Deck your purse with business cards, because the holidays are bountiful with networking opportunities. Between work functions, ugly sweater parties and traveling home to loved ones, the chances of you seeing familiar faces and meeting new ones are high. You’ll have opportunities to touch base with existing connections and make new ones.
The thing is: Who wants to be in networking mode over the holidays? You don’t want to be that person at the company party trying too hard to climb the ladder. It's time to realize networking doesn’t have to be a mode, and it isn’t (and shouldn’t be) limited to conference rooms or premeditated events. It can be a lot more casual than that. “Women are networking all of the time, but they don’t think of it as networking,” says Maya Townsend, founder of Partnering Resources, which consults with individuals and organizations on networking.
The Internet shifted us from a more transactional kind of networking into a longer, relationship-building kind of activity, Townsend explains. Meaning: You can go to a party, compliment someone on her cookie recipe or blouse, connect on Facebook and go from there. And guess what? You’re probably a natural at it: “Women tend to be very good at listening, asking questions and at sustaining relationships, and these are what it takes to be successful in [today’s] networking environment.”
Here’s what else you need to know in the new age of networking:
There’s less room for blowing people off. “Once upon a time, it was possible for us to act in ways that couldn’t come back to haunt us,” says Townsend. Pre internet and social media, it was much easier to “forget” to follow up. Forget today, and it’ll probably be in writing. We have a recorded history with people via emails, social media feeds and text messages. We’re easily accessible and expected to respond. While exhausting, it’s important to be more conscious about bringing integrity into all of our relationships. What does that mean? It means not making a promise to email someone — or connect with someone — and not follow through. It means being honest if you have no interest in pursuing a business idea. And really, it means communicating with others how you'd like to be communicated with.
It’s about what you can do for them. Townsend says, “In old networking we would hand over our business cards and think, ‘What can I get from you? What do you have that would be of value?’ Instead, new networking flips that on its head. It’s, ‘What can I give to people? How can I trade value with them?’” (At Fortune's Most Powerful Women conference, I was struck by the number of times I heard the words, "How can I help you with this?) With this though, don’t spread yourself too thin. Townsend says her best networking tip is to give, but women can overdo it. As natural givers, we give and give, but don’t speak up when we need (or deserve) something in the relationship. Avoid this by setting yourself up to receive. When a connection asks you for something — be it a skill, an introduction, information — she recommends saying something along the lines of, “Hey no problem, I’d love to give you this, that’s just what colleagues do for each other.” The last part helps build a two-way street, and makes it easier for you to come back and ask for something in the future.
Listen more and talk less. “What people remember more about you is not what you say, but how you make them feel,” she says. “If we can listen to them and make them feel heard — and if we can ask questions of them and draw them out — they can end up with a positive sense of us.” What if you're a little more introverted? Perhaps too good a listener? Avoid getting steamrolled by finding a connection point and sharing a story. “You have a dog, so do I…” Oh, and avoid the elevator-pitch — it’s a sure-fire way to turn people off.
Business cards still serve a purpose. Even with everything moving online, the small paper card is still an essential. “I get so tired of hearing people say business cards are passé,” says Diane Darling, author of The Networking Survival Guide. “If you’re in person, have a business card. It just means your professional and appropriate.” On today's card, it’s a smart idea to have your LinkedIn link. And you can even go as far as having your picture on it. Darling adds, “People get so many cards, it helps to remind people who you are.”
Know the front page of the newspaper. When networking with women, it can be much easier to break the ice talking fashion, kids and the like. With men, it can be tricky. That’s why a good general rule of thumb for talking points is to know the front page of the newspaper, says Darling, which oftentimes includes one or two headlines on sports. “It’s not, ‘Oh we should talk sports, because of guys.’ No, it’s news. Know the news…know a little bit about everything.”
-With Kelly Hultgren
Jean Chatzky is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.