Professional networking can be a tricky art to master. Establishing and making use of new connections might be tougher than it seems, not to mention the fact that it is an etiquette minefield.

Apart from traditional meetups, there are now countless ways to connect online. Linkedin is usually hailed as the social medium for professionals, but lots of professionals also reside in Twitter threads and Facebook groups.

Adding people to your professional network needn’t be too tricky, especially if you make sure to steer clear of common pitfalls.

The importance of a healthy dialogue

If someone enters into a conversation with you, they are probably expecting a two-way street. Although introverts may prefer to listen to you talk, they won’t be impressed by someone who appears to be more interested in themselves.

As tempting as it can be to impress whoever you are meeting with tales about your expertise, people often prefer to feel interesting themselves. The only way you can do this effectively is to listen to them with intent, and make comments which show that you are listening. Your time in the spotlight will come.

Dean Brenner, an expert in persuasive communication, states that all attempts at effective communication fall flat without listening skills. “By listening well, you show your commitment to a respectful exchange. And your audience will be more likely to return that respect to you.”

One way in which you can demonstrate that you are taking ideas on board is to repeat the most important information back to the speaker. If you can ask some constructive questions related to the information you have been given, then even better.

Networking is about giving as well as taking

As cynical as it seems, people most likely begin networking in order to seal something for themselves. This could be a new job, a new client, or just an addition to their list of contacts. Most people will be aware of this, but it is still a big mistake to give off this impression.

Some surefire ways to turn a potential connection off include:

  • Immediately asking for referrals and further connections
  • Making it clear that you are only interested in talking further if there is the chance to work together
  • Offer no value to them, and expect everything good to come your way

Perhaps start by helping a new connection with an issue they may be having, or simply complimenting them on their work. Try to use your skills to identify something of benefit which you can give to them, and they will be much more willing to help you out in return.

This is based on the social psychology principle of reciprocity. Jeff Bradford discusses the effect of the reciprocity principle in the business world, and how its founder Robert Cialdini describes a state of “feeling automatically indebted to the giver, regardless.”

The strength of this effect, Bradford says, is that it occurs even when receiving something which was not previously asked for, or even wanted.

If you really do want to increase the chance of receiving useful information from people at networking events, make sure you can bring something positive to the table.

Post-event networking mistakes

After connecting with some new professional contacts online or in-person, some might feel that the job is done. Everything good that comes from meeting new people will trickle into their inbox as soon as the contact feels like helping them out.

This is rarely the case, and a well-executed follow-up process is necessary to maintain a healthy relationship between yourself and your new contact.

Here are some of the sticky situations you could find yourself in after landing a new professional contact:

  • Sending more than one thank you message. Without doubt, a well-written note expressing your delight at being able to talk is almost always appreciated. However, if you fail to hear back from someone within a little while, it is always best to avoid sending multiple messages. Annoying people is not the best way to get what you need from them.

  • Lacking professionalism online. If all goes smoothly when talking to someone at a networking event, it could easily go to waste if your initial look is coupled with a lousy online profile. It won’t matter how much you impressed somebody in-person, if they are met with a questionable Facebook profile photo. Ensure that all work-based social media accounts are kept clean of potentially embarrassing photos, and check that any messages you send to new contacts are professional and well-written.

  • Letting yourself blend in. It helps to be bold when contacting somebody after a networking event. Remind your contact where and when you met, and repeat something that they told you to show that you cared about what they had to say. Try to avoid sending a long message without any particular goal, and get the point about what you would like to discuss. They will likely appreciate that you are not beating around the bush.


Photo by Anwaar Ali on Unsplash.