Spending time having conversations that don’t immediately contribute to the success of your project may seem counter-intuitive, but building relationships is often how things get done in both the private and public sector. Do not restrict your conversations to strictly business with people across agencies or departments. It is equally important to ensure that each and every interaction with other organizational leaders is not a request for resources.
So, how do you build relationships when your true focus is the health of your project? Following some simple steps can put you on the road to being networked with those who can help your project.
Do Some Research
It is important to know as much as possible about the people with whom you interact. If someone that you want to get networked with knows someone else within your organization, then ask some questions to get some background information. You may find out that you have something in common and that can be a good foundation to building a relationship.
Keep Your Word
It should go without saying, but keeping your word with those you meet is very important. If you agree to take on a task or to make an introduction for someone that you have networked with, then be sure to do it. It is extremely difficult to overcome damage to your reputation if you prove to be unreliable or flaky.
Ask About Them
Networking is about building relationships. People want to have those relationships with those that they like. If you think about the times that you have met someone that you found very engaging, chances are that you found them engaging because they were asking you questions about you. People enjoy having the opportunity to talk about themselves and if you are a good listener, you can learn a lot. When you are networking, make the conversation about them: their families, their work, or their interests. People are more likely to do a favor or allocate a resource to someone they like, bottom line.
Don’t Take Over The Conversation
If you join a group in a social or professional setting, don’t redirect the conversation to what you want to talk about. Networking is not about you selling your project. When you meet someone who you want to build a relationship with because they can help your project in some way, it is natural to want to espouse the benefits of your important project. But remember, you are not making a sales pitch when you are networking. If you are asked about your work or your project, then by all means, talk about it. Have a few quick points that you would like to make about your project, and then move on. Build the relationship first. You can move into talking in more detail about your project later.
Be sure to have business cards with you and be sure to ask for theirs. Take advantage of social networking tools like LinkedIn to expand your professional network. Getting someone that you have met to remember you is often as easy as a quick email or an invite to a social network. Have a system that helps you remember what industry someone is in and what you talked about when you met. This will save you from that awkward moment when you can’t recall what someone does or what you talked about when you met.
Whether or not we like to admit it, often it is not simply just our professional acumen that makes us successful. Many times it is our ability to call on those with whom we have a relationship to move the project past the goal line. Projects don’t happen in a vacuum, and having a professional network can provide the support that we need when things go sideways.
This is an excerpt from the Global Knowledge white paper, The Six Critical Skills for Leading Complex Federal Projects.