Improve your soft skills for better networking

A man in a suite stood folding his arms at a networking event

The idea of networking fills some people with fear while others think they're great at working a room. But what are the skills you need to be a good networker? And how can you improve your performance? Heather White of Smarter Networking has the answers

To be a successful networker, you need to have highly developed soft skills, or inter-personal skills, as well as a strategic perspective. Assessing your own abilities can be hard. But it helps to understand your own strengths and weaknesses before you try and improve your networking skills.

Below is a list of the soft skills you need to be able to network effectively. What I want you to do is score yourself on how well you think you do on each front.

Before you assess, let me point out that you should not take each of the following statements to extremes, as the overriding skill is to act appropriately in the situation you find yourself in.

Networking soft skill self assessment checklist

Soft skill Self rating - between 1 (low) and 10 (high)
I am trustworthy  
I am respectable and respected  
I am an active listener  
I am a good conversationalist  
I am an influencer  
I am confident  
I am a negotiator  
I am a problem solver  
I'm willing to engage  
I'm willing to share  
I can read others and respond accordingly  
I am a good observer  
I am good at including others  
I can keep confidences  

Where you have scored yourself low, you now know what you have to work on to improve your networking performance. If you have rated yourself highly, go and test this out with your contacts to make sure you are reading the situation correctly. If everything stacks up, do more of what is working.

Building trust and rapport when networking

People buy from people they like and trust first. In effect, they are buying trust, professionalism, expertise and like-mindedness.

  • Remember the golden rules of networking: being likeable, building trust and rapport, planting seeds about your expertise.
  • Build the conversation, basing it on common ground.
  • Show genuine curiosity.
  • Learn how to read body language.
  • Listen and learn how the particular person you are talking to prefers to communicate.
  • Stay engaged throughout the conversation.
  • Develop the conversation.
  • Become the observer of others; notice their approach to things, and take this into consideration.
  • Work on your people skills and treat others as they would want to be treated.

Questioning and listening when networking

  • Ask more questions, rather than just talking about yourself.
  • Talk about what you do only if invited. Don't force your information on others.
  • People only listen when they are ready to, so create that opportunity. If someone else is talking, let them finish their point. Make sure you hear them out totally, and do completely engage. After all, if you don't hear them out, why would they want to listen to you?
  • It is OK for a conversation to finish without you having contributed information about yourself.
  • Memorise at least ten good generic questions, remembering that quality questions help to stimulate the conversation.
  • Be genuine and fresh each time you ask a question - even if you have asked this a thousand times over.
  • Listen carefully and frame your next question out of the response.
  • Be careful not to make the process sound like an inquisition.
  • Your face, voice, eyes and body language should express real interest, not a learned technique.

Getting a 'glazed look'

  • If you see the 'glazed look', take stock of what you are talking about in relation to the person concerned.
  • Very quickly bring the conversation to a stop and ask a question to re-engage them.
  • To increase the energy again, you can use humour and even some cheekiness!
  • Sometimes, the glazed look is simply because the other person is thinking about what you have said, so you can allow silences (serious people do this a lot!).
  • If you believe this person is not interested, thank them for their time and let them move on.
  • All conversations have a natural rise and fall, so has your time come up? If so don't hang onto them.

The biggest tip I can offer you is when you are next at a networking event stand back for while and just people watch. Watch for how people respond to others and see who is getting it wrong and spot those who are getting it right. Listening and observing can be the best way to learn.

Written by Heather White of Smarter Networking.

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