An "Ah-ha!" Moment
A few years ago, Porter Gale, then vice president of marketing for Virgin Atlantic, had an ah-ha! morning. "I woke up and was overwhelmed with gratitude for how rich my life had become," she says. "[And] I realized much of my happiness and success was because of the relationships in my life."
Through social and professional networking, she’d managed to cultivate and surround herself with people both in and out of the office who supported her dreams and would catch her if she stumbled—not bad for someone who, by her own admission, had spent her 20s standing awkwardly on the sidelines of social events, hiding behind a wine glass. How did she make that change? The marketing consultant, whose new book Your Network is Your Net Worth (Atria Books) was just published, shares 9 steps that got her there.
1. Assess what’s holding you back.
For Porter, the turn-around began with an acknowledgement that she bore some responsibility for her unhappiness. "Time and time again, I’ve found that the barriers that keep us from important relationships are self-inflicted," she says. “We’re our own worst enemies." Her advice: Grab a notebook and write down any behaviors (wall-flowering at parties) or negative thoughts ("I'm not as smart as them") that might be costing you. Sit with these for about a week, then share the list with a close friend or advisor to brainstorm ways to improve. It could be as big as seeking therapy, or as little as challenging yourself to gather 10 business cards at the next industry mixer.
2. Be authentic.
If networking feels like working to you, it’s probably because you’re not basing it around your true self. Take a minute to think about what matters most to you. Is it your family, school, a place you volunteer, your passion for food or books or entrepreneurship? Then organize your network around those things—rather than what you ‘should’ talk about. "You’re more likely to be relaxed, engaged and engaging," says Porter. "And your connections will be stronger and more sustainable."
3. Connect via values and interests, not job titles.
The old way of networking involved identifying and zeroing in on the power players in your space. But today, careers are much more fluid. "You should befriend a person because you’re interested in what they have to say and what ideas they are bringing to the table," says Porter. "It’s important not to judge people and to treat all contacts respectfully: Today’s intern can easily become tomorrow’s CEO."
4. Ask, “How can I help?”
At the core of authentic networking, says Gale, "is a mindset that is based on WE not just ME." Avoid hoarding your contacts or expecting anything back, and try to be of service whenever you can. As a rule of thumb, give help twice as often as you ask for it. "Your actions should be based on a true desire to help or support someone and not on ‘What’s in it for me,'" says Gale. "When you have a give-give-get attitude, that’s when the true magic happens."
5. Commit to shaking it up.
Most of us have a daily routine in which we go the same places and see the same people every day. It’s comforting, says Gale, but ultimately limiting. Instead, imagine who you might run into if, just once a week, you tried a totally new place for lunch, or once a day, you walked to the bathroom all the way on the other side of the building. They’re small changes, but, says Gale, "you’re more likely to meet new people and benefit from that serendipity that comes from growing and building your connections."
6. Avoid trash talk, egotism or hierarchical thinking.
Trying to bond with your new cubicle mate over a little office gossip? Don’t do it, says Gale. "The way you treat people will have a great impact on your ability to foster strong relationships," she says. "Putting down others, gossiping, believing you’re superior based on job titles—these types of behaviors can quickly erode and damage relationships." Not to mention that nothing gets around faster on social media.
7. Visit power pockets.
Social media has created an incredible potential to connect—but when it comes to cementing relationships, face-to-face meetings still have unique power, says Gale. So take yourself to experiences and events that attract like-minded people, like co-working spaces, free wifi hot zones, conventions, seminars, etc. Nothing turns a Facebook friend into a meet-for-lunch friend faster than running into each other at a conference, then taking the time to get a cup of coffee.
8. Always be producing.
This doesn’t mean endlessly pumping out tweets or blog posts—at least, it doesn’t have to. "It's a mindset of adding value or ideas to the collective rather than just taking," explains Gale. "It could be as simple as gathering friends for a potluck."
9. Don’t be afraid to ask big.
If you’ve built successful relationships over time, your requests for help should feel more like collaboration than "asks," says Gale, adding: "I also believe that people should think big." In other words, instead of dribbling out a series of small requests, save up for something that really matters. While working at Virgin, Gale once asked Sir Richard Branson to respond to a video a group of high schoolers had sent in—the first time she’d ever asked him for a favor. Not only did he respond: He invited them to meet with him in person. "I'm guessing that if they’d asked anyone if they could get a meeting with Sir Richard, the answer would have been ‘Never in a million years,'" says Gale. "But they did."
You might also like: