The relationship aspect of networking is widely acknowledged as one of its most essential parts. While you may be comfortable initiating a conversation, many people struggle to turn these quick meet-and-greets into something more than a brief exchange of work experience and contact information.
To overcome this difficulty, Dr. Froswa' Booker-Drew, an author and the National Community Engagement Director at World Vision, suggests that you should build transformational relationships and not solely transactional relationships. Networking events often produce transactional relationships, which stop at an assessment of how a person can benefit your career and an exchange of business cards. Transformational relationships require more of you. In order to build this type of relationship, you must invest more of yourself in the process and find ways that you can help the other person.
Share Your Story
Dr. Booker-Drew says that networking must focus on connecting with others. A simple and effective way to do this is through sharing your story. The story that you share with others reflects how you define yourself and important events in your life. This is known as your narrative identity, a powerful tool that connects you with others.
As you form your narrative identity, focus on the people and events that have shaped your professional life. Delving into the details of your elementary school days or the emotional rollercoaster of middle school may not be helpful. But understanding and sharing how your cultural heritage or specific experiences have influenced your perspective on life highlights how your skills and experience are unique.
Include information about both your past and your present in order to convey a complete picture of who you are. Select a few of the most important elements of your story to share and tie them together. Don’t overwhelm your listener with a never-ending story, but include enough information that they have a meaningful understanding of how you define yourself.
Listen to Their Story
While networking, a connection begins to form as you ask questions about someone else’s story and share parts of your own. When you take the time to listen to other people’s life experiences, you demonstrate that you value this person and not just his business card. Exchanging stories also reveals similarities between people’s experiences, further strengthening the connection. More information about a person clears up any assumptions you may have unknowingly made about them. It also removes any assumptions they have made about you!
Incorporating narrative identity as a part of networking moves you away from short-term goals and toward long-term connections. Using your narrative identity to shape networking conversations provides a solid foundation for future conversations with an individual. Dr. Booker-Drew challenges us to turn networking into a starting point for building meaningful connections.
Jessica Russell is an intern at E Pluribus Partners.