciation, and politeness, I assured him his odds of a successful response would go WAY up!

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